A Thanksgiving tradition: high school football in Louisville

Pass the mashed potatoes — and the pigskin.

Football players at Louisville's Manual Stadium, in the late 1940s.

Big crowds would fill Manual Stadium annually on Thanksgiving Day.

Photo courtesy of Archives & Special Collections, University of Louisville

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As holidays go, Thanksgiving loads its plate in tradition — from turkey trots, to the Macy’s Day Parade, there’s a lot to gobble up each year.

And if you’re one of ~40 million Americans, that includes football on your TV.

Football has been a longstanding Thanksgiving tradition, but a generation ago it wasn’t just the background noise for grandpa’s post-meal nap. Louisvillians would bundle up, brave the chill, and attend games in person.

From 1919 to 1980, locals came out in droves to see high school football match ups on Thanksgiving Day, particularly “The Old Rivalry” — pitting Male and Manual high school teams against one another.

Football players from Male and Manual High Schools in Louisville, KY.

High School football was once the main course on Thanksgiving Day — in Louisville that meant Male (left) vs. Manual (right).

Photos courtesy of Archives & Special Collections, University of Louisville

A look back

  • Male and Manual first met on the football field in 1893, and the rivalry was traditionally played before big crowds on Thanksgiving.
  • The rivalry was so fierce that in 1922 the stadium where the game was played burned down after the annual holiday game.
  • In 1966, 23,000 Louisvillians attended the Thanksgiving Male-Manual game — at the time that was the largest crowd to ever see a football game in Louisville.
  • The two sides’ last Thanksgiving game was in 1980. Changes in the high school football schedule forced the teams to move their annual rivalry game to earlier in the year.

The modern tradition

While high school football on Thanksgiving has taken a permanent time out, there’s still plenty of local football to look forward to around the holiday.

  • Juice Bowl Games — six youth football teams will play at Shawnee Park on Thanksgiving Day, starting at 10:30 a.m.
  • The Governor’s Cup — Since 2014, the Cards-Cats college rivalry has taken center-stage on Thanksgiving weekend. This year’s game takes place at 12 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 25 at L&N Stadium. The game is sold out, but you can watch it on ABC.
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