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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Football on Thanksgiving a Rooted Holiday Tradition

Football on Thanksgiving a Rooted Holiday Tradition
(Appeared on 11/25)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – A big old bird, a side of stuffing and a generous helping of football. This combination has defined Thanksgiving Day for many Americans over the past ninety years.

While records show pro football being played on Thanksgiving as early as 1902, it has been a regular occurrence since the National Football League’s inception in 1920. The first owner of the Detroit Lions, G.A. Richards, started the tradition as a gimmick to get people to go to Lions football games. In those days, the likes of such teams as the Canton Bulldogs, Dayton Triangles and Detroit Heralds were the combatants.

Since 1945, the Lions have played on Thanksgiving every year while the Dallas Cowboys have played every year since 1978. Since 2006, three games are played on Turkey Day. The first two are hosted by the Lions and Cowboys, with one team from each conference playing either team on a rotating basis, while a third game, which is played in the evening, has no fixed opponents. 

This year, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots (8-2) will play Calvin Johnson and the Lions (2-8) at Detroit in the 12:30 game on CBS, with the Pats continuing their quest to win their division. The New Orleans Saints (7-3) face the Cowboys (3-7) in Dallas at 4:15, airing on FOX. In the night game, the Cincinnati Bengals (2-8) will challenge the red-hot New York Jets (8-2) in New York at 8, carried by the NFL Network.

The DuMont Television Network, one of the world’s pioneer commercial TV networks, was the first network to televise Thanksgiving games, in 1953. CBS took over in 1956, and in 1965, the first color television broadcast of an NFL game occurred, between the Lions and Baltimore Colts.

There have been a number of notable Thanksgiving Day games over the years. In a 1974 Cowboys-Redskins game, unknown Cowboys backup quarterback Clint Longley came in for Roger Staubach with the team down 16-3 to lead them to victory. In 1994, third-string Cowboys QB Jason Garrett subbed for Troy Aikman and took down Brett Favre and the Packers 42-31. In a 1976 game between the Lions and Buffalo Bills, running back O.J. Simpson set the league record for most rushing yards in a single game with 273. In 1980, Chicago Bear David Williams returned the opening kickoff in OT for a touchdown against the Lions, the only time that has happened in a Thanksgiving Day game.

More recently, in 2008, Cowboys QB Tony Romo led his team to a 34-9 win over the Seattle Seahawks, throwing for 331 yards and three TDs.

Preceding all the pro-football action on Thanksgiving Day, Fairfield will enjoy its own local battle when its two high school boys varsity teams face each other. With kickoff scheduled for 10a.m., Fairfield Warde’s Mustangs will go head-to-head with Fairfield Ludlowe’s Falcons at Warde, 755 Melville Avenue.

In the last two years, the Falcons, with third-year coach Matt McCloskey at the helm, have topped Warde head coach Duncan Della Volpe’s Mustangs on Thanksgiving and are looking to make it three in a row. In 2008, Ludlowe edged a 10-8 win; in 2009, they widened the score to 24-14. This year, however, Ludlowe has only one recorded win while Warde has four.

Ludlowe Athletic Director Dave Schulz is just looking for a good match Thanksgiving Day. “This is a high school football game with a great tradition. It’s great for the community and the teams will be putting a little pride on the line, for bragging rights. I hope the best team wins, they have fun and it’s a great event. This isn’t Jets-Giants, but it will be a fun atmosphere and good competition.”

As to how he expects the pro teams to fare that day, Schulz said, “Unfortunately, the Cowboys and Lions are not great this year. None of the match-ups are marquee. I guess if you’re a fan of the featured teams, it’ll be fun to watch, but the high school games may be more exciting.”

Jannotta Family Feed Raises Funds for CT Food Bank

Jannotta Family Feed Raises Funds for CT Food Bank
(Appeared on the Fairfield Citizen newspaper’s website 11/24)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – They were all like one big happy family united in a great cause and festive setting, and happy to share their good fortune to help others in need.

The blissful occasion was the 12th Annual Jannotta Family Feed that brought together Jannotta family, friends, high-ranking politicians and philanthropists to contribute funds to the Connecticut Food Bank. The buffet dinner was held at Vazzy’s 19th Hole Restaurant at D. Fairchild Wheeler Golf Club at 2930 Easton Tpke.

The original idea for the fundraiser was Tony Jannotta’s, special counsel to Senator-elect Richard Blumenthal. As he described it, “I was sitting around the kitchen table looking at the newspaper and read about food banks being in need. The Executive Director of the CT Food Bank, Nancy Carrington, was quoted as saying, ‘A donation of $10 can feed a family of four.’ I started asking friends and family if they would contribute $10 or more and, in a couple of days, had gathered about $2,000. I called Nancy to pass it off to her. Now, 12 years later, the event raises upwards of $20,000 and we’ve helped feed thousands and thousands of Connecticut families.”

