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Calvert Hall players celebrate their 40-7 win over Loyola in the 99th Turkey Bowl.
Calvert Hall players celebrate their 40-7 win over Loyola in the 99th Turkey Bowl. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Holiday cooks add all sorts of seasonings to their Thanksgiving turkeys. But in hundreds, maybe thousands, of Baltimore-area homes, one seasoning guarantees a turkey that’s delicious beyond measure.

The ingredient? Victory on the football field in the annual Turkey Bowl. For students, faculty and alumni from neighborhood rivals Loyola and Calvert Hall, nothing makes a Thanksgiving turkey taste better.

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Think that’s overstating the case? Asked just how much victory or defeat in the Turkey Bowl colors Thanksgiving, Calvert Hall’s veteran football coach, Donald Davis, offered a one-word answer: “Completely.” Asked what his team’s record is going into the game, he responds simply: “0-0.”

These guys take this game seriously. Very. Seriously.

This year, for the 100th time running, Calvert Hall College High School will take on Loyola Blakefield in a battle for gridiron supremacy that has nothing to do with season records, league standings or, for that matter, anything else that happened in the games before Thanksgiving. It’s believed to be the oldest continuing rivalry between Catholic high schools in the nation, and it’s certainly among the fiercest. For these two boys prep schools, this one game makes or breaks a season.

“As a coach, over the winter, I would run into an alumnus who would say, ‘Oh, you had a good year this year,’ and Calvert Hall might have been one of the few games that we won that year,” said Joe Brune, who coached Loyola from 1967 to 2001, compiling a Turkey Bowl record of 19-16. “As far as a lot of them were concerned, you beat Calvert Hall, you had a great year.”

Loyola players celebrate their 21-20 overtime victory against Calvert Hall in the 94th annual Turkey Bowl, played in 2013.
Loyola players celebrate their 21-20 overtime victory against Calvert Hall in the 94th annual Turkey Bowl, played in 2013. (Steve Ruark, For The Baltimore Sun)

That century of competition has encompassed a lot of great football. For Loyola, there was 1955, when quarterback Ed Hargaden Jr., son of the Dons’ coach, teamed with halfback Pat Healy for five touchdowns in a 32-7 win; 1999, when coach Brune’s 200th career victory, 40-6, capped a 10-0 Turkey Bowl decade; and 2013′s win in overtime, 21-20, the game ending when lineman Jake Nordhausen blocked an extra-point attempt.

For Calvert Hall, there was 1942, when Johnny LeBrou scored on runs of 76, 30 and 96 yards, plus on a 60-yard pass play, in a 26-18 victory; 2015, when they scored on the game’s second play from scrimmage, then held on to win a surprisingly tight defensive contest, 6-0; and the fabled 1969 golden-anniversary game, perhaps the most talked-about in the series, when the Cardinals won, 17-14, on a last-second 42-yard field goal from Phil Marsiglia.

It was Marsiglia’s first field-goal attempt of the season, kicked in front of 13,000 fans at Memorial Stadium.

“Don’t call the kick luck,” Cardinals coach Joe Carlozo told The Sun after the game. “We’ve been practicing it all season.”

The rivalry has been intense and pretty evenly balanced over the years; both schools enjoy certain bragging rights. True, Loyola leads the series, 49-42-8, and put together the longest winning streak, 11 straight during 1989-1999. But Calvert Hall has won the last five in a row, and nine of the past 10.

“It’s an amazing environment,” said Donovan Eaton, Loyola class of ’09, a running back who went 3-0 in Turkey Bowls. “It’s always been friendly; I have a few friends that went to Calvert Hall. It was always a good feeling, that there was going to be a good game against good friends that [live] only three miles away.”

“I think it means a heck of a lot to those kids. They work hard on both sides,” said Davis, who graduated from Calvert Hall in 1996, during that 11-game losing streak (but who has exacted the best sort of revenge since, posting a 9-3 Turkey Bowl record in his first 12 seasons as head coach).

Not surprisingly, the Turkey Bowl is not treated like just any game. There are pep rallies and alumni homecoming festivities at both schools in the days leading up to the game. And even though the giant bonfires of years past are long gone (doubtless much to the fire department’s relief), there’s still no shortage of enthusiasm.

In last year's Turkey Bowl, Tariq Fields of Calvert Hall, runs the ball in the second half.
In last year's Turkey Bowl, Tariq Fields of Calvert Hall, runs the ball in the second half. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Steve Kozak, Calvert Hall class of ’84, remembers the pep rallies well. ″The players would come in, the Cardinal mascot would come in, you’d have someone dressed as a Don, there’d be a fake fight or something like that, they’d take the Don down. Something silly and stupid, but it would be a kickoff for the holiday."

“It’s tamped down a little bit, but it’s still there,” said Brant Hall, a former quarterback and varsity football coach for the Dons now in his second year as the school’s athletic director. “In the ’90s, when I was here, we would run through the halls and beat on the doors the Tuesday before the game, just to get everybody excited. We don’t do that nowadays, but we still have ‘Beat the Hall’ [posted] everywhere around the school, and we have the pep rallies.

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None of which is to say that loyalties are always clear.

