By TOM CHARD

Staff Writer

PORTLAND – The snow started falling early in Portland on Thanksgiving morning 40 years ago. By game time for the 1971 Portland-Deering game, the 60th in the series, the field was a white blanket.

A flood of memories likely will come rushing forward for fans, former players, coaches and anyone else associated with the Thanksgiving Day game between Portland and Deering, which turns 100 on Thursday.

Close games, some not-so-close games, great plays, comebacks, the crowds and the weather, always the weather, are all part of the game’s lore.

“I call it the city’s Homecoming,” said Portland Coach Mike Bailey, who played for Deering in the 1971 game.

“People of all ages show up for the game every year. For a lot of them, it’s the only time they see each other all year.”

For many spectators, past and present, their consecutive-game attendance streak was and is a source of pride. Generations upon generations have watched the game, first at the Forest Avenue Grounds, then at Bayside Park, and from 1931 to the present at Portland Stadium, now Fitzpatrick Stadium.

The Thanksgiving Day game began in 1911 and has been played in all kinds of weather and field conditions. With the installation of artificial turf at Fitzpatrick in the summer of 2001, field conditions haven’t been as much of a factor.

The 1971 game stands out for having been played in arguably the worst conditions in series history. According to records from the National Weather Service, Portland received 4.8 inches of wet snow.

The 1920 game was canceled because of snow and rain in days leading up to Thanksgiving that ruined the field.

“They tried to reschedule it, but that day also turned out lousy,” said Peter Gribbin, a former history teacher at Portland and longtime Fitzpatrick Stadium announcer.

In 1962, the field turned into a quagmire but they played.

“It rained like crazy,” said Paul Pendleton, a senior halfback and later a principal for Deering. “We played in a mud ball.

Forty years ago, had there been artificial turf at Fitzpatrick, the snow could have been swept off and the game played with few hindrances.

But like the internet, cell phones or bottled water, those conveniences remained years away.

“I remember waking up and seeing the snow, and thinking it’s going to be kind of fun playing the game,” said Ed Flaherty, Deering’s senior quarterback in 1971 and the longtime University of Southern Maine baseball coach.

But it was anything but fun.

“It became unmanageable,” said Flaherty. “We couldn’t do a thing in the game. Portland stuffed us inside the 5 at the start and we couldn’t get out.”

There was some question whether the game would be played.

“I remember being in the locker room and asking the coaches if we were going to play,” said Marty O’Brion, the Portland quarterback and co-captain.

Bailey remembers hearing that the phone lines were down but never has been able to substantiate that.

“We couldn’t call Portland to see if the game was still on, so we got on the bus and drove across town,” he said. “I remember the bus ride after the game as treacherous.”

The Rams had beaten Portland 7-6 in the regular season.

“Both teams had 6-3 records,” said O’Brion, who didn’t play in the first game because of injury.

Perhaps on a dry field, the game might have been remembered for great plays instead of the weather.

“I remember how cold my hands were,” said O’Brion. “They kept shoveling the yard markers. It was before they had gloves for quarterbacks and receivers. I remember the offensive linemen wearing regular winter gloves. The funny thing is, the day before and the day after, the weather was great.”

Another thing that stood out about the game? It was played at one end of the field.

“The other half of the field was pristine,” said Flaherty.

Bob Caron, a senior defensive back for Deering and current assistant coach for the Rams, said it wasn’t surprising they couldn’t move the ball, given the conditions that day.

“We were a defensive team,” he said.

Taking advantage of its field position throughout, Portland slugged out a 24-0 victory.

“We thought we should have beaten Deering in the first game,” said Jim Piacentini, a senior co-captain, who played center/defensive end.

“Because of that, I think we wanted to play more than they did. Deering couldn’t get their offense going. The conditions were miserable. I don’t think we wanted to come out for the second half.”

The players remember a good crowd for the start of the game, but by halftime most of them, with the exception of parents and diehards, had gone home. Despite the conditions, there were few fumbles by either team, recalled O’Brion.

“I’m sure the game was fun for Portland because they won. I was just glad it was over,” said Flaherty.

 

Staff Writer Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: TomChardPPH