It was just like going to Grandma's for Thanksgiving — except they were at a football game.
That's how Brownwood resident Michael Cloy described the unique Thanksgiving Cloy and his family experienced with fellow Brownwood resident Mitch Moore and the Moore family. Cloy was able to get tickets to treat family members and three guests to the Thanksgiving Day football game between the University of Texas Longhorns and Texas Tech Red Raiders in Austin.
Before the game, they were treated to a massive Thanksgiving feast and tailgate party hosted by Brownwood High School Theatre Director Larry Mathis and members of his family.
Carson Cloy and McClane Moore are the sons of Michael and Dana Cloy and Mitch and Julie Moore, and both boys play football at Brownwood High School. The three guests who accompanied the families were football buddies Jon Kirbo, Hayden Day and James Nash.
The tailgate party and Thanksgiving feast, of course, preceded the 6:30 p.m. kickoff and was one of hundreds of other tailgate parties set up near the Longhorns' stadium. There were "tents, music, tailgaters everywhere," Cloy said. "It's a festive atmosphere, great food, good fellowship."
The menu included the traditional turkey, but "it wasn't just a turkey," Cloy said. He referred to the turkey as a "turporkenison" — turkey stuffed with pork sausage, bacon, and cheddar dressing and venison. Also on the menu were baby back ribs, smoked ham, and an assortment of traditional Thanksgiving fare including homemade pies and cakes.
"After three hours of tailgating, it was off to the game, where we enjoyed a Longhorn victory over the Texas Tech Red Raiders."
For the past six years, Mathis family members have put together tailgate parties at UT home games. Larry and Terri Mathis' son-in-law, Luke Shaffer, who is married to their daughter, Summer, began them, and now they've grown into feasts that feed dozens of guests. Luke Shaffer, who is a professional chef in Austin, and Summer are both graduates of Brownwood High School.
Preparing and hosting the tailgate parties are a daylong process, Larry Mathis explained.
"It's a big deal for us," Mathis said. "We set up six tents, had two TVs going and enough food to feed an army. It's a big family thing for us."
Even the barbecue pit has a Brownwood connection: Brownwood High School ag students built it six years ago.
Thursday's tailgate party was unique because of the presence of the five Brownwood Lions football players, who are also Mathis' students in theatre arts.
"Oh, that was great," Mathis said. "It was fantastic. We had a blast. I tell you what, those boys can put the food away. I thought they were building the Tower of Pizza."
The tailgate parties are special for the Mathis family because "it's the adventure of cooking, for one thing," Mathis said. " … getting to visit with so many different people … it's just a blast. It really is."
The Cloys, Moores and their three guests, meanwhile, had tickets on the 50-yard-line near the sidelines. The atmosphere at the game: "high energy, a sense of urgency … electric," Cloy said. "You could feel the emotion, hear the hitting."
For Cloy, there was another special aspect of the game. Cloy had extra tickets for another part of the stadium which had been donated by Dr. Tom Byrd. Cloy gave those tickets to Shelby Shipley, the daughter of former Brownwood Lions Athletic Director Bob Shipley. Shelby Shipley wanted to give the tickets to someone who'd never experienced a UT game, Cloy said.
Those tickets went to a longtime Army soldier and his son. The soldier is a lifelong Longhorns fan but had never been to a UT game — before Thursday.
Cloy said he was able to meet the soldier and his son after the game. He said the two also met Bob Shipley, who is now a member of UT Coach Mack Brown's staff, and the soldier described the game as "one of his best Thanksgiving memories ever," Cloy said. "I just thought that was really cool."
Cloy summed up the day: "It was just like going to Grandma's house for Thanksgiving, only we're at a football game," he said. "Festive environment, beautiful day — you just couldn't ask for it to be any better."