History of the Winchester / Woburn football rivalry and the annual Thanksgiving day game

The Rotary Clubs of Winchester and Woburn for decades have celebrated the friendly rivalry with a “Captain’s Luncheon’ alternating the site each year. The luncheon is an opportunity to show appreciation to both teams for their efforts on behalf of the teams, the schools and the respective communities. With captains, coaches, athletic directors, principals and superintendents in attendance there is friendly banter with a definite display of sportsmanship.. The captains know those who will be standing across the line at the opening whistle have come to play too and they are passionate, intense and full of pride, just like them.


“Sportsmanship is more than a word to be bandied about by college yell leaders and newspapermen. It is a philosophy of living. Sportsmanship is simply a corollary of the Golden Rule. You give and take on a fifty-fifty basis. You play the game. And when it is over, there are no whines and no excuses. You both have done your best. We need sportsmanship everywhere and every day. We need it because there are ill-tempered men and women in homes and offices. We need it because there are road hogs on the highway and political meddlers in public positions. The world needs sportsmanship. The rules of fair play and clean play must be read into international politics and economic relations, if universal peace is to come and to stay.”

Knute Rockne, Notre Dame Football coach, November 1930


Trying to capture the essence of a rivalry that has been in existence for 122 years is difficult, particularly with the time constraints. There was a lot of microfilm to go through.


The rivalry started in 1891. The first 37 years the games were not on Thanksgiving and they were not played every year. In fact in 1892 Winchester did not field a team.


The series stands at:
Winchester won 52
Woburn won 44
12 Ties (6 of these were 0-0 scores)
This year will mark the 109th game in the series.


There were no games in 1892, 1895-1898, 1900, 1901, 1903-1907 and then again from 1912- 1917.


This year the Thanksgiving Day game is the second contest between the two schools. However this is not the first time that the teams have played twice in a season.


It happened in 1902, 1909, 1910, & 1911


In 1894 Winchester won but there is no record of the score.


In 1899 the score was Woburn 5 – Winchester 0. At that time a touchdown was 5 points. The 6 point touchdown did not come in until 1912.


Speaking of 1912 it was very difficult to find many articles about the games since the Winchester Star did not have a “sports” writer. So I was excited while doing research to find a front page headline “Team on Fire”. Unfortunately the team on fire was a team of horses pulling a burning wagon through the streets of Winchester.


In 1918 the season didn’t start until Saturday, October 26th due to the great flu epidemic. The teams had to practice for two weeks before the season according to rule and the practices couldn’t start until the flu epidemic ban was lifted.

Over the years both teams have had players with some colorful nicknames which made for great press. There was Big Monk, Chucker, Butter, Scooter, Fatty, Cupie, Chief, Hennie, Dogger, Rugged, Dynamite, Steamer, Piggy, Olio, Spike, Fat, Doc, Iron, Skitchie, Jocko, Moose, Muscles, Casty, Chatanooga Choo Choo and Nutsy. (Frank “Nutsy” Amico was a Rotarian and Fire Chief in Winchester)

One of Winchester’s 50 year members Nick Fitzgerald was quarterback of the 1925 team. In the early years Thanksgiving Day in Winchester was marked with a football game between an Alumni team vs. the High School team. It wasn’t until 1928 that the Woburn – Winchester Thanksgiving Day game became an institution.

Thanksgiving and Football are now inseparable. Woburn won that first Thanksgiving game 26-6 and clinched the State title. The next year the game was already referred to by the Star and Times as the annual “Thanksgiving Classic”.
The game has been played in sub-freezing temps and balmy conditions, on muddy, sloppy fields and on dry, fast fields. On a few occasions the game was postponed due to snow or torrential downpours but whenever it was played it is always played with intensity tempered with good sportsmanship. The season record means little in this game. If you go undefeated into this game and lose, the rest of the season is overlooked.
This is the game both teams want to win. Quote from the Star: “Winning this game is tantamount to having a successful season. This is the yardstick by which rabid home town rooters measure a season.” The pre-game hype lasts for over a week with dinners, luncheons, breakfasts and rallies stirring up the fandom to a fever pitch.
Former Winchester Coach John Donohue said about these shared events “We lie about how wonderful the other team is and then we try to go out and beat the team the best we can.” The crowds are always large but none larger than the 1968 game when Woburn sold out of tickets early in the first quarter. One trio of Woburn fans were seen sitting on a horse, the same horse, up on the hill with an orange and black blanket draped over the animal.
No matter what the season record happened to be “The” game since 1928 has drawn crowds averaging 5,000 to 10,000. The 1979 crowd was said to have exceeded 20,000. The rivalry has stirred the emotions of the each team’s sympathizers to the point of “rowdyism”. In 1930 some overzealous Winchester fans, so the story goes, visited Woburn and painted the goal posts red and black. In 1931 Woburn supporters reciprocated with a display of orange and black paint on the goal posts in Winchester. At least through the early 60’s pranks and retribution was a pre-game mainstay. There were lots of eggs and shaving cream adorning landmarks in each town. The World War I Memorial in Winchester, a Herbert Adams sculpture of 2 elegantly dressed females that sits on the corner of Main Street and Mystic Valley Parkway, has worn Orange and Black on more than one occasion. There were times when the antics reached the level of delinquent behavior and cooler heads had to prevail.
On Thanksgiving Day 1940 Coach Henry “Hennie” Knowlton of Winchester and Coach James L. “Dogger” Brennan of Woburn resumed a rivalry that for them went back to 1925 when they faced off in a regular a season game between the 2 schools and continued until Hennie graduated in 1928. The two programs have produced some legendary coaches who have stressed mutual respect and class towards the other program.

