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Bowl full of bumps: Annual Garfield game evokes hard memories

Friday, November 29, 2002

By Milan Simonich, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Tradition defeated common sense yesterday in Garfield's Turkey Bowl.

The neighborhood's annual tackle football game went ahead on a lumpy, rock-hard field at Fort Pitt Elementary School.

Maurice Dotson of the Young Bucks watches the football squirt free while Brent Burnett of the Old Heads tumbles atop him during the annual Turkey Bowl game at Fort Pitt Elementary School in Garfield yesterday. (Darrell Sapp)

One player was hauled away in the back of a pickup truck after taking a helmet to his left knee. Others hobbled to the sidelines under their own power, victims of aching ankles, frostbitten fingers or treacherous field conditions.

Muddy puddles emerged when thin crusts of ice were torn off the playing surface. Temperatures hung in the 20s, but a breeze made everybody colder.

Nobody complained.

"It's worth it," said Chester Robinson, 38. He plays in honor of his friend, Sidney Barlow, who was murdered minutes after the 1999 Turkey Bowl.

Robinson and Barlow were football teammates in the 1980s at Norfolk State University. They remained pals after returning to the Pittsburgh area, hooking up at least once a year in the Turkey Bowl.

Robinson will never forget heading home to East Liberty after the game three years ago, then getting a phone call telling him Barlow was dead.

A man with a handgun hidden under his coat, Michael Darnell Richards, appeared at the field in hopes of collecting $50 that he said a bystander had stolen from him.

They exchanged mean words. Barlow intervened, telling the men to take their argument away from the field, which was ringed with children.

Richards pulled his gun and put a bullet in Barlow's chest.

He died that Thanksgiving Day.

Louis Calloway is driven in a pickup from the field at Fort Pitt Elementary School in Garfield after injuring his knee during yesterday's annual Turkey Bowl football game. Players from the neighborhood turned out for the game despite the frozen field. (Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette)

Just 35, Barlow left a wife and five children. All of them braved the cold to be at yesterday's game.

Richards, now 28, is serving a life prison sentence for Barlow's murder.

"It was senseless," Robinson said, shaking his head.

Minutes later he took the field, wading into the collisions that grown men live for once each year.

The elements and merciless field conditions would have been to Barlow's liking. A ferocious player, he won the most valuable player award in his last Turkey Bowl.

Two of Barlow's nephews played in yesterday's game. His widow, Angela, 31, said she looks forward to watching her sons grow old enough to be part of the game, too.

Teams are chosen by age. Those 28 and older generally are assigned to the Old Heads. The rest play for the Young Bucks.

The term uniform is almost an oxymoron at the Turkey Bowl. Helmets come in a rainbow of colors. Jerseys rarely match.

So ragtag is the equipment that various players do not bother with football pants, kneepads or mouthpieces.

Most said it was fun, creaking bones and all.

"This is lovely," said A.J. Walton of Lawrenceville, strong-armed quarterback of the Young Bucks.

When the final whistle blew, everybody prayed together. That part of the game is relatively new. It began because of Barlow's murder, but now is part of the Turkey Bowl tradition.

Milan Simonich can be reached at msimonich@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1956.

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