In keeping with the game's original intent, the schools have developed a calendar of cooperative events leading up to the game. They sponsor a Friendship Dance at the school that is not hosting the game. (This year it was Kirkwood.) There is an annual dinner, the Ray Moss Banquet, for the football teams and the cheerleading squads. There are interfaith church services for both teams, and on the morning of Turkey Day the cheerleaders from the schools gather for a communal breakfast.
This year the breakfast was held at the home of Leslie Marecek, a 17-year-old Webster senior whose younger sister, Jennifer, is also a cheerleader. "We've been preparing like crazy," Leslie said as the big day approached. "We've been spending two hours every day after school practicing, in addition to the hour we usually spend. We put on an original seven-minute building routine to music that we pick out and edit, and we do a four-minute original stomp."
The stomp is unveiled every year at the Ray Moss dinner. Kirkwood, being the funkier of the two communities, tends to dominate the stomp competition. Webster is a building-routine powerhouse. Each team performs both its routines before its school's bonfire on the eve of the game and then, of course, during the game itself.
"We also are assigned to decorate the lockers of several of the players," said Leslie, "and we make the big banner the team will run through at the beginning of the game." Leslie is a dancer, and she knows some of the Kirkwood cheerleaders from dance classes. "We tease each other about who's going to win the game all through the year," she said. "I was never a football fan before I started cheerleading. Now I love to watch the games. I go with my dad to the Rams game almost every weekend."
Any long and storied tradition like Turkey Day produces local heroes, such as Harold Jenkins, Gale Keane, Andre Nelson and Dan Sprick, who is a salesman for a roofing company in Brentwood, Mo., and whose pass to the diving receiver Kurt Kinderfather in the final seconds of the 1975 game set up the winning touchdown in Webster's 15-14 victory. But just as there are heroes, there are goats. It is rare in football for the blame for a loss to fall on a single player, but that's what happened in '87, when Webster went down by the score of 2-0.
John Dames Jr. knows he will never live it down. He is a big, cheerful, frank man of 32 who is a partner in a design business in St. Louis. His father played in the 1953 game for Webster, and his older brother Brian starred for Webster's '79 state champs. Johnny Jr. grew up attending Turkey Day games. As a high school junior he played in the '86 game, a Webster loss that he shared painfully with his teammates. But the '87 loss would be, in a sense, all his.
Dames played tackle on offense and end on defense, and he had a good 1987 season. He knew he wasn't enough of an athlete to play college ball, as his older brother had, but he was happy with his high school career. The '87 Turkey Day showdown was to be his swan song.
The game was a grinder. "Neither of us had a very good team that year," Dames recalls. "We just went back and forth, up and down the field the whole game without anyone getting close enough even to kick a field goal."
There was no score with just a few minutes to play when Webster's offense stalled at its own 35-yard line. Coach Jones decided to punt, and Dames—who, in addition to playing on both sides of the line, was the Statesmen's long snapper—lined up over the ball. Counting middle school, Dames had played football for six years, and during all that time he had been his team's long snapper. He had never made a mistake. His job, once he snapped the ball, was to hustle straight downfield to take a shot at the punt returner. Earlier in the game Kirkwood's returner had failed to raise his hand for a fair catch, and Dames had nailed him. He ran downfield hoping to make another hit like that, maybe knock the ball loose.
But the punt returner just stood there. He wasn't looking up for the ball. Suddenly Dames was aware of cheering behind him. He wheeled around to see red-jerseyed Kirkwood players running jubilantly toward the opposite end zone. Dames had snapped the ball over the punter's head. The punter had chased it, retrieved it and been tackled in the Webster end zone for a safety. "There was this weird pause," Dames recalls. "Safeties don't happen all that often, and it took a few seconds for people to realize what had occurred, and what it meant." The Kirkwood team and fans were dancing for joy. Dames walked back toward his own bench, beginning to digest the awful truth. As close to single-handedly as one can in football, he had lost the game.