“We’ve had families here, I’ve noticed, that took sweatshirts and cut them in half, so that there’s half Loyola, half Calvert Hall on them," said Calvert Hall Athletic Director Lou Eckerl, who has spent 38 years at the school. "If you look at the bumper stickers, [sometimes] you can see the 'L' on one side, the Cardinals hat on the other.”

Although the series between the two schools officially started in 1920, with the first Thanksgiving Day game in 1929, the rivalry goes back even further. They first played each other in 1899, with a crowd of some 1,500 coming to Patterson Park to watch Calvert Hall win, 6-0.

“There is an intense rivalry between the two teams,” The Sun reported, perhaps not realizing how prescient it was being.

That an “intense rivalry” would develop between the schools was no surprise. Calvert Hall, founded in 1845, opened on Saratoga Street in Baltimore, then moved to Cathedral and Mulberry streets. Loyola was founded in 1852, operating first out of a building on Holliday Street near City Hall, then moving to Calvert and Monument streets. While in Baltimore, the schools were within two miles of each other. Even after moving to Towson — Loyola in 1934, Calvert Hall in 1960 — the schools are just over three miles apart.

“A lot of our kids know each other,” Loyola’s Hall said. “They play on the same teams, in terms of, like, clubs and rec sports. And then they get to come to these different institutions and actually compete against one another. It’s a very special event between these two communities.”

It’s also become a Baltimore tradition. For years, the game was part of a Thanksgiving Day doubleheader, with Calvert Hall and Loyola playing at 10 a.m., followed by Baltimore City College taking on Baltimore Polytechnic Institute at 2 p.m. in a rivalry dating back to 1889. But since the mid-'90s, thanks to a realignment of area high-school football leagues and schedules, the City-Poly game has been moved to earlier in November, leaving Thanksgiving for the Cardinals and Dons.

“It was always a fun tradition," said Kozak, who attended three of the four games played while he was at Calvert Hall, then started going again with his son, Stephen, class of ’15. “You went to the game, you really felt the school pride. I think going to the game and walking through there and seeing your fellow classmates and alumni and parents and the colors, kind of brought you chills. You’re kind of all this one family.”

Loyola coach Joe Brune is carried off the field after the Dons' 33-7 victory in 1998.
Loyola coach Joe Brune is carried off the field after the Dons' 33-7 victory in 1998. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

“The depth and the breadth of the rivalry does not surprise me at all,” said Nelson Coffin, Calvert Hall class of ’66, a freelance writer who has written for Baltimore Sun Media and who chronicles 100 years of the two teams going at one another in a recently published book, “The Storied Rivalry.”

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Befitting its stature as no ordinary game, the Loyola-Calvert Hall clash is played at neither school, but on a bigger stage. Memorial Stadium, longtime home of the Baltimore Colts, hosted the game beginning in the mid-1950s. It moved to Ravens Stadium (now M&T Bank Stadium) in 1999, but conflicts with NFL games forced a move to Johnny Unitas Stadium at Towson University in 2011 and 2013. Since 2017, the Turkey Bowl has called Unitas Stadium home.

Playing in an NFL stadium, just like their hometown Colts and later Ravens, was always a big deal.

“It was kind of a chilling experience; to be in their locker room and on their field was very exciting,” said Bill Korrow, who started helping to coach the Dons after arriving at Blakefield in 1970 and will be retiring at the end of this school year. “Some players certainly performed at a higher level than they had perhaps during the entire season. And sometimes you had players, they were in awe, especially early in the game, of being in that environment. There’s a big crowd there.”

But playing at Unitas Stadium, with a capacity just over 11,000 — considerably smaller than M&T Bank Stadium’s 70,000 plus — has its advantages, maintainsd Calvert Hall’s Eckerl.

“Administratively, Towson is a better fit for all of us," he said. “It’s closer, it’s right there between the schools.” Plus, with an expected crowd of some 10,000, “the place will be utterly packed.”

At cavernous M&T, a crowd that size gets dwarfed by its surroundings.

So what will happen this year? Tough to say, in a game where emotions run so high. Calvert Hall comes in 8-3, losing the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference semifinal to Mount Saint Joseph, 35-0. Loyola, which dropped out of the MIAA two years ago to play an independent schedule, is 8-1. Calvert Hall is ranked 10th in the latest Baltimore Sun prep football poll, just ahead of 11th-ranked Loyola.

One thing’s for certain, though. Whoever wins, there’ll be some serious celebrating.

“Whichever team wins the Turkey Bowl, that school keeps rubbing it in the rest of the year,” said Loyola’s Brune, 85, who’s been attending Loyola-Calvert Hall games since he was in grade school. "So when the basketball game comes along, they have a chant, ‘Turkey Bowl! Turkey Bowl!’ Lacrosse comes along, same thing.”

And for the loser? Some bad-tasting turkey and a bunch of inconsolable teenagers. Said Calvert Hall’s Davis, “There is no pep talk after the game if you lose.”

If you go

Turkey Bowl 100, pitting Calvert Hall against Loyola Blakefield in a rivalry dating to 1920, is set for 10 a.m. Thursday at Towson University’s Johnny Unitas Stadium, 7500 Osler Drive. Tickets, priced at $10, are available through the Towson Athletics box office or by visiting loyolablakefield.org or calverthall.com. The game will be shown on WMAR, Channel 2, and broadcast on 105.7 FM.

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