An Island tradition — Our own Holiday Bowls

BOB DeSTEFANO PHOTO| Ready to go: John Kneeland, usually receiving the snap, takes a turn at center during one of the SI Holiday Bowl pick-up matches at Fiske Field.

How many people have thought about being Peyton or Eli Manning, two great quarterbacks with a famous football playing father who both developed a wonderful love for the game?

Not many can get all those ducks in a row, but right here on Shelter Island, for three games a year,  we have that scenario, with the Kneeland brothers, George and John, who also had a father who played football. Like Peyton and Eli, these two guys are very competitive — especially with each other. And, oh, yes, they both can really throw a football.

John Kneeland told me it all started 23 years ago when Matt Mobius, Ken Lewis and the Kneeland brothers started playing in games that attracted mostly ex-high school jocks between the ages of 20 and 50. They originally recruited players from the local bars by stimulating the competitiveness that never seems to wane with athletes. Through the years they’ve enticed about 50 different Islanders who still love to strap it on.

The games are played every Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Days here on Fiske Field. Through the years neither rain, sleet, snow nor ice have caused these guys to miss a game. Peyton and Eli — sorry, I mean George and John are usually the quarterbacks and always play against each other.

I started watching these games a few years ago when my son and I heard about them and decided we would join the fun. The guys that were playing were all friends of ours living on the island and it seemed like a nice way to get together while getting a little exercise. So we made the trip to Fiske Field because I heard the game was two-hand touch, only to discover that the guys somehow renamed the rules to “rough-touch.” Referees were not welcome, so out of bounds, offensive or defensive interference, roughing the passer or off side calls were up for grabs. Torn clothes with major grass and dirt stains, red faces with multiple cuts, and heavy huffing and puffing were very much a part of the game.

It didn’t take more than five minutes of watching when my son looked at me and said, “Do you want to do this, Dad”?
My answer was swift when I realized that I might not be walking after this game. Somehow it didn’t look like that much fun. I later found out most of the Holiday Heroes were not walking well themselves on the following day.

These guys are serious ex-jocks who put on a few pounds since high school. But their minds somehow convinced them while drinking beer and sitting on the couch that they suddenly could become NFL material. That said, the games are fun to watch because the guys are really good and play with all their hearts.

The entertainment lasts about two hours starting around 11:00 a.m., which gets you home early enough to watch the Jets or Giants game. The competition is open to anyone who wants to play, including those who or sit on the couch spilling their beer and chips while screaming about how they can’t believe how players can drop that pass or miss that tackle.

John Kneeland said “it is all about community” and although the list of players through the years is long, they are almost all Shelter Islanders and friends of yours. I know I’ll be watching the Christmas and New Year’s Bowl at 11:00 am right here at Fiske Field this year, I hope to will see you there.

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