Reviving a South Philly Thanksgiving tradition

Neumann-Goretti defeated Southern, 54-0, as the teams renewed a Thanksgiving rivalry after a five-year absence. It was the 81st meeting between the two South Philly schools

Players from Neumann-Goretti and Southern shake hands before the game on Thanksgiving Day. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

In 1934, they decided it would be a great idea to start a Thanksgiving football tradition between two South Philly high schools.

Over the last year, they had an even better idea to revive it.

Neumann-Goretti and South Philadelphia high schools met at the South Philly Super Site at 10th and Bigler streets to renew the oldest Catholic vs. Public Thanksgiving Day rivalry in Philadelphia.

Though the game had a lopsided score as Neumann-Goretti defeated Southern 54-0 in the 81st meeting of the two teams, fans and alumni of the two schools packed the bleachers and shared a longtime tradition, brought back after a five-year absence.

“When I became a coach here, I was hoping (the Thanksgiving game) would come back,” said Neumann-Goretti coach Albie Crosby. “The whole South Philly community, no matter what the score is, I think it’s a win for all of us.”

Southern’s Mubarqk Hall attempts to evade a tackle by Neumann-Goretti’s Jayden Styles on Thanksgiving. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

The rivalry started in 1934 when then-South Catholic opened its doors at 7th and Christian streets and the teams met 80 times through the next 82 years, with cancellations in 2007 and 2014. After it was brought back in 2015, it was canceled again in 2016 when Neumann-Goretti decided to focus on its postseason run in the state playoffs. That situation occurred again this year, but the Saints decided they still wanted to play on Turkey Day despite having to travel almost two hours north the next day to play Danville at Lehighton High School in Carbon County in the quarterfinal round of the PIAA Class 3A state playoffs.

Neumann-Goretti’s Yasir Williams celebrates after returning an interception for a touchdown on Thanksgiving. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

Crosby knew earlier this season that his talented team could be faced with that dilemma again. 

“People asked me, ‘If you go back to the playoffs, will you still have this game?’ ” Crosby said. “And I said, ‘Absolutely.’ We’ll figure it out. Whatever way it has to be to play this game.”

Neumann-Goretti arrived in throwback orange uniforms with “Pirates” embroidered across the back nameplate — a nod to the nickname donned at St. John Neumann High School before it merged with St. Maria Goretti in 2004. 

Just like old times, Neumann-Goretti captured a victory in a rivalry it now leads 59-19 with three ties. Kevin Thomas caught a 52-yard touchdown pass from Marqui Adams on the first offensive play from scrimmage and the Saints never looked back. Terry Cameau returned a 25-yard interception for a touchdown and Yazeed Haynes caught an 18-yard pass from Adams as the Saints rolled out to a 22-0 lead through the first quarter. Jayden Styles added a short touchdown run in the second quarter and Neumann-Goretti was able to pull its starters in preparation for their next game. The backups were just as good, scoring four unanswered touchdowns in the second half as Neumann-Goretti raised its record to 12-1.

“Whoever is in our way, we just need to get through the adversity and move on,” said Cameau, who also recovered a fumble in the first half. “We’re on a mission for the people before us. (Southern) was in our way and now they are out of our way.”

South Philadelphia High School cheerleaders rev up the crowd during a Thanksgiving Day football game against Neumann-Goretti. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

Though Southern (3-5 record) was outmatched on the scoreboard, it gave the Rams another opportunity to play football, which was especially welcomed after playing only four games last season. Southern hadn’t played a game since a 42-0 victory over Kipp-Dubois on Oct. 22. Instead of wrapping up the season, the Rams grinded out another month of hard practices in preparation for Thanksgiving. 

“It feels great being out here and I love my guys,” said Southern junior defensive back Razan Parker, who had two interceptions on Thanksgiving. “We had a hard season. Practice was a grind. We worked hard and focused every single day. We knew it was our last game. All the guys played with heart this season and I love them for that. It wasn’t the outcome we wanted but we played our hearts out.”

Southern’s Razan Parker intercepts a ball in front of Neumann-Goretti’s Ahmir Batts. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

Neumann-Goretti’s Lou Governatore and Southern’s Hahmir Johnson were given awards as the offensive and defensive linemen of the game, respectively, as the teams gathered at the 50-yard line following the final horn.

“I’m just honored to be out here and to be a part of a South Philly tradition,” said Johnson, a sophomore. “I’m proud of my team. Even though they had better players than us, we still went out there and fought for it.”

A new team trophy was constructed for the winner of the renewed tradition. The Bartolomeo-Pitt-Siani Memorial Trophy will call Neumann-Goretti High School’s trophy case its home for the next 12 months. 

Neumann-Goretti celebrates with the Bartolomeo-Pitt-Siani trophy after defeating Southern, 54-0, in the 81st meeting of the two schools on Thanksgiving Day. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

Handshakes and gestures of goodwill were exchanged between the two squads both before and after the presentations as brotherly love was on display.

“With the times we are going through right now with our young kids out on the streets getting murdered, you can use these couple of hours to bring everybody back here together and just have a great time,” Crosby said.

His coaching opposition had similar thoughts.

“It means a lot to me and I’m not originally a South Philly guy,” said Southern coach Mike McKeen. “We wanted to bring it back for the people and have some good. With so much bad going on in the city and so much bad news, this is good news. This is going to be here to stay and hopefully we do this another 81 years.”