PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — “Let’s play ball!”

“Referee” Larry Gumberg blows his whistle and the 44th annual Turkey Bowl is underway. Childhood friends test aging knees and aching muscles on the playing fields of Mellon Park in Point Breeze.

Quarterback Rick Simon, 57, says it all began with a pickup game in the streets of his Squirrel Hill neighborhood.

“Forty-four years ago. Thanksgiving,” he said. “Not much else to do. We wanted to play football.”

Donnie Silverman also remembers.

“Three of us got together to play middleman football that day, you know. One guy goes back and forth to each side,” he says. “I had a big friend who was 13-years-old who gave me his shirt. I’m still wearing it, and I wear it every year.”

“The second year,” Simon recalls, “we said, we did this last year, let’s do it again. The third year, I know we had 12.”

It started out with the guys north of Wilkins Avenue squaring off against the guys south of Wilkins.

Now, with players scattered all across the country, geography has lost its meaning. Their friendships have no boundaries.

“When I got married,” Simon says, “I said to my wife, ‘You can have any holiday you want, except Thanksgiving. It’s mine.'”

Now, the quarterback’s son and daughter continue Dad’s tradition.

“In another 45 years,” Josh Simon says, “I hope it will still be happening, with the children and the grandchildren.”

His sister, Rachel Simon, agrees.

“When I grew up enough to stop cheering on the sidelines and actually start to play, it was a really good year,” she added.

The game ended in a tie. But, of course, it always does.

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