The last time Frankford and the Catholics clashed on the gridiron was 75 years ago, when they played for the city of Philadelphia’s academic title at Franklin Field in front of at least 45,000 in 1947. gov. James H. Duff and NFL Commissioner Bert Bell were there. By the way, Roman won 40:12.
The stakes for Thursday’s game between the Pioneers and Cahillites at Frankford Stadium were lower – but not insignificant. This marked the first time these two schools played on Thanksgiving, doing their part to keep a fading but cherished local tradition alive.
Unsurprisingly, Roman (9-3) defeated Frankford (2-10) 34-8, but the result was not decisive. There was football in Frankford on Turkey Day and several hundred fans descended on the old Frankford Memorial Stadium for the 9:45 kick-off to soak up the atmosphere.
“We usually have night games, so it felt good to come out and have fun,” said Roman senior Jamir Robertson, who scored a touchdown and passed for another.
The Cahillites lost a PIAA Class 5A state playoff game to Imhotep Charter on Saturday and would have played their reserves Thursday had they won. Frankford was of small consolation, but Roman’s senior defensive end Jamieal Lyons was still on his feet at 5:30 a.m. Thursday anyway.
“Thank God we were able to play one more game,” said Lyons, who has signed on to play for Penn State. “It was great to be able to put the pads back on.”
Because the West Philadelphia-Overbrook game was canceled because four Overbrook students were shot dead near the school on Wednesday, the Roman-Frankford game was one of only eight in the city to be played Thursday.
The Pioneers had Roman working towards the win, scoring the first touchdown on a long passing game and going into halftime in an 8-8 draw. However, Roman poured it in in the second half, and Frankford coach Damon Brockington stopped the game about two minutes from time.
“I didn’t have any other kids,” Brockington later said, explaining that several players were injured. “You never want to end the game like that, but sometimes that happens.”
Appropriately for today, the game was created as a result of a tweet. Roman coach Rick Prete said the Cahillites should have played Archbishop Carroll the night before Thanksgiving a year ago, as they did in 2019, but Carroll politely asked about it.
So, last November 8th, Prete tweeted, “Looking for a game on Thanksgiving Eve. Please contact me if interested.”
Frankford was interested. Thanksgiving morning football games are a standard in Frankford. For 80 years, between 1930 and 2009, the Pioneers played Thanksgiving North Catholic—sometimes after Thanksgiving, when a snowstorm hit Philadelphia, for example.
The game between Frankford and nearby North Catholic, which took place a mile and a half away, was sometimes called “The Rowhouse Bowl” because players from both teams likely stayed in one. The Frankford North game was played at Veterans Stadium in 1978 in front of about 25,000 spectators.
That game, the 50th in the series, was such a big deal that the Eagles, coached by Dick Vermeil, announced they would practice at Franklin Field that day. JFK Stadium, which had natural grass, was closed to host the Dec. 2 Army-Navy game.
“It’s probably the only traditional school play in the East that gets better with age,” Don McKee wrote in The Inquirer on November 19, 1978.
But North Catholic, which had more than 4,700 students in 1953 and was the largest Catholic boys’ high school in the world, closed in June 2010 after enrollment had fallen to 551 students. Frankford, wanting to keep the tradition alive, looked for another enemy.
“Certain traditions or certain things that we do as a school are very important,” said Ben Dubin, Frankford’s sporting director.
Frankford officials had informal discussions with Roman in 2010: “Though the grandfather of the city’s public Catholic Thanksgiving football rivalry has since passed, a beautiful baby could take his place,” Ted Silary wrote in the Daily News. But this year nothing could be arranged.
The Pioneers played Samuel Fels from 2011 to 2013; Preparatory Charter 2014 and 2015; Conwell Egan in 2016; Boys’ Latin Charter from 2017 to 2019 and Cheltenham last year. There were also a few flag football games between Frankford and North Alumni.
Meanwhile, Roman’s Thanksgiving Day football rivalry against Roxborough High School dating back to 1972 ended in 2018 because they were no longer competitive. Roman won the last 17 games of the series, with Roxborough’s last win coming in 1991.
“I’m a bit from the old school. I believe in tradition,” says Prete, who grew up in Norristown. “It’s an opportunity for seniors to really play their last game. And the [Thanksgiving] The tradition goes back to when I played – or anyone here played.”
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Prete said he heard many Roman alumni thought he was the one who called off the 2021 game against Carroll, a more competitive opponent than Roxborough, but that wasn’t the case. Frankford passed. Many Catholic students from the North had transferred to Roman following the North’s closure.
“No one is looking forward to the end of the season, God forbid,” said Prete.
Continuing the Frankford North tradition, the Frankford Roman game kicked off at 9:45 a.m., at least 15 minutes earlier than any other local game. Frankford-North, it was said for years, was the earliest Thanksgiving school football game in the country.
A fan wore his faded red Northern Catholic hoodie. Another was wearing a blue T-shirt from a Frankford North game. The halftime celebrations were modest: the Frankford cheerleaders performed a dance routine followed by a performance of the Frankford drumline.
And the Queen and King of Frankford homecoming, seniors Briseyda McKissick and Angel Hernandez (wearing a crown and his No. 6 football uniform) were allowed to take a lap around the track in an open-topped Jeep. McKissick described the scene as “very refreshing”.
“Just being out there cheering with my girlfriend was very comforting,” she said.
After the post-game handshake between the two teams, David Nguyen, a senior center and defensive end for the Pioneers, slowly trotted off the field. It was another good day: he played football with his “second family” before going home to eat lots of turkey.
It really didn’t make a difference who played Frankford, he said.
“I was happy to be back on the field with my brothers,” he said. “It was a blessing.”
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