When both the strong and the weak pause to give thanks

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comNovember 26, 2013 

Thanksgiving came early this year.

I was driving up U.S. 601 in Hampton County on Saturday, somewhere between Greater Tarboro and the suburban sprawl of Estill. I call it the road to Mama's, and on this day I stopped at Lester's Bar-B-Que to pick up a jar of handmade cane syrup, and a bag full of fresh, shelled pecans.

That is a lot to be thankful for, but so was the sign in front of a country church painted snow white. It said: "Miracles. Signs. Wonders."

We all see a lot of miracles, signs and wonders in our lives, and I'm thankful to the small church for advertising it.

Every Thanksgiving, I think of one of the signs and wonders that became a big part of life in Atlanta.

It was the annual football game between the freshmen teams from Georgia Tech and Georgia. The Baby Jackets and Bullpups played every Thanksgiving morning from 1933 to 1993, except for the World War II years.

The tradition began in the Dark Ages, when it was believed young men needed time to adjust to college and could not play varsity football as freshmen. It thrived in the era when Georgia Tech coach Bobby Dodd required his boys to go to church on Sunday.

But I like to think the game gained its place in history on words attributed to Ralph McGill. At the time, he was a sports editor, but later, as the Atlanta Constitution editor, he would become known as the South's conscience.

McGill is credited with the slogan for the Thanksgiving Day game, played to benefit an Atlanta institution then known as the Scottish Rite Hospital for Crippled Children.

"Strong legs run that weak legs may walk," he wrote.

As many as 40,000 people would pay to see the game. They were entertained by the likes of Fran Tarkenton and Frank Sinkwich, the first Bulldog Heisman Trophy winner. "Fireball Frankie" reportedly said he was prouder to play in the Thanksgiving Day game than the Rose Bowl.

Players often said visiting the children in the hospital gave them new eyes to see life's true wonders. All told, strong legs ran for a total of $6 million to help weak legs walk.

The game lost its footing when freshmen started playing varsity, and scholarships were limited. It slogged on until it was an anachronistic fly in the ointment of the billion-dollar business of college football.

But the slogan lives on in other charitable games for children.

And it is one of the many wonders that live in our hearts each Thanksgiving Day.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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