Nothing says love like family, flag football

A blue sky greeted the Thompson family for their annual Thanksgiving flag football game. Courtesy of Sonia Thompson

Saturday was the last Ole Miss home game of the season, the most exciting by far. It was rivalry week, and the Rebels trounced the much-hated Mississippi State Bulldogs 41-24, ending their three-game Egg Bowl losing streak.

But even that game didn't compete for the title of the biggest holiday weekend matchup. No, that honor goes to my husband’s family’s post-Thanksgiving Day flag football game, proving once again that there’s a thin line between love and hate.

Now, the Thompson Thanksgiving is a respectable affair. It rotates between aunts, uncles and cousins’ houses in Memphis and Oxford, Clarksdale and Yazoo City, Miss. There are usually between 50 and 75 family members, and everyone dresses up in church clothes for early afternoon Bloody Marys and champagne, a family photo, prayer and feast of shrimp, oysters, lump crab meat salad, cheese straws, meat pies, beef tenderloin with homemade béarnaise, turkey, stuffing, dove, squash casserole, sweet potato casserole, spinach casserole and about a dozen different desserts, including something called chocolate pté. It’s all very civilized -- until after lunch. Then, the church clothes are shed and everyone puts on sweatpants and heads over to the closest open field.

The trash talk actually begins weeks before, with emails about draft picks. The family patriarchs, brothers Michael and Will Thompson, who take the competition seriously, head up the teams. This year's email read, "Welcome to the 2012 Thompson Thanksgiving Football Players Draft. You have been drafted in the first round. Congratulations! (Contract $$$ and terms TBD after Thanksgiving Game)."

My family joined the Thompsons this year, and there was a battle over Seth, my 28-year-old brother, who is 6-foot-3. The final email read, "Seth will be on Will's team. ('Older Brother Wins Top Draft Prospect' was the headline)."

I was drafted by Michael (go blue team!), who came to win. He had a notebook full of plays; he tried to coach us up. We huddled before each down and were given specific instructions. It didn't matter that after the ball was snapped, not a single one of them actually happened as Michael had carefully outlined.

The white team went with the no-huddle strategy, which served them well. But I think it might have had more to do with the fact that the draft breakdown was a little lopsided. They got most of the men in the family, while the blue team players were Michael and most of the women, including the 6- and 7-year-old little girl cousins (who, I have to say, showed good hustle).

We had a small crowd of non-players cheering us on. When the little girls got tired, they tagged out to do gymnastic routines on the sidelines, and when someone needed a drink (read: beer) break, there was plenty of laughter. There were lots of touchdowns, but I'm not sure of the official score by the end, although I think (not shockingly) the white team emerged victorious. Cousin Harry bloodied and broke his nose on a (illegal) tackle, which still earned him the game ball.

Someone videoed most of it on an iPhone, and when we got back to the house, we switched off the NFL game and watched ourselves on the living room TV. Somehow, the broken-nose play wasn't captured on camera, so the re-telling was able to grow and grow (just like poor Harry's swollen face). And even though the rivalry talk over next year's game has already begun, I can still feel the love.