By Conor Walsh
---- — In its infancy, the "McGovern Bowl" was the kind of holiday tradition you can see across the country.
On the day after Thanksgiving 14 years ago, Gloucester's John Oliver and Ryan McGovern joined six of their friends for a friendly -- well, as friendly as it can be -- game of pickup tackle football.
Since then, the game has become more than just a tradition. As the tradition grew, so did the McGovern Bowl. And when Oliver and McGovern join the original group for the 14th annual "McGovern Bowl" at Magnolia Woods on Saturday, they'll be a part of a six-team, sixty-plus player tournament.
"We all played youth sports and stuff together and it just turned into a really competitive atmosphere," Oliver said. "We got real jobs and had to move it to Saturday, and as it went along, we brought in more and more guys. Family, friends, college buddies. We grew because of the competitive nature."
In fact, that competitive nature has even brought along some sponsorships for the tournament. Palazola's Sporting Goods donated equipment -- footballs, cones, etc. -- to the Bowl, and while it ultimately fell through this year, Oliver said they're also working on securing sponsorships from Dick's Sporting Goods and Buffalo Wild Wings.
It may seem odd for such attention for what appears to be a bunch of simple pick-up football game. But for those playing, it's become much more than that.
While most players are originally from Gloucester, players are brought in from around the Northeast, from as far as New Jersey, other parts of New England and the South Shore of Massachusetts. The ages range from 20-26.
And when the six-team tournament starts, the competitive nature of the tournament takes over.
Teams are split up into two three-team divisions. Each team plays the two other teams in its division and one team from the other division in five-on-five, first-to-five games.
The top four teams move on to the playoffs, and by the time a winner is crowned, Oliver said, "most guys are beat up."
"We have some injuries," Oliver said with a laugh. "Last year we had a broken ankle. I bruised up my ribs. We've had some guys need stitches."
But at the end of it all, those who are still standing will head out for dinner, giving the winners a chance to gloat and all those involved a chance to soak in another year of tradition.
And while the next morning usually brings with it plenty of aches and pains, they keep coming back.
"I'm usually out of commission for a few days afterward," Oliver admitted. "I never regret it though."