A Turkey Bowl tradition unlike any other


Jack Hoover

The stage is set for a Kirkle family tradition: The Turkey Bowl. Photo courtesy of Matt Kirkle.

In many households, Thanksgiving is often synonymous with the Turkey Bowl.

For those who are unfamiliar or don’t participate in a Turkey Bowl, a Turkey Bowl is the “friendly” game of football that families play against each other on Thanksgiving.  For just a small portion of the day, these families trade the usual topics that divide them (politics, religion, etc.) and instead let good old-fashioned athletic competition drive a wedge between them.

The level of seriousness with which this event is taken varies from family to family. For the Kirkle family of Omaha, the Turkey Bowl is of the utmost importance. Thanks to three brothers, Matt, Joey and Tyler, most Thanksgivings at the Kirkle house become a chance to show off the impressive gridiron field that they paint in their backyard.

In 2014, the two brothers, high school students at the time, were inspired by a video they saw on YouTube of a backyard gridiron. Being the ambitious go-getters that they were, they decided to try their own hand at it. Like all great creations, the first try is often rudimentary. Matt, now a senior at UNO, still takes pride in the work he did.

“The first year, we decided to just make a simple football field,” Matt Kirkle said. “There were literally just three lines. There was a goal line, a 50-yard line and another goal line and there was an N in the middle that I freehanded.”

The first field was admittedly more of an experiment to see how it would look and overall, did not cost either of the brothers too much money. The second-year around, however, things proved different.

“Year two came around and I looked my brother like, ‘Let’s take this to next level, let’s start investing more,’” said Kirkle.

In order to up the ante on their field, the brothers incorporated more paint, more logos and were more meticulous with the straightness of their lines. The field began to take shape more. While the brothers were satisfied with the leap they made from year one to year two, they still knew that they weren’t done yet.

In 2017, the two brothers undertook their biggest project yet– arguably their magnum opus. The vision was to scale down the Memorial Stadium field and bring a little slice of Nebraska football to the Kirkle backyard.

In order to accomplish this, both brothers worked on calculating the dimensions of the Tom Osborne Field in order to fit it into their backyard. Using cardboard, a tape measurer and paint, they were able to create nearly identical end zones. No detail was spared in making sure that the field was as true to life as possible.

“This was essentially the hardest I’ve worked on a three-week project in my entire life,” said Kirkle. “But it was so much fun.”

As a final piece, the Kirkle family added a memorial to Sam Foltz, a former Nebraska punter who died in a car accident that year.

The impressive work paid off as the brothers received renown on social media for the work they had done. A tweet sent out by Matt garnered over 800 retweets and 3000 likes. The field was even mentioned in an online ESPN article that gave a special shout out to the field.

That last rendition of the gridiron came in 2016. While the two brothers would love to create another field, they’re not sure how they can top their most recent one. Despite the amount of work that would surely go into such a task, the brothers aren’t deterred from trying it again. For them, it’s all about having a good time with family.

“[The field] made Thanksgiving more fun than it already way because it brought out kind of a weird sense of competition, even though it’s just a family football game and all of us are kind of getting old,” said Kirkle. “It just makes for a fun thing for family members to talk about at Thanksgiving”