Few communities have an understanding of just how much the tradition matters.
The players from Haddonfield and Haddon Heights won’t just be pulling on their football uniforms for themselves. They'll be doing it for the generations of players before them, and thousands of family members, students and lucky souls in the stands.
To Haddonfield head coach Frank DeLano, this tradition goes well beyond a rivalry.
“I think there are games that are rivalries and then there are games like this that are just so rich in tradition,” DeLano said. “You sit there and you look in the stands and you see great grandfathers, and grandfathers and fathers and uncles. It’s so hard to link 100 years of anything together, because it’s something so unique, and we can.
"Our two communities are linked by Thanksgiving football so it’s a special time. A game like this, where you have generations who have played in it, is a special day for everyone.”
Haddonfield first played Haddon Heights on Thanksgiving, Nov. 22, 1902. Haddonfield won that game 12-0, for anyone not around to witness that contest. Only Cape Atlantic League foes Millville and Vineland have a Turkey Day tradition dating longer, with the two teams first meeting in 1893.
The Bulldawgs and Garnets started playing continuously in 1922. Haddonfield leads the all-time series 55-41-6, including a current nine-game winning streak.
Seniors such as Haddonfield running back Adam Augugliaro want to make sure they keep that streak alive.
“I talked to the team a bunch of times about it,” Auguliaro said. “We just have to go out there and get it. It would be amazing for the senior class, especially. For a lot of us, this is our first time on varsity as starters, so it would mean a lot to get the ‘W’ at the end of the season.”
Auguliaro was involved in last years contest—a 35-0 Haddonfield win—but said this one will have a special feel for him. This will be the last time he puts on a Bulldawgs football uniform, and possibly the last time he competes in an organized football game.
“It’s going to be amazing,” Augugliaro said. “This is going to be my last game because I’m not going to be playing in college. All my teammates from last year are going to be there. I have been getting texts from them all week telling me to go get it. We have won it nine-straight years so we are pretty confident we are going to get it. We have a lot of tradition.”
The winner of the game receives the Mayor’s Trophy and gets to keep it for the full year. The players also get bragging rights over their neighbors. The game has been dubbed by some as the “Kings Highway Rivalry.”
The game always seems to bring out emotions from the players as well as the fans, resulting in some friendly hazing along the way.
“It’s crazy. Everyone is here,” said Augugliaro. “There’s always a couple thousand people here; people sitting on the track. It’s going to be a big game for sure.”
Yet, this game also has a serious nature to it. Both teams enter at 6-3 with similar losses to West Deptford and Paulsboro. The Bulldawgs’ other loss came against Sterling, while the Garnets fell to Woodstown in the opening round of the Group 2 playoffs last week. Unlike previous seasons where one or both teams would still have future playoff games to keep in mind, this year’s contest represents the end of the line for both Haddonfield and Haddon Heights.
“Everyone wants to go out the right way so I’m sure there is a little extra incentive on both sides,” DeLano said.
Regardless of the outcome, DeLano said the players on both sides should leaving knowing they were a part of a history few towns in South Jersey can match.
“I think everyone gets the idea of the significance of the game and that it is bigger than all of us,” DeLano said. “If you need any proof you can just look back at the records and see the first game was played Nov. 22,
1902. When you sit there and see that I think it becomes tangible and you can wrap your arms around how big this thing really is.”