Twe nty-two souls started it, 22 football players finished it — The Reilly Thanksgiving Invitational.
It was a celebration that in years past took the form of tackle football, which eventually through the years transformed into touch in some form or fashion.
The book, “The Reilly Thanksgiving Invitational Story,” co-authored by Brent Parrott and Bryan Renfro, describes the 50-year odyssey of how the games in front of a Dallas elementary school went and how they continued through the years.
“We probably should have quit sooner than that, but we were a bunch of stubborn old men,” Parrott said. “But the beauty of the book is about a Thanksgiving football game, as well as the guys and their 60 years of friendship.”
Parrott was one of those players who through the seasons stayed in shape for the traditional meeting which was played in one place only, Martha Turner Reilly Elementary School in Dallas.
They started as 11- to 12-year-olds who just wanted to throw the pigskin around and get in a few licks. That first year was pretty memorable back in 1960, except for one Randy Norman.
“Randy broke his leg and he lived right across the street from Martha Reilly,” Parrott said. “So here we are, a bunch of 11 and 12-year-olds, we just picked him up and took him to his front porch, laid him down, then rang the doorbell and ran off.
“But we were probably more mad because it interrupted our game. Later a few parents came out and we got scolded for doing what we did to Randy.”
By the time 2009 rolled around, most of the 22 were unable to continue on. Most of them realized that at some point there was going to be an end.
“It wasn’t much of a game and Richard Parker, one of our players, wrote that it basically was grandkids running around along with a dog,” Parrott said. “There were 12 of us at that game and by that time the halftimes became longer and longer. I’d say that most of the games in the 2000s were spent more on the sidelines just catching up with each other.”
The game became an invitation-only contest with Renfro taking charge of the hand-made invitations and sending out his first one in 1967. But from 1984 until the end, each player had an opportunity to design their own invitation and send it out to the other 21 teammates.
“It got to a point where we couldn’t wait for the invitation, and even those became more and more creative with some help from the guys,” Parrott said.
Scores weren’t kept in these games, mainly because by the end of each contest, each player knew whether they had won or lost.
There were two designated players who chose different teams each year and by the third year, the game went from tackle to touch.
“We were smart enough to realize that unless if you had pads on we shouldn’t be playing tackle,” Parrott said. “So after the first two years we went to two below, but eventually two any where and as the years went by made all kinds of changes to help the game along. By 2008 we were all itching to let it go, but we wanted to make it to 50 years.”
Of the 22, 21 graduated from Bryan Adams High School in Dallas. Today, only 18 remain alive.
“By 2010 we all realized that we should stop playing because we were a bunch of old men and that year, Bryan sent out an invitation with him kneeling with a football signaling the end of an era,” Parrott said. “We’ve lost four of our members, one of them in a motorcycle accident in 1967. Fortunately, we didn’t lose one again until 2013, then 2017 and just a couple of weeks ago, lost another one.”
Through the years, awards have been handed out by Renfro, including one to Richard Parker.
Invited to the third game, Parker played in 48 straight, thus was honored with the Iron Man Award.
This past Thanksgiving, for one last hurrah, 12 of the original 22 showed up at Martha Martha Turner Reilly Elementary School for one last time.
“Basically just family and friends and just to say goodbye to the RTI to make it 60 years of cama raderie,” Parrott said.
All for just a game of football.