Thanksgiving: Perfect marriage of football, turkey

Eli Manning‘s childhood Thanksgivings went as you might expect: turkey and gravy and all the fixings, a few passes in the backyard with his dad and his brothers, and of course football on TV. Eli’s favorite part of the backyard game wasn’t playing quarterback though, it was “making spectacular catches against my brothers.”

Who inspired him to make his awesome moves against the other Mannings? Not a receiver. Actually, Eli’s motivation came from watching a running back, Hall of Famer Barry Sanders, shake off defenders.

We spoke to a number of players this week and asked them about some of their favorite Thanksgiving memories. The Sidelines Blog will be featuring several of these players’ stories as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches.

Patriots rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez, like Manning, had a favorite memory of Thanksgiving that related to football. He remembers playing in his annual high school Thanksgiving Day football game and scoring a key touchdown in his junior year. What was his reward after the game? His favorite Thanksgiving dish, Puerto Rican rice and beans.

New York Jets center Nick Mangold‘s favorite memory of Thanksgiving was making it to the state playoffs in high school. “It was the first time I actually practiced football on Thanksgiving Day,” he said. “I thought that was cool.”

He had a more traditional meal than Hernandez after his practice: turkey, stuffing and his favorite dish, green bean casserole. Mangold will be cooking his first turkey this year. He’s grilling it on an open flame. “I’ll let you know how it goes,” he said.

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith will also be attempting to cook his first turkey this year. “I’m frying it!” he boasted. Smith sounds pretty confident. We may have to have a post-holiday turkey report.

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