Friendly football game brings Beaufort family, friends together at Christmas

emoody@beaufortgazette.comDecember 24, 2012 

A fierce battle looms this Christmas morning.

Casualties are possible.

Trash-talk will be endless.

Only one team will have bragging rights when it's over.

Despite the tough competition, the annual Giants vs. Redskins game is a laughing matter.

For more than two decades, several Beaufort families have donned their red and blue and taken to the makeshift field at The Green in the city's Old Point neighborhood for a Christmas tradition that now spans three generations.

"It's great fun to see these young kids come out and play, and nobody gets mad, and nobody cares really that one team wins or another," referree John Horton said. "It's just a great thing to do to keep families together for the holiday."

As Dr. Gene Grace recalls it, the game started the year after the "Big Snow" -- 1989, when snow began falling Dec. 22 and remained on the ground Christmas Day. He doesn't remember exactly what prompted him to pick up the football and herd the children out the door -- it probably was to get them out from under the adults' feet during the lull between presents and dinner.

Grace also can't say why the teams are Giants and Redskins, except that the Redskins were one of the few southern teams for years and rival Giants were a natural pick for opposition.

"And as the kids started getting older, the game started getting more competitive," he said.

Players have been known to get into the spirit of both the game and the holiday by decorating vehicles -- complete with a Santa -- for a parade over the few short blocks from the Grace home to the field. Passersby often are pulled in to bolster teams. Minor injuries occasionally sideline players -- including one year when a back injury and a bloody cut sent two to the hospital, Grace's daughter, Chilton Simmons, said.

Participant Ginny Shuman says the early games were the golden years, because her mother, Lila Meeks, played.

"My mother was the only mom who really played, and I don't know if that was because she really loved competition, or because she didn't want to be in the kitchen," she said.

The mother-daughter duo were the "backbone of the Redskins defense," Shuman said, likening them to University of South Carolina defensive ends Jadaveon Clowney and Beaufort High School graduate Devin Taylor.

The game is going through a transition, as the third generation -- grandchildren -- begin to join in. Although the game has been for ages "1 to 65," since inception, Simmons said, a short scrimmage just for the little ones has been added as pre-entertainment for the big game.

Sidelined several years ago by shoulder problems, Grace remains an outspoken Giants fan ... even though he determines the team rosters and has joined Horton as a referee.

"Gene has always stacked his team," Shuman said. "He's a wonderful, sweet, fabulous man, but when it comes to this game he picks the people he wants."

Grace emphatically denies the accusation, claiming he actually stacks in favor of the opposition.

"If I stacked it the other way, they'd complain even worse," he said, with a big grin. "The Redskins bellyache the entire time."

Horton, who had his knee replaced this fall and will be "gimping around the field," says he provides the balance needed in officiating.

"I just call the game the way I see it, and whoever wins, wins," he said. "I'm not pro-Giants or Redskins."

Grace says the past few games have all been decided on the final play. The winners sometimes take a victory lap around the field, but at the end, everyone laughs and heads off to a Christmas feast.

"It's not the most athletic event you've ever seen," Simmons said. "It's organized chaos with toddlers and dogs running on the field. ... And we probably only run the length of The Green three times."

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