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December 3, 2014

The Movie Diary: Into the great unknown

By Dom Cioffi

Thanksgiving has really transformed itself over the last several decades. No longer a one-day, solely American holiday, the Thanksgiving “festivities” now span from Wednesday, through the weekend, and into Monday.

First of all, it’s become customary to throw major parties on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving. These parties grew out of the number of people who traveled home to be with family on Thanksgiving. And since there’s only so much family time any one person can handle, old friends started gathering together at house parties or bars for impromptu reunions. (Personally, I count the night before Thanksgiving as the night I’m most likely to see an ex-girlfriend throw up.)

The day after Thanksgiving has secured itself in the popular lexicon as Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year and best opportunity you’ll ever have at getting beat up while trying to purchase a television.

Saturday and Sunday following Thanksgiving have become premiere sports watching days, especially for college and pro football. They also help with sleeping off that hangover and food coma garnered from the previous three days’ activities. (Some prefer to forego Black Friday for the calmer experience of Small Business Saturday.)

The holiday officially winds down at midnight on Monday when the Cyber Monday online sales have ceased.

But also scattered among those several days are the countless other unique traditions held sacred by particular families.

I grew up in a neighborhood that put great value on an annual Thanksgiving Day flag football game. I started playing at a fairly young age and progressed with the game as its revolving cast of characters gathered together each year for another wrestling match with the pigskin.

The game faded as the neighborhood kids grew up and moved on in life, but the memories have always warmed my heart.

So a couple years ago when my son was old enough to understand the concept of football, I decided to renew the annual tradition for another generation.

I queried the dads in my neighborhood and found a few who were interested. We sort of played that first year, but it was more like herding cats than engaging in a sport. Last year’s game was a little better, but not much.

So this year I decided to really kick things up a notch to see if I couldn’t turn this event into a tradition worth looking forward to.

Numbers are important so several weeks ago I started making calls to see who in the neighborhood was going to be around for the Thanksgiving holiday. The tally was promising and with the addition of a large contingency from my own family, we looked to have a solid 8-on-8 contest in the works.

Because of the commitment of so many players, I decided to invest in some serious equipment. I went online and ordered 20 sets of belts with velcro flags, several orange cones to line the field, a bullhorn to direct the masses, and a new, smaller-sized leather football to accommodate the younger players’ hands.

When game day arrived, I went up to the field early to stake our claim against any other possible contests that were brewing. I then lined the field with cones, noting that the grass was pretty slick from rain the day before.

As all the participants arrived, I outfitted them with flags and prepped them for how the game would be played.

Once everyone was gathered, I grabbed the bullhorn and directed the two captains as the teams were picked. I then reviewed the rules and oversaw the coin flip.

So finally, after weeks of preparation, forethought and hard work on my part, the kick-off ensued.

My team was on defense to start so I made sure everyone had a man to guard. I also instructed the rushers how to count (one one-thousand, two one-thousand, etc.) before trying to sack the quarterback.

And then, like it was scripted in a Broadway play, the ball snapped and everyone made their move – everyone except for me, that is.

When I took my first step backwards, my sneakers caught the wet grass and slid out from underneath me, sending my legs up into the air and my body crashing to the ground. The result: A fairly substantial tear in my shoulder rendering me useless for the rest of the game and on pain medication for the rest of the holiday week.

So much for glory days. Next year I think I’ll suggest chess.

Of course, any pain that I’ve endured pales in comparison to the struggles of Stephen Hawking, the renowned physicist whose life story is featured in this week’s film, “The Theory of Everything.”

From his humble beginnings as a student at Oxford to his travels around the world promoting his mind-bending theories about the universe, Stephen Hawking’s life would have been amazing if he were simply a healthy adult. Add to the story that he has an excruciatingly debilitating disease and the tale takes on epic proportions.

Check this one out if you’re intrigued by science, but be prepared for a very personal story of love, determination and loss.

An agonizing “B-” for “The Theory of Everything.”

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net.

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