On Thanksgiving morning, some of the members of Long Beach High School’s class of 1972, who are now in their late 60s, did what they’ve been doing on the holiday for the last half-century: They gathered to play touch football.
They came from across the metropolitan area — none of them live in Long Beach anymore — to play at the Lindell Elementary School field.
On a bright, sunny morning, about a dozen alumni gathered at the field. They brought along their now grown children and grandchildren. The only year they skipped playing was 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic raged, but they had a reunion on the beach that summer — in Long Beach, of course.
“None of us live in Long Beach full-time anymore,” said Scott Podell, now a professor of dentistry at New York University’s College of Dentistry, who lives in Wayne, New Jersey. “This is a tradition. We’re like brothers. If it weren’t for this, we would be sleeping (on Thanksgiving morning) until 11 a.m.”
In 1989, Podell recalled, there was a snowstorm on Thanksgiving. “We played anyway,” he said.
None of them played for the LBHS football team way back then. But many had known each other since grade school, or even earlier. The idea for the touch football games was hatched in the fall of 1972, when many of them returned to Long Beach from college for the Thanksgiving holiday, according to Podell.
They met at Nolan’s, one of Long Beach’s oldest bars, on Park Avenue, for a reunion. They were all college freshmen, and hadn’t seen one another in months. Podell recalled there was much talk about how each liked their respective colleges.
“Then someone said, ‘Why don’t we play football on Thanksgiving morning?’” Podell recounted. It was a great game, he said, adding, “We made a pledge to play every Thanksgiving. If you asked me then how long it would last, I would have said maybe five years.”
But instead of petering out, as Podell thought, the game has grown, with members of the class of ’72 now bringing their offspring. Mike Eitingon, 68, who now lives in Wantagh, has been bringing his son, Josh, 35, for years. Josh scored a touchdown in last week’s game.
Podell said that Sheldon Friedman, who lives in North Carolina but has a vacation home in Long Beach, is one of the core people in the group, but was unable to make this year’s game.
Over 20 years ago, Friedman recruited Gordon Purdie, when both were teachers at Oceanside Middle School. Podell said that some who played against Purdie joked that he was a ringer, because he was a professional lacrosse player. Originally from Australia, he now coaches the men’s lacrosse team at Adelphi University, and lives in Lynbrook. Purdie played professionally for the New York Saints, which played at the Nassau Coliseum from 1989 to 2004. They became defunct in 2006.
As usual, Purdie came with his son, Gordon Jr., 26. “He first came as a baby in a pram,” Purdie said. “This is a bond rooted in a football game.”
The game had an audience of friends and relatives. Among them was Shayna Held, 32, of Woodmere, who is dating Podell’s son, Aaron.
“It’s the cutest thing,” Held said as she sat watching the play.
And play they did. The older men and the younger men tossed the pigskin around for over an hour, lightly touching one another with two hands. The teams changed positions after touchdowns were scored.
“They have rejuvenated the youth,” said Podell’s wife, Adrienne. “Both my sons are playing,” she added, referring to Aaron and Jake.
After the game, there were plans for a lunch at the Laurel Diner, another tradition.
Who won the game? No one really knew, and no one cared. One thing they did know, and cared about: They will be back next year.