Every Thanksgiving since 1994 (with the exception of the canceled 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic) New Canaan and Darien play in the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s (FCIAC) most celebrated Rivalry game, “The Turkey Bowl”.
“I like the concept of a Thanksgiving Day game,” former head DHS coach Mike Sangster said. “Traditionally, in New England, Thanksgiving IS football.”
The border town rivals have been battling it out on the gridiron since that fateful fall afternoon in November, 1928 when NCHS head coach Loren J. Keyes and DHS skipper Lindley Hubbard’s troops clashed on the grounds of Ox Ridge Hunt Club in Darien. Since that day, the tradition of this intense rivalry has evolved to become perhaps the single most anticipated scholastic-level sporting event in Southwestern Connecticut.
The series has also persevered through three periods of hiatus which threatened the very existence of the rivalry. There were no games played in 1930, 1950-55 and 1965-66. In effect, the interruption of play in 1930 was later compensated for with double games during the prime years of the Second World War. However, with the break in action from 1950-1956 the rivalry faced near extinction. Feeling outnumbered (164-85) in male enrollment and having lost three straight by a combined score of 144-0, NCHS dropped DHS from its schedule in December 1949. The two teams did not meet again until 1956.
“When I think about high school sports, sportsmanship, rivalries, and competition, that’s what this game is all about,” said former NCHS Athletic Director, Vin Iovino. “The rivalry brings out the best in both teams. It’s a matter of pride,” added former DHS Athletic Director, Jim Girard.
Of the 96 games played to date, New Canaan holds a 54-40-2 edge in the series. Both clubs have enjoyed substantial winning streaks since the games inception. Darien won nine straight contests from 1956-1964, while the Rams answered with nine consecutive victories of their own from 1967-1976. New Canaan tied that record by winning nine straight from 2004-2011.
Ironically, 31 games have ended in shutouts – the most lopsided coming in 1962 when Darien overwhelmed their rivals 70-0. New Canaan has 16 while Darien has 15. “It’s a good old-fashioned rivalry,” said Lou Marinelli, NCHS head coach. “It’s a game we want to win. If we were 0-and-9, we’d want to win this game. It would make our season.”
The coveted Coaches Memorial Trophy – in honor of legendary leaders John E. Maher, who headed up the Darien program from 1945-1965, and Joseph C. Sikorski, who guided New Canaan for a twenty-year span beginning in 1949. As the trophy reads, the award is, “presented annually to the winning team in honor of the two outstanding coaches who devoted a lifetime to establishing a winning tradition.”
“The game is dedicated to two outstanding role model coaches. There aren’t two better people that this game should be played in honor of than those two men,” said Iovino.
2021 was the fifth time the schools met twice in one season. The first happened in 1999 when the Rams won the Turkey Bowl, but then lost just four days later in the CIAC Class M Semi-Finals to Darien. The second time was in 2008 when New Canaan won both meetings — the Turkey Bowl/FCIAC Championship in front of an estimated 12,000 fans at Boyle Stadium and the CIAC Class MM Final at MacDougal Stadium in Trumbull, completing the third undefeated season in program history.
The third time the two teams met twice in one season was in 2013 when Darien won the Turkey Bowl in a thrilling 28-24 shocker at Dunning, but then lost in the CIAC Class L Final as the Rams prevailed 44-12 at Boyle Stadium in the “Snow Bowl”. The following year played out exactly the same way — Darien won the 2014 Turkey Bowl/FCIAC Championship in another classic — a 28-21 comeback win in Overtime. In the second meeting between the two teams in the CIAC Class LL Championship game, New Canaan won 21-20. And in 2021 New Canaan won the Turkey Bowl 12-7 while Darien won the rematch in the CIAC Class LL Semifinal 24-10 en route to the State Championship.