Published November 25, 2021

What I'm Thankful for has Changed Over the Years

Written by
Jason Spain
| The Dakotan
In the opinion of Jason Spain
Jason Spain, Sports Director, The Dakotan
In the opinion of Jason Spain
Jason Spain, Sports Director, The Dakotan

When I was little, I loved Thanksgiving. We would always travel to my grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving – Nana and Papa as we called them.  I looked forward to seeing them and my cousins – all three of them were older than me:  Shauna, Eric, and Todd.  I always thought Todd was the coolest person in the world. He played football and then joined the Navy.   

After Thanksgiving was over, my dad and uncle would help my grandparents decorate for Christmas.  My nana had the best Christmas decorations!  As a youngster I really didn’t think about how thankful I was for these times. As I look back now, I am very thankful for all those memories with family at Nana and Papa’s house. 

My papa always had football games on.  Never mattered what anyone would say.  If it was a Saturday, he was going to watch Ohio State, and on Sundays he would watch the 49ers.  On Turkey Day he would have the games on, even though he spent most of the day cooking in the kitchen.  I am not sure if he followed the action or if it was just the fact that he wanted the games on.  As I got older, my love for Thanksgiving transitioned from looking forward to seeing my cousins who were moving on with their lives at that point to looking forward to watching the Cowboys play.   

My love affair with the Dallas Cowboys started fairly early on.  Roger Staubach was “Captain America” and the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, but then he had to retire early due to concussions. That’s when Danny White became the starting quarterback. I grew up Mormon, and he was Mormon too. White became my hero! I still, to this day, have my Danny White jersey.  I couldn’t wait to watch them play on Thanksgiving. It was always brutal to have to wait to get through the Detroit Lions game. I can remember it like it was yesterday, when the Cowboys beat the Seahawks 51-7 on Thanksgiving.  I thought that was the best day ever, and the Cowboys were going to win the Super Bowl even without Roger Staubach.   

I have watched every Thanksgiving Day Cowboys game since the late 70s. I might not have understood Thanksgiving then, but now I am thankful for these years. The Thanksgiving Day Cowboys tradition strengthened my love for the Cowboys and has instilled in me a loyalty for my team through thick and thin.  I have applied that loyalty to other parts of my life and into my marriage. I am extremely thankful for this now in my life. I have a love for my wife that almost exceeds my love for the cowboys, just kidding.   

As I got into junior high and high school, I found about another Thanksgiving tradition, the “Turkey Bowl.”  This was awesome for so many reasons, plus it happened in the morning, so I didn’t have to watch the Lions games anymore! I loved football so much! Growing up and playing football with friends and family was the highlight of the long weekend break from school. We always played tackle, and it always seemed to be cold and muddy. But every year, all the way into college, I looked forward to playing football. Our games were always chaos, 25 players vs 22 players or something at our local elementary school. Unfortunately, I have not participated in one of these games since moving with my family to Minot. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but being able to play a game with so many friends and people from the community I grew up in was a blast. As I look back on those times now, I am so thankful to have been a part of a community and to have experienced those moments.   

Later on, during college, the years of agony for the Cowboys became years of domination. Watching the Cowboys in the 90s was pure joy.  All that joy was gone in an instant on Thanksgiving Day in 1993. It was a rare blizzard in Dallas, and the Cowboys had just beat the Dolphins on a blocked field goal with a few seconds remaining, when out of nowhere Leon Lett snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and touched the ball down inside the ten-yard line, giving the Dolphins a second kick and the victory.  I remember Kevin Williams’ punt return for a touchdown that day, and he slid in the snow on his knees in what seemed like forever in his touchdown celebration.   

My college years and post college years bring back more than Cowboys and Turkey Bowl memories, these are the years where I would spend Thanksgiving at friends’ parents’ houses. Being able to share in other Thanksgiving traditions was impactful.  I’m thankful for all the friends who shared their holiday with me. I feel bad for Jeff Froeme though – he was a huge Packer fan. I was a college kid and coached his sons in youth soccer.  His wife invited me to their house for Thanksgiving and the Cowboys played the Packers, Jeff was so happy that Troy Aikman and backup Rodney Peete were injured and not playing.  It was a very long afternoon for Jeff when third string quarterback Jason Garrett lit the Packers up for 42 points. I can honestly say I had no idea that would happen. 

During the first year of my marriage, I learned that not everyone watches football on Thanksgiving.  My wife loves the holiday and spends days preparing Thanksgiving dinner. The problem: the Cowboys always play the afternoon game. She has learned to endure my Cowboys during Thanksgiving, and I have learned I married the right woman, because her cooking is amazing! Her turkey is far and away the best I have ever had!   

We have a tradition in our house that on your birthday you get to pick whatever you want for dinner.  My youngest daughter always chooses dessert for dinner, like cinnamon roll pancakes.  My second oldest son chose a Thanksgiving dinner one year for his birthday dinner, even though he was born within a week of Thanksgiving. He was like 7 at the time, so my wife obliged him and made it for him.  The funny thing about that dinner was his birthday landed on Ninja Ramirez’s official visit. For those of you who don’t know, Ninja is widely considered the best woman’s soccer player in Minot State history and the best player in the Northern Sun’s history.  So, she came to our house for dinner and was super impressed with my wife going all out. She thought it was all being done for her.  Who knows maybe she came to Minot State because of my son’s choice for dinner? 

I am so thankful for all my Thanksgiving Day memories. This past year I got sick with COVID, and it changed my perspective on life. I wish I had not taken those memories for granted at the time.  I miss my friends from my childhood and the members of the community which helped raise me.  The phrase “it takes a village” must have been coined about me.  I do believe the people of Herald, California, loved me and helped shape me into who I am.  I miss my grandparents but am thankful for the legacy they have left behind: the tireless work ethic that my papa passed to my father and now to me.  I remember my papa’s last moments on Earth, he told my nana, “I’m sorry for being such a burden all these years, I’m sorry you had to take care of me.”  She responded with, “It has been an honor.”  I hope that I will be a fraction of the man he was.  I am thankful for the lessons he taught me, and I wish I would have listened to more of them.  I am thankful for my parents and all that they sacrificed for me.  My mother has taught me to be loyal and love unconditionally, my father has taught me discipline, work ethic, and to show up.  I wish that I would have listened more and was better prepared to be a husband and father.  I am thankful for my kiddos, and I hope to enjoy many Thanksgivings with them and in the VERY not near future with my grandkids. Most of all I am thankful for my wife, just thankful there is someone willing to be my wife! Just kidding. Kind of.  But thankful for all the hours of love she puts into our marriage and into raising our children. I always say it’s a war between me and my kids for time with my wife.  She balances the time for us all so well.  I fear she leaves time for herself out.   

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