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Two Families, One Big Thanksgiving Football Tradition

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The weather Thursday was perfect for one Thanksgiving tradition.

The Battis and the Bohen families squared off in Mendota Heights — where it was 60 degrees and sunny — for their annual football game.

“Today’s perfect. It’s beautiful,” said Dick Battis, who has played this family football game every year for roughly seven decades.

Of all those years, Dick can only recall one where the weather was as nice.

“Usually it’s been snowing or cold,” he said.

Dick, 77, is the oldest of the players. He plays it safe and takes position as all-time center.

For this year’s game, the two families played at Gerry Brown Stadium at St. Thomas Academy. About 30 family members from around Dick’s age to as young as five years old crammed into a shortened field, which is played horizontally in between the goal line and the 20 yard line.

The teams play two-hand-touch for a traveling trophy that bears a tattered football on top. According to the families, that football is the very one that started the tradition.

“As far as we know, the game started when Nick Battis, who was my mother’s dad, was maybe ordered — or a suggestion was made — that he go take the boys outside and throw the football around,” said Jim Bohen.

The family’s best guess is that Battis took the boys out for a catch some 79 years ago. If that’s true, that’s also when the Bears and Lions played the first Thanksgiving Day pro football game in 1934.

After the game it’s time for the team photo. The players always stand as one team, because they’re really one family that can safely say Thanksgiving football is their tradition.

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