The Food or The Football?

In a quest to find out which is more important at Thanksgiving, I’m grabbing a seat on the couch

By Mike Savicki


When my editor suggested I explore the two sides of Thanksgiving that are most important to guys – food and football – I enthusiastically and outwardly agreed, while inwardly I prepared to take a beating. I was convinced that by simply bringing up the touchy subject of one versus the other with the two distinct camps – those who honor and keep the tradition of the holiday meal, gathered together around a table full of extended family, and those who believe football comes first, and eating turkey is something that should squeezed into halftimes and television commercial breaks – I was about to become that poor referee who sticks his head where it shouldn’t and gets knocked out cold by two heavyweight uppercuts. So I asked for hazardous duty compensation, or at least a frozen turkey or two tickets to a football game, before beginning my research. Unfortunately, I was denied.


To learn about how a sports-loving family blends their special holiday meal with a daylong barrage of football on television, respecting both the tradition of the day and the love of football, I reached out to Joel Pfyffer, co-owner of Prosciutto’s Pizzeria & Bar in Cornelius. If anyone could speak both languages – food and football – I hoped it would be a sports themed restaurant owner with a New England family history.


But when Joel and I sat down to talk, he blew my theory out of the water with his very first answer.


“When we were kids, I had absolutely zero interest in football and it wasn’t a part of our lives at all, even at Thanksgiving. And I was never a huge fan of turkey, either,” he told me. “The television was never on, and for entertainment when we all got together with extended family, I just sat on the couch and watched all the drama that my aunts created when they started talking and we all laughed and laughed. My family was the spectator sport.”


So much for believing a sports-themed restaurant guy could get me what I thought were obvious answers.


“But if you want to learn about food and football from a guy’s perspective, you need to talk to my wife,” he added.


It turns out Joel’s now wife and restaurant co-owner, Kelly, was raised in a family where Sundays meant sitting on the couch watching NFL football on television alongside her father and brother while her mother created amazing dishes in the kitchen. She did it every weekend of the season for every season of her life.


“She is the one who taught me everything about football,” Joel says. “When we were dating, if I wanted to see her on Sundays, it meant sitting on the couch with her and her father watching football.”


So I next chatted with Kelly, who taught me about the “Four F’s.”


“Food, football, family and friends,” Kelly explained to me. “In our house it was never one or the other, or even a combination, it was always everything together. The television was always on whether we were cooking, eating or entertaining. We had the house that everyone came to. and at Thanksgiving there was never a question that food and football go together.”


I still wanted to learn more abut how she educated Joel about football.


“Joel knew football was my favorite sport, and by the end of that first season with my family on the couch, he was an expert,” she says with a smile. “It was the Cowboys versus the Steelers for me growing up, that was always the rivalry. Then it was the Redskins for us while we were dating and living in Maryland. Then it became the Patriots when we moved back to New Hampshire.”


Both are now die-hard Patriots fans, “the greatest team on the planet,” they say. And both have taken to calling that time of the year when there is no football “The Bad Time.”


For the past eleven years, since moving south from New Hampshire and opening Prosciutto’s, Joel and Kelly Pfyffer have taken holiday food and football to an even higher level, blending old family traditions with new ones. Their restaurant is closed because Joel doesn’t feel it is right to ask staff to work on Thanksgiving, but the doors to their home are always open to family and friends, including those who might be new to the area and not have any family to gather. And their television is always tuned to football.


“Everyone just grabs a plate, fills it with food, and goes to sit wherever they might like,” Kelly states. “And it’s usually right in front of the television.”


“Having everyone together with one focus is one of life’s greatest compliments,” Joel adds. “The difference now, you might say, is that between the restaurant and our house, food and football, we have a bigger couch.”


This article was originally published in the November 2016 edition of Currents Magazine.