Tradition: Football and Thanksgiving
Sunday, November 24, 2013 6:00 PM
High school football was the main attraction on Thanksgiving Day in the early years of the sport in Marinette and Menominee. The first M&M Game was played on the national holiday in 1894. Menominee eked out a 14-4 win before about 500 spectators on a crude playing field in Marinette.
Charles B. Hedgecock coached the Menominee football team to a 3-0 win over Marinette in the final Thanksgiving Day game played in 1916. The biting cold and normal wintry conditions a century ago never prevented Marinette and Menominee students and adult faithful from having fun and enjoying the rivalry.
Courtesy Anuta Research Center
The Crimson, later christened the Maroons with a change of color in the uniform jersey, won the next two Thanksgiving Day games before the young interstate series was suspended for a couple of seasons.
The series resumed in 1899, but the game wasn't played on Thanksgiving Day. School officials apparently figured the cold weather and frozen gridirons in late November weren't conducive for players, coaches and spectators. The game was played on Sept. 30, Marinette winning for the first time 11 to 5.
By 1908, officials from the two schools decided to return to the traditional Thanksgiving Day headliner. About 2,000 rooters cheered their teams in the turkey day special in Marinette. The Marines won 12-4 (touchdowns were worth four points).
The Thanksgiving Day special continued through 1916 when the date of the game was advanced to an earlier schedule in the month.
Menominee had a four-game winning streak running when the two teams lined up for what was to be the last Thanksgiving Day outing. In fact, the feast day special proved to be a nemesis for the purple and white.
Marinette was shut out in the previous five games (the 1911 contest was a scoreless tie). Fans attending the post-season high school playoff games in recent years will attest to the cold and biting winds and poor field conditions when the games carry into late November weekends.
Imaginations will have to kick in to envision conditions when teams clashed on Thanksgiving Day in the bygone years. Cold weather and snappy winds arrived earlier. So did the snow. School custodians and volunteers often had to sweep or shovel snow from the playing field before the kickoff. Gridirons were either muddy or frozen. There were few places where fans could go at the intermission to warm up.
The 1916 showdown was set for Thursday, Nov. 30. The site was the Menominee County Fairgrounds which was located in the vicinity of the present-day Central Elementary School.
Controversy swirled in the days leading up to the game. Menominee had two stars in its lineup who had reached their 20th birthdays - Richard "Eck" Erdlitz and Babe Tierney. They were ruled out of the Escanaba game which was played two contests earlier. Michigan had a rule which prohibited players from competing once they reached 20. The Wisconsin age limit was 21.
Marinette Prinicpal Frank W. Hanft issued a public announcement that his school would not protest the use of the two Menominee players because Wisconsin rules allowed 21-year-old players. He said they should be allowed to compete if the game was being played in Menominee and under Michigan regulations.
In a separate incident eight days before the showdown, Hanft and Menominee coach Charles B. Hedgecock were compelled to issue public statements rejecting rumors circling the Twin Cities that each team had brought in "extra coaches" to help the teams prepare. A 1914 pact between the schools prohibited the use of special coaches for M&M game preparations.
Both teams had strong lineups. Marinette, however, clearly had the better record entering the scrap.
The Marines soundly defeated Appleton 79-0 and Oconto 60-0 before playing Green Bay East to a 7-7 deadlock. Earl "Curly" Lambeau was a star halfback for East.
Marinette went on to nip Green Bay West 7-6 and then cuffed, in order, Escanaba 15-0; Stevens Point 14-6; and Neenah 38-0.
Menominee defeated Oconto 6-0; Marquette Normal College (Northern Michigan University) 21-7; Peshtigo 25-0; Escanaba 6-0; and Appleton 7-0. The Crimson and Green Bay East fought to a scoreless tie.
Marinette tuned up for the M&M tilt by beating Neenah at State Street Park on Nov. 18. It was so cold that school officials placed straw around the field so the fans wouldn't have to stand in snow. Volunteers shoveled snow from the field so the game could proceed.
The fans on both sides of the Menominee River were in a spirited mood. Meetings were held during the week to make plans for the pre-game hysteria.
Marinette's faithful assembled on Dunlap Square at 12:30 p.m. on a cold Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 30) and marched across the "Middle Bridge" to the Michigan side for the 2 o'clock kickoff. Waving purple and white banners and signing school songs, the rooters were led by Art Gignon who was saddled on a white horse.
Upon reaching the fairgrounds, the vivacious fans carried a coffin decorated in crimson and white colors to the tune of a funeral procession. The march halted at midfield.
Not to be outdone, Menominee loyalists paraded onto the field with a roughbox and gallows with a youth dressed in maroon colors. Songs, cheers and hip-hip hurrays filled the frigid air.
Someone had the canniness to film the pomp and color in the era of silent movies for a later showing at the Grand Theater in downtown Menominee.
The unofficial crowd for the bone-chilling turkey day classic was listed at 4,500, a remarkable turnout for the wintry conditions.
The teams locked horns in a brutal battle on the field. After three quarters, the game was scoreless.
Menominee got the break it was looking for in the fourth quarter. Erdlitz, the talented back who was questionable before the game because of his age, punted to the Marines. A bouncing football and cold hands resulted in a fumble on the Marinette 25.
The Crimson netted 12 yards in two plays to the 13. Three plunges into the line netted seven more. On fourth down, Erdlitz stepped back to the Marinette 15-yard line and drop-kicked a field goal. The 3-0 margin held up the rest of the game.
Underdog Menominee bagged its fifth win in a row over its arch rival and extended Marinette's scoreless streak to six games.
Here's how the Menominee Herald-Leader described the outcome in the next day edition:
"The better team won. Menominee was outweighed. Marinette was outgeneraled and outplayed. Neither side was outgamed. Both fought cleanly and hard from the whistle which started the contest until the timekeeper's whistle sent a mass of wildly cheering Menominee enthusiasts swarming on to the field."
That's the way it was in Marinette and Menominee during Thanksgiving week 97 years ago.