That play was the most famous in preparation. Talbert transferred from McKinley Tech before the season to improve his chances of playing at Turkey Bull. Without streaking, Talbert doesn’t know if he would play soccer in New Mexico and the Soccer League or become a personal coach.
“It’s one of the things that made me who I am,” said Talbert, 41. “I had a lot of confidence after that. I pretty much felt like I could do anything.”
The life-changing moments will not happen at the capital’s first high school football game this fall after the coronavirus pandemic wipes out the season. The Capital Schools Public Schools Championships, held on the morning of Thanksgiving for 50 years, was one of many traditions that were long lost.
“This has always been a very important part of the capital’s legacy and the legacy of the public school. They are coming,” said Craig Jefferies, who won eight Turkey Bowles Awards as a Dunbar coach between 1996 and 2010.
The DC Inter-High Football Championship, which houses the capital’s two best public schools, began in the 1950s. It was played a week before the Thanksgiving City Championship match between the capital’s best public and Catholic school. This Thanksgiving tradition ended in 1962, when riots broke out at RFC Stadium between St. John’s fans, who were mostly white, and eastern fans, most of whom were black.
Public schools in the capital began playing their championship at Thanksgiving Day and dubbed Turkey Powell in 1969, when College topped McKinley Technology. The games were played at RFK Stadium and Howard University, but the Eastern District in northeastern Washington was the primary location. It accommodates nearly 6000 spectators, and in most years it receives more than 4000 spectators.
“It has become a historic African American classic,” said Bruce Bradford, 71, who said he was attending all of the turkey paul dishes. It has a lot of old fashioned because it comes in the holiday season. There’s a big hole on Thanksgiving where you don’t have a turkey to go to. “
Until 2013, the Turkish Championship featured a champion from the East and West divisions of the league. Now the DC Interscholastic Sports League has been split into upper division (stars) and lower division (lines). The Stripes Division Championship, called Gravy Bowl, takes place the weekend before Thanksgiving. But the Turkey Bowl is still the main event among the province’s best public school teams, and residents of the capital get to know it from a young age.
Dwayne Foster family has the same routine every Thanksgiving. They were eating oatmeal for breakfast, taking hot chocolate on their way to Powell’s Turkey and stopping their brown cart at 17th Street N. They were trying to arrive early so they could sit in front of the eastern press box. Five years ago, Foster became the executive director of athletics at the Capital Public Schools, a role in which he helped organize Powell’s Turkey.
With so many coaches and players growing up around the game, playing in Turkey Bull has become a dream. Trainers said the turkey tastes better in the evening after the Turkey Bull wins, and one of the best feelings is to pick up a newspaper with the game summary the next morning. But the loss can be excruciating.
After Dunbar fell at the 2002 Turkey Bowl, the Jefferies returned to their home in Northwest Washington and prayed. He was so frustrated with his first loss in five years at Turkey Powell that he wasn’t sure he wanted to continue coaching football in high school. The only sign that Jeffries said kept his enthusiasm was telling God to win another title.
Jefferies, who attended Dunbar in the mid-1970s, regrets not having played at Turkey Powell. Stepping on the field leaves lifelong memories for players.
While playing with Theodore Roosevelt in 1976, Burnell Erby took the field only in the final minutes of his side’s 14-8 victory at Turkey Powell. It remains one of his fondest memories, even after he later trained in DC for 26 years.
Last year, Irby’s father, also called Purnell, died from cancer. The funeral was attended by several of his 1976 Irby teammates.
“You get to high school, and your first team wins the championship. It’s a big part of your life,” said Irby, 60.
The capital’s coaches and players said the game had an atmosphere of returning home. They are seen in their formal jackets and remember (and brag) about their performance. The only time so many people see their former teammates and coaches is in Turkey Powell, where the smell of roasted smoke consumes the air. Part of the attraction is that it is the only game in the DC area at Thanksgiving.
“To find out we’re in a game and that’s the only thing that happens in DC at 11 am,” said coach Greg Fuller, whose show HD Woodson has won the top 16 league titles, “that’s an amazing feeling.”
There is a lot of debate about which turkey is the best. In addition to the 1996 game, the 2006 match is often mentioned, which featured multiple recruits in Division I. Palo and Dunbar swapped the lead four times before Palo Duane Thornton fell back in fourth, and ran over the goal line less than two minutes earlier to give the Knights a 34-33 win.
Banter about past shows has stopped this year. But for the players and coaches who won the Turkey title, those memories follow them everywhere. Talbert moved to Maryland and raised a family, but people still call him to talk about his hunting. Without social media in 1996, the details of the play might change through word of mouth, but he believes the catch will be discussed in high school grades for decades.