The following is the third in a series of Thanksgiving football previews.
The last time East Boston lost to South Boston in their traditional Thanksgiving football game was 2008, but Jets coach John Parziale is taking nothing for granted when his team meets a winless South Boston team for the 96th time at 9:30 a.m. next Thursday.
Otherwise he’ll hear about it up until next Thanksgiving.
“It’s a big game and I think the people of South Boston feel the same way, especially the older generation,” Parziale said. “When you run into them, they don’t want to know if you beat Greater Lowell or Brighton or West Roxbury, they just want to know, ‘Did you beat Southie?’
"That’s the question they all ask. If you can say you beat them, everything else doesn’t matter. If you have to say you lost, they give you a disgruntled look and tell you about when they beat you back in ’63. That’s the legacy. We try to impress that on the kids.”
First-year South Boston coach Ray Butler joked that he doesn’t have that problem this year:
“We don’t have any wins this season, so not a lot of people come up to talk to me,” he said.
Butler got his first taste of the East Boston-South Boston rivalry while working as an assistant coach in the only older City League rivalry last Thanksgiving: the Boston English-Boston Latin game.
“We play at 9:30, we’re the first game off, I remember last year at the Latin-English game [former East Boston] coach [John] Sousa was umpiring the game,” said Butler, who was a Latin assistant last year. “As the game was getting going, he asked if anyone was getting [East Boston-South Boston] updates yet. So a lot of people have a vested interest in it.”
Parziale said he doesn’t care that South Boston hasn’t won a game this year.
“That’s true, they had a rough year, at the same token, you throw records out the windows on Thanksgiving and we say that all the time you never know,” he said. “It’s one of those things where anything can happen. You can get a day where it’s snowing -- we’ve played in snow -- or it could be pounding rain. In the elements, the ball goes the wrong way; you could fumble at the wrong time, you never know. It could be a windy, cold day.
“We had years we beat Southie when they were favored; ’99 comes to mind. Southie was an excellent team and we were pretty good, too. Everyone picked Southie to win and we came out and pulled the upset. We just played and hard and it worked out for us.”
That’s what Butler is counting on. Getting his first win as the Knights coach on
Thanksgiving, he said, would be amazing.
“That would be incredibly special,” he said. “It would mean a lot for the kids and it means a lot to the school. A lot of places, you look at Thanksgiving and no matter what the record is, the Thanksgiving win is the thing that carries you throughout the year. It’s a very important game.”
Aside from looking for his first win, Butler’s team also will have gone nearly three weeks without playing a game. That’s because they had a bye during the last week of the season. But Butler said the time off has given his team a chance to get healthy and take care of business in the classroom.
“It’s been good for us,” he said. “We are a young group of younger players. We only have two seniors on the team so we need all the prep to get ready for Thanksgiving and for how big a moment it is and how special. It’s a chance to heal up.
“It’s been good to make sure the kids get that final push to get their grades up; it’s the end of the term. You never like to not play for that long but it’s been a real positive for us in getting ready for this game taking care of all those other things and getting the preparation.”
East Boston (4-6), which has been one of the more consistent city programs in recent years, has had a down year and is looking to finish on a strong note.
“It’s one of the oldest games in the country and it’s still a big thing with the community, it’s a real big deal in the community,” Parziale said. “I have a few volunteer assistants that played in the game over the years. Some of the kids had brothers and fathers and uncles who played in the game.
"This year we’re not doing too well, but we make it a one-game season. One game for the championship for us. We say, ‘Hey, beat Southie; that cures a lot of ills.' It’s good for the season. It’s very important.”
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- Justin A. Rice -- A metro Detroit native, Rice is a Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) and Northeastern University graduate. Rice lives in the South End with his dog and wife, who unfortunately attended the University of Michigan ... his wife, that is. He curates the BPS Sports Blog and is always looking to write about city athletes with great stories. Have an idea? He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.
- Ryan Butler -- A Rhode Island native and avid Boston sports fan, Butler played basketball, baseball and football throughout his time in Barrington Public Schools. Now currently in his middler year at Northeastern University, he joins Boston.com as a correspondent for the site's BPS coverage. Have a story idea? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on his Twitter @butler_globe.