It's a kickoff that has happened in the rain and in the snow. But this Thanksgiving, the Boutin family feels blessed the sun is shining on the Fort Ethan Allen Field in Colchester.
"Turkey is to Thanksgiving as football is to Thanksgiving. You can't really have the holiday without it," said Angie King, a member of the Boutin family.
For the Boutins, this football game has been a sacred tradition for 43 years. After all, it's where they watch the little ones grow into their jerseys and eventually where new fiancés are tested before they get the family's final stamp of approval.
"The passion is equal to that of the NFL, though we don't play like we're in the NFL," Angie said.
The Boutin clan grew up in a home in Fort Ethan Allen. Their father, Bernard Boutin Sr., was the first lay president of St. Mike's College. The football field across the way became a great way to keep the 11 kids busy while the adults were preparing Thanksgiving dinner.
"Eleven brothers and sisters, we figured we had a team," John Boutin said. "As the family grew, the game grew."
"And it just became a tradition," Angie said. "This is like our Christmas. This is like the big day that our family all gets together. Excuses aren't really allowed. People are pulled out of their homes to make sure they come."
Three generations later, the team has two dozen players from 6 to 64. They come from all over New England.
"That's what Thanksgiving is all about. We're all very thankful for what we have, especially family," John said.
But this year is different. Each pass is being thrown with a little more passion and each tackle with a little more heart. That's because the team is one member short.
"We're honoring the memory of my brother Bernie who passed two weeks ago," John said.
Bernie was the youngest of the eleven Boutin kids. He was affectionately known as "Goonis." The 45-year-old father died unexpectedly after suffering a massive heart attack. Even though they lived in New Hampshire, Bernie and his son, Ryan, never missed a game.
"We just never thought of canceling this," John said. "It meant too much to cancel it."
"Every touchdown is for him and we're just keeping him in our memories right now," Angie said.
And that means not straying from tradition. Each year, the Boutin Family Turkey Bowl trophy is awarded to the most valuable player.
"This game is in honor of Bernie. This game and this trophy goes to his son, Goober Boutin," Michele Boutin said to a chorus of cheers.
"He's so strong for his mother," John said. "He's been a rock through this whole thing and I think that has helped Bernie's wife, Gaye, get through this."
A family celebrating a life on this day of thanks.
"And now everyone is dismissed to eat turkey," Michele said.
And just in case you were wondering, the Boutins fuel up for the big game with a family breakfast beforehand, but after the last touchdown they all drive to their respective homes for turkey dinner.
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