For almost 50 years, the Methuen-Dracut football game has become as much a Thanksgiving tradition for these two neighboring communities as turkey and stuffing. , VALLEY DISPATCH PHOTO ILLUSTRATION/CHIP CAREY

BY GAYLE SIMONE, valley dispatch staff

Thanksgiving is perhaps the only day that NFL rivalries take a back seat to the high schools.

Locally, Thanksgiving high-school rivalries include Lowell-Haverhill, Tewksbury-Wilmington and Billerica-Chelmsford.

While some of these matchups are longer, only Billerica and Chelmsford have played more continuous Merrimack Valley Conference games on Thanksgiving than Dracut and Methuen.

The two teams have met every Thanksgiving since 1963, with Dracut holding the slight edge (21-18-3). Two of the three ties — 1965 and 1967 — ended in a scoreless game, while the third in 1995 ended in a 12-12 stalemate.

There have been blowouts by both teams. In 1977 Dracut defeated Methuen 47-0 and 32-0 in 1979. Methuen can boast of a 42-0 victory in 1992 and 32-0 whitewash in 1985.

At the end of each game, the winner is presented with the Methuen Jaycees Memorial Trophy. The trophy was first presented in 1969 by Dan Dodson and he has done so every year since.

“Dracut won the first game the trophy was presented,” Dodson said. “I was invited to a rally in December (at the high school) to represent the trophy to the captains. It was amazing; the whole place went crazy when they held the trophy up.”

The Jaycees were an active organization in the Methuen community until the early 1970s. Dodson did not want to end the tradition when the Jaycees dismantled so he went to both schools and asked them if he could still present the trophy to the winning team. Both schools agreed.

Each year Dodson engraves the trophy — standing 3 and a half feet and weighing 35 pounds — with the score from the game before delivering the trophy to the winning school.

“I present the trophy at the end of the game,” Dodson explains. “But then I take it to have the inscription done. The winning school doesn’t get the trophy until about two to three weeks later.”

Dodson, who has been to every Methuen-Dracut Thanksgiving contest, said one of the most memorable games for him was 1975.

“It was the biggest upset on the Methuen side,” Dodson said. “Methuen went in (to the game) without a win and Dracut was something like 8-1. Methuen won 22-0. It was just startling. The drama was unbelievable. It was a pouring rain storm and everything else. I think that was the biggest Methuen victory or upset in the history of this series.”

Dodson said last year’s game was heartbreaking for Methuen.

“Methuen had it won going into the fourth (quarter) and Methuen hadn’t won a game all year,” Dodson explained. “But Dracut won with I think 36 seconds left in the game.

“You had to be there to feel it. I was standing there with the trophy and three or four of the Methuen seniors were literally sobbing and smashing their fists into the ground. I mean they literally had that game stolen from them in the final five minutes and that would have been their only win of the season.”

Dracut resident Sam Weisberg has been covering high school football for The Sun newspaper for 52 years and remembers the rivalry vividly.

“In 1983, both teams were tied for the Merrimack Valley Conference championship with an 8-1 record,” Weisberg said. “Everyone thought Methuen was going to win, but Dracut came out and crushed them 37-7. And they won the league championship.”

Weisberg added the ‘83 Dracut team was the best Middie squad he had ever seen.

“They only lost one game, to Andover, because the quarterback (Bob Marchelletta) was suspended that game for a phony fight in the previous game (against Lawrence),” Weisberg said. “It was a phony, bogus call by the ref. It cost Dracut the championship and a Super Bowl spot.”

Former Dracut head coach Ed Murphy, who guided the Middies for an incredible 48 seasons (1946 to 1993), remembers the first game played between the two teams that resulted in Methuen celebrating a 13-6 win.

“We had actually dominated the whole game,” Murphy said. “But they scored in the final seconds on a fluke play; it was either a fumble or interception.”

Dodson remembers the game a little bit differently.

“Methuen was way back down on their own 10- or 15-yard line,” Dodson said. “The fluke part about it was Carl Nicholisi ran 85 yards for the touchdown.”

Murphy claimed the 0-0 tie in 1967 was the most frustrating game during his tenure as coach.

“We lined up (on the line of scrimmage) to kick a field goal, but we got a penalty,” Murphy explained. “So, we got pushed back out of field-goal range. We changed the play, but our holder didn’t know that. He was standing there with the ball, with nowhere to go with it and time ran out.”

In 1988, the two teams entered the Thanksgiving matchup undefeated.

“They (schools and media) had a lot of hype on this game,” Murphy said. “It was supposed to be a close game because we were both undefeated, but we won 33-0 to go to the Super Bowl.”

Murphy speaks highly of the current coach, Pat Murphy (no relation).

“He’s done a great job with the program.”

As far as predictions, Murphy said that Dracut had won the last two meetings and would probably come out on top once again this year.

Glen Gearin, Methuen’s head coach, graduated from Methuen High School in 1983 and remembers his last game, a 16-0 Ranger victory in 1982.

“My senior year we finished 9-0-1,” Gearin said. “The game was here (Nicholson Stadium) and we had a huge crowd, even back then.

“What I remember most is after the game, the camaraderie of people here. Having friends and family celebrating with you; it’s amazing how happy everyone is after the game.”

Ranger assistant coaches Scott Blaney, Mike Drouin and Nick Collopy all graduated from Methuen and played in the Turkey Day matchup. Blaney played in the first game, while Drouin played in the late 1980s and Collopy in the 1990s.

Dracut-Methuen results over the years:

1963 – Methuen 13, Dracut 6

1964 – Dracut 36, Methuen 6

1965 – Dracut 0, Methuen 0

1966 – Dracut 20, Methuen 18

1967 – Dracut 0, Methuen 0

1968 – Dracut 20, Methuen 0

1969 – Dracut 28, Methuen 0

1970 – Dracut 14, Methuen 2

1971 – Dracut 26, Methuen 0

1972 – Methuen 14, Dracut 6

1973 – Dracut 21, Methuen 20

1974 – Dracut 27, Methuen 0

1975 – Methuen 22, Dracut 0

1976 – Dracut 21, Methuen 20

1977 – Dracut 47, Methuen 0

1978 – Dracut 14, Methuen 12

1979 – Dracut 32, Methuen 0

1980 – Methuen 8, Dracut 0

1981 – Methuen 16, Dracut 6

1982 – Methuen 16, Dracut 0

1983 – Dracut 37, Methuen 7

1984 – Methuen 20, Dracut 7

1985 – Methuen 32, Dracut 0

1986 – Methuen 14, Dracut 10

1987 – Dracut 16, Methuen 6

1988 – Dracut 33, Methuen 0

1989 – Dracut 20, Methuen 0

1990 – Methuen 14, Dracut 8

1991 – Dracut 14, Methuen 0

1992 – Methuen 42, Dracut 0

1993 – Methuen 38, Dracut 13

1994 – Methuen 30, Dracut 0

1995 – Dracut 12, Methuen 12

1996 – Methuen 36, Dracut 15

1997 – Dracut 27, Methuen 0

1998 – Methuen 34, Dracut 8

1999 – Dracut 21, Methuen 20

2000 – Methuen 38, Dracut 0

2001 – Methuen 44, Dracut 18

2002 – Methuen 6, Dracut 3

2003 – Dracut 17, Methuen 14

2004 – Dracut 28, Methuen 22