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A happy 100th for a traditional power

FRAMINGHAM -- The Hundred Year War soldiered on through the drizzle yesterday, with its participants simultaneously honoring past heroes while waiting for the emergence of new ones.

Each high school in New England is convinced that its Turkey Day football rivalry eclipses them all. Certainly those who have tied their fortunes to the annual Framingham-Natick game feel that way, particularly since the two met for the 100th Thanksgiving yesterday.

Even though Natick was a perfect 10-0 with its playoff future secure, and Framingham was 6-4 with no postseason aspirations on the line, it would be a mistake to suggest this game had no ramifications.

It always does, always will.

"When I got hired for this job," said Framingham coach Gary Doherty, "I went to a rotary club luncheon. I started outlining my philosophy and what kind of plans I had for the program. Someone interrupted me and said, 'Hey Coach, all we care about is whether you beat Natick.' "

Natick needs little introduction in Eastern Massachusetts football. It is a model of football excellence, coached by Tom Lamb, who is both a legend and a gentleman. Natick's alumni include a gaggle of Fluties, most notably brothers Bill, Doug, and Darren, and most recently Bill's two sons, Billy (a freshman at Boston College) and Brett, a freshman quarterback for the Redmen this season.

Framingham has its own rich tradition, including a period in which it fielded two teams, the Framingham North Spartans and the Framingham South Flyers, before combining for good in 1990. Before the merger, there was no greater rivalry than North vs. South -- except, of course, either Framingham squad vs. Natick, which will always be the Rival with a capital R.

Think Yankees and Red Sox. Natick and its long history of dominance wears the pinstripes, and Framingham plays the role of the Fenway faithful, capable of producing excruciating heartbreak or an astonishing upset.

Each Thanksgiving means a conflicted holiday morning in the Lamb home. Tom's wife Ann teaches in Framingham, and her loyalties are split.

"The hardest year was in 1987, when my son Joel was playing quarterback for Natick," Lamb said. "It was an emotional matchup for her."

While Natick will always have Doug Flutie, Framingham boasts its own NFL star, Billy Brooks, whose No. 86 was retired before yesterday's game. Brooks was a superb high school athlete before going on to break every receiving record at Boston University, then amassing 8,001 receiving yards in the NFL, mostly wearing the uniform of the Indianapolis Colts.

Asked to recall his favorite memory of the Framingham-Natick rivalry, Brooks said without hesitation, "Playing against Doug Flutie. It was a thrill. Knowing how good he was, and how good they were, you wanted to beat them just once."

According to Flutie, who was in Miami yesterday working the BC-Miami game for ESPN, Brooks accomplished that feat in Flutie's junior season.

"That's probably my worst memory," Flutie said. "But my best was the year before that, when my brother Bill and I played together and beat Framingham."

While most Framingham fans will concede that Natick has the upper hand in this longstanding battle, they gleefully point to gems like 1960, when Walter "Butch" Hriniak (who would later become a household name in Boston for his unorthodox style as a Red Sox hitting instructor), a fabulous three-sport star at Natick, led an undefeated Natick team onto the field on Thanksgiving morning.

"I'll never forget it," recalled Kevin Salvi, who coached basketball at Framingham from 1974-82. "My brother Roy was a tackle for Framingham that year. Hriniak and a couple of our guys got into some kind of argument, and he got thrown out of the game. We tied them, 6-6. It was a huge upset. We were '0-fer' until then."

Doherty has been the coach at Framingham since 1998, and his favorite memory of Turkey Day was in 2002.

"To be honest, we weren't very good that year," Doherty said. "All Natick had to do was beat us and be on their way. But we got an unbelievable performance from Colin Hulme, who played linebacker and fullback. He returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown.

"That set the tone. It was back and