For 102 years, the North Attleborough Red Rocketeers and the Attleboro Blue Bombardiers football teams have faced off in their annual Thanksgiving Day game.
This year, the rivalry turns 103 years old, and its history still lives in the minds and hearts of North Attleborough fans, both old and new. This year’s game will take place on Thursday, Nov. 23, 10 a.m. at Attleboro High School.
Many fans from North Attleborough said the game represents years of tradition and sportsmanship passed down from one generation of athletes to the next. Kathy Parker Bartucca said football runs in her family, and she is proud to be a Red Rocketeers supporter.
“Both my sons have super bowl rings from playing for Big Red and their dad has one from coaching,” Bartucca said. “How fortunate is that, three in one family.”
Mark Gould, a member of the North Attleborough Town Council, said his favorite memory of the Red Rocketeers was when he played for them during his Senior Year in 1999.
“We beat Attleboro on Thanksgiving for the 75th meeting of the rivalry,” Gould said. “The coach next week comes into the locker room and asks if we would be willing to play Attleboro again in the Super Bowl. So two weeks later, we crushed Attleboro again.”
The rivalry was so intense for many that it even affected family matters. Sherri Lake, who lived in North Attleborough, said competition between the two teams was omnipresent in her house, with her father cheering on Attleboro and her mother siding with North Attleborough.
“On Thanksgiving my Aunts would tease me that if North won I would have to eat Thanksgiving dinner outside,” Lake recounted. “Thank God they were joking. I would’ve eaten a lot of dinners outside.”
The rivalry began in 1921 when the two teams were known as the North Attleborough Red and Whites and the Attleboro Blue and Whites. The game was played just four days before Thanksgiving at Columbia Field on Whiting Street. The stakes were
The game ended with North Attleborough winning 12-0 against Attleboro. North Attleborough would accumulate a winning streak from 1922 to 1924 and tied twice against their rivals in 1925 and 1926
It wouldn’t be until 1927 when the Attleboro Bombardiers won their first game against the Rocketeers, defeating them by 32-0. Attleboro would win the 1928 game by the same score and tie North Attleborough 0-0 in 1929 and 1930.
In 1950, North Attleborough businessman Robert Romero donated a special trophy that would be awarded to the winner of that year’s game. The trophy was named “Hilda,” in honor of Hilda Gay, a longtime fan of the Thanksgiving game and mother of North Attleborough Hall of Famer Clark Gay, who began the tradition of holding a pre-game breakfast at her house in 1952.
For many fans, however, the most memorable game of the 102-year rivalry was in 1973. The score was 12-7, with Attleboro leading in the fourth quarter with nine seconds remaining on the clock. Quarterback Jack Rioux made one more attempt to change the game and threw a 52-yard pass to halfback Paul Lacasse. In a shock, Lacasse caught the ball and scored a touchdown for North Attleborough, winning the game with a score of 13-12.
Bob Silva, an Attleboro fan, remembered going to the 1973 game and watching the entire play made by Rioux. He credited North Attleborough for their skill but never forgot how it felt when his team came up short in the last nine seconds.
“I was just in junior high going to all the games,” Silva said. “What a feeling we all had cheering for Attleboro and then came that pass and run and it crushed us. Congratulations North.”