Carrington, who has led the CT Food Bank since 1989 and is now its CEO, said, “The mission of the Food Bank is to alleviate hunger by distributing food and grocery products to the organizations that feed people in need and also work to educate the public about the problem of hunger. This annual event has raised approximately $200,000 over the years. It’s really heartwarming to come to an event like this where true believers in the Food Bank, without help from us, raise money to help neighbors in need.”

The politicos on hand to show support were many including Blumenthal, Governor-elect Dan Malloy, Fairfield First Selectman Ken Flatto, Senate Majority Leader John McKinney and Commissioner of Consumer Protection Jerry Farrell. Jannotta’s father, Al, said of their attendance, “This is a totally bipartisan event as you can see. Everyone leaves their political views at the door. We all get a great feeling from doing.”

“To help the CT Food Bank is so important,” said Flatto. “The Jannotta family has spearheaded one of the largest fundraisers. I commend them for a great job.”

Added Blumenthal, “This is really about family – the Jannotta family and all extended family, everyone here contributing and making Thanksgiving special for people who would otherwise have a less cheerful holiday. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday as it’s truly American. What better way to celebrate than by being generous?”

Malloy echoed the sentiment. “When we say our meal prayer or toast that toast and remember at that moment what we strive to do here, then we’ll think about it at another moment. We are indeed blessed but the greatest blessing is to pass it on to another.”

Carrington noted that every dollar goes a long way to helping. “The $20,000 we raise tonight will translate into 68,000 meals. People will be fed at Thanksgiving and through the winter.”

Tony Jannotta’s mother, Jeannette, who towed around and passed out Gumi Bears to grandchildren Eleanor, 5, and John, 3, was grateful for everyone’s support. “This Family Feed is a thank you to the donors. A thanks for giving, if you will.”

Jannotta’s wife, Brenda, said the event had become part of the family’s Thanksgiving tradition. “Now that we have kids, we’ve brought them into the picture. It’s really fun.”

Attendees were honored to be on hand and glad to contribute. Ansonia resident Raymond Ragaini said of the event, “It’s always a good cause. In our country, as rich as we are, 1 in 7 people are hungry right now. It’s a sad commentary. I believe because of efforts like this, we’re helping people in a small way.”

Judy Michaelis of Westport added, “It’s really nice to give back. This is a good cause with warm, giving people.”

An end-of-night tally showed $17,564 had been raised at the dinner alone and Carrington expected to receive additional donations over the next couple of weeks.

To contribute, checks can be made payable to the “CT Food Bank” and mailed to Anthony Jannotta at 275 Fallow Field Road, Fairfield, CT  06824.

Man About Town: A Lap Around the Lake

Man About Town:
A Lap Around the Lake
(Appeared in the Fairfield Citizen News 11/26)
By Mike Lauterborn
ã 2010. All Rights Reserved.

A sunny, unseasonably warm mid-November Sunday afternoon presented the perfect opportunity to pay a visit to Lake Mohegan. A sea of cars swamped the main parking lot, confirming that others had made a like decision.

Dedicated as an open space back in the late 60s, the 170-acre parcel offers a myriad of recreational pursuits. One element is the Sprinkler Playground, which, this time of year, sits idle, summer fun a faded memory. Likewise, the adjacent concession stand was locked tight and the modest stretch of beach, made of trucked-in sand, was empty. Three lifeguard chairs faced the clear lake, its surface rippling as it was tickled by a light breeze.

The height of leaf peeking season had passed, leaving mostly bare gray limbs with the exception of clusters of brown leaves stubbornly hanging on. Still, a stream of people passed through a log gateway, dogs of all sizes and makes in tow, to follow a hiking trail. The path was paved with pine needles and crunchy leaves that gave off an outdoorsy aroma. Timbers defined and reinforced the path in some spots and wide planks spanned gulleys in others.

My 10-year-old, Phil, was along for the adventure today and happily pointed out trail offshoots, a rusting hay rake, the odd scurrying chipmunk and the rhythmic tap tap of a busy woodpecker.

A black Lab, the hair on its belly and legs wet from a lake dip, came bounding toward us. Its owner smiled as it mounted a rock to peer at an overview.

As we made our way up an incline, we came to a prominent rock outcropping with overhangs said to have sheltered native Indians that once roamed the space. Strategically placed rock slabs provided a staircase to the summit and a far-reaching view of a distant ridge.

