By Rodolfo Roman
Special to the Miami Herald
Holding a football in hand, Florida International University student Janessa Perez played quarterback and tried to avoid a sack by scrambling out of the way.
Perez got together with friends and classmates to burn some calories right before enjoying the big Thanksgiving feast by playing flag football.
“It is all about friendly competition,” said Perez, who played a seven-on-seven flag football game.
On Thursday, her group was part of hundreds of amateur football players who hit the open field at Tamiami Park, 11201 SW 24th St., and other recreational venues in South Florida to compete in annual “Turkey Bowls” – the nickname for amateur football games held on the holiday.
Friends, family members, and co-workers call, text and e-mail each other to set up the games.
Perez can’t remember missing even one Thanksgiving football game.
“We have been planning this for the past two weeks,” said Perez, a speech pathology major. “It is so much fun.”
Although Johnny Gonzalez was competing against Perez, he said he wasn’t taking it easy on opponents.
“It is a great opportunity to have fun with your friends and play,” said Gonzalez, who is studying political science at FIU. “We have the true Thanksgiving spirit that is why we come out to play and have some competition.”
Football is a modern Thanksgiving tradition, with professional and college games airing throughout the day.
At Tamiami Park, amateurs ran different plays and tested each other’s athletic ability throughout the day on the big opened field in front of the fairground entrance.
Southwest High graduate Brian Stewart made his debut at the Turkey Bowl at Tamiami.
“I met new people and saw friends I haven’t seen in years,” he said. “You get to catch up on our lives.”
Players brought tents, reclining chairs, drinks, snacks and orange cones to set up the boundaries of the field. Teams are picked before the games take place.
Cathy Izaguirre came out to support her friends and take pictures to post on Facebook.
“I like to take pictures of them and watching their faces,” said Izaguirre. “What else is there to do on Thanksgiving Day?”
Michael Aguila, 26, came out at 9 a.m. to set up the cones on the field. He said every year new players are added to his playing crew. About 20 friends and family members joined Aguila to play five hours of football.
“It is camaraderie amongst all of us,” said Aguila, who has played on the Turkey Bowl for the last 10 years. “We play, make fun of each other and motivate ourselves. Instead of going out and having drinks we get together and play.”