The 1943 game was played on the Shore Road Field in Winchester. The field was located along the Aberjona where the Griffin museum sits now. The Aberjona had a slightly different route and the trains ran at ground level. That was the only time the game was played there. It was a lousy field.
McCormack’s Apothecary, which stood on the corner of Main and Church Street, site of the current Winchester Pharmacy, for many years, provided milk shakes for the winning team, Winchester or Woburn, at his soda fountain and Fred McCormack, legendary Rotarian, also supplied the MVP trophy for the Winchester High player of the game. McCormack’s sponsored the “Victory” dance for 30 years on Thanksgiving night. It was first held in Waterfield Hall, then the Town Hall and later the high school. The event was attended by upwards of 500 -800 students from both schools. At the dance the MVP trophies for both teams were presented.
The winning team always had a car caravan that snaked its way through the streets of the opposing town with horns blaring and exuberant fans proclaiming their victory. Arguably the greatest years of the rivalry were 1953 – 1955. These were the playing years for Woburn’s Joe Castiglione, not the Red Sox Broadcaster, and Winchester’s Joe Bellino, two of the greatest athletes of their time. Castiglione scored 5 rushing touchdowns in his three Thanksgiving games and Joe Bellino scored 3 times in his senior year finally. Castiglione was drafted by the Red Sox and Joe Bellino won the Heissman trophy while at Annapolis. Each had their numbers retired by the respective school and Winchester has a Park dedicated to Joe Bellino. They are legends that epitomize the rivalry. Joe Castiglione once said of Joe Bellino when he took off on a flea flicker “you couldn’t catch him with a gun”. Joe Bellino scored in 22 successive games. The 2 Joes played offense, defense and special teams. In the 1953 contest Castiglione was off to the races with a kick-off return but was caught by Joe Bellino and tackled to save a touchdown.
In 1955 there was a shortened season again due to the Polio epidemic. The schools didn’t open until September 19th and the Winchester team played its first game on October 8th.
In 1959 the Star reporter said that WHSR the High School radio station was carrying the game live but wondered who was home to listen. (The Winchester Rotary provided the funding for WHSR) The game is so much a part of the fabric of the community that on Thanksgiving morning 1962 with torrential rains falling 248 calls came into the Winchester Police Station between 8:30 and 9:40 AM wanting to know if the game had been cancelled. It was. In 1967 the Winchester Police reported having received 1000 calls of a similar nature. The sheer volume greatly impeded their efforts to handle emergency calls. (Parkview 9 or 729-1212)
In 1963 the nation was dealing with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The crowd of approximately 11,000 on Thanksgiving Day, November 28th, just 6 days after the assassination, stood for a moment of silence. The Woburn Times editor noted that when the announcer called for the tribute “the flag on the northerly end of the field went limp” and moments later when the drums rolled to begin the National Anthem “the wind picked up and sent Old Glory flying in the
The high regard that the fans have for the game is evident in this quote from a Winchester fan, searching for some solace after the 1982 game won by Woburn; “the only flaw in Woburn’s line- up was that they painted their shoes orange”.
In the Super Bowl era Woburn won 3 and Winchester 2. For the Captains, the big knock is that the Thanksgiving Game doesn’t mean anything anymore but this game means everything to those seniors playing in their last game. It means a lot to the Cheer Leaders and Band members who have spent countless hours practicing for the “Big” day. It means a lot to those fans who cherish the memories of Thanksgiving games past and who look to add to that vault of memories. It is a day of reunions and bragging rights, but most of all it is a display of mutual respect and class by two great football programs.
For the full list of games and past photos, see the following two documents:
Jack Kean
Rotary Club of Winchester