A slope on the other side that was littered with oak leaves led us deeper into the woods while also curling us back down toward the lake. Behind us, the chink chink of collar tags on a pair of dogs, one black and one white, was heard while yelps from others were audible up ahead.

We came to a broad rock plateau that bordered a rushing stream, a virtual watering hole for woods walkers and their four-legged beasts. A visiting family had carved a heart shape into the bark of a nearby birch tree and, inside the heart, added the message “Daddy, Paulina, Nico 2002”.

We followed the stream to a wooden bridge that allowed passage to the far bank for the circle back to our point of origin. As we crossed, we each dropped a leaf into the water and watched the current carry it away.

Photographers abounded, snapping portraits of family members against fall backdrops. A carefully notched stump provided a seat for a spell.

A path on the other side of the stream brought us past a secondary parking area and a small lagoon and back to the lake. The tranquil setting reminded me of a scene from “On Golden Pond.”

The sun was sitting just above a ridge top now, casting long shadows and lighting up the amber and yellow hues of the adjacent woods.

Our path broadened as we paced the homestretch and the shouts of children and chatter of adults returning to the parking lot became noticeable. They clambered back in their autos and rushed off, likely headed for TV rooms to munch snack food and enjoy late day pro football action.

We would join them in the pursuit, while savoring the sights and sounds we’d just experienced -- yet another facet of Fairfield’s resplendent bounty.

Local Families to Host International Guests on Thanksgiving

Local Families to Host International Guests on Thanksgiving
(Appeared on 11/24)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Westport, CT – Thanksgiving Day promises to be quite a rewarding and unique experience for a number of international visitors and the local families that have volunteered to host them in their homes this holiday.

The collaboration is made possible by the International Hospitality Committee, also known as the Southwestern Connecticut Chapter of the United Nations Association of the USA, which invites people to open their doors to United Nations staff and diplomats, State Department sponsored visitors, Fulbright Scholars and other international students.

The Committee tries to match the interests of the hosts with those of the guests. For example, a few years ago, Westporters who had visited Vietnam and had children studying there hosted six high-ranking guests who were part of a delegation from Vietnam. According to Committee spokesperson Barbara Jay, “The dinner was an enormous success.”

While hosts are advised on any dietary constraints or allergies, most guests are willing to try everything.

Jay explained how a typical Thanksgiving hosting works. “Hosts and guests are given each other’s names and contact information, and usually arrangements are made through email to ensure clear communication. Guests arrive at the Westport Train Station by the 11:11a.m. train from New York and are collected by their hosts. After that, the rest of the day is determined by the host family.”

As to activities once guests are with the families, Jay said, “Some will go for a walk on the beach. Others learn touch football on the lawn or the intricacies of NFL football on TV. Some hosts have taken their guests to help out in soup kitchens. There is no typical hosting experience, just the fascination of strangers meeting and becoming friends over a fine meal.”

Naomi Cruz Ciferri and her family will be hosting for the first time this year. “I thought it would be a nice thing to do for someone with no place to go, who was away from home and needed company and a nice meal,” she said. “We always like having people over. We have an open-door policy.”

Ciferri’s guests, Kishor Patel, 29, and Raksha Kumar, 24, both from India and post-graduate students residing in the tri-state area, were on a waiting list for hosting. Ciferri and the pair exchanged emails. “They are very much looking forward to sharing Thanksgiving dinner with our family,” said Ciferri.

Madelein Schuster is a veteran host who has been welcoming international visitors into her home since the late 80s. “When I first decided to host and told my children, who were elementary school age at that time, they feared for their safety. ‘What if they kill us? No will ever know,’ they said. That’s why I had to do this, to open their minds. Now it’s a wonderful tradition for us.”

Schuster’s guests this year are Yaeji Chun, 27, from South Korea, and Fahad Rahman, 25, from Pakistan. She said both are looking forward to the holiday – Chun, in particular, is excited, as she has only been in the country two months and hasn’t experienced it before.

“We have a tradition to have everyone help cook an apple pie,” said Schuster. “It’s fun to share stories about food as we are cooking, cutting and baking. Often times, as a gift to my family, guests bring food items from their country.”

“One year, we had someone from China who was a classical violinist and he brought his violin with him and treated us to a performance. Another year, our guests wanted to experience Black Friday. We got up at 3a.m. to go shopping in New Jersey,” said Schuster.

Barbara Quincy is another veteran host. “I have invited guests to my home for more years than I can count. They have come from Japan, India, Scandinavia, England, Belgium and Germany. It is such a mutually rewarding experience and a small way of promoting understanding and friendship between nations. Heaven only knows the world needs to go in that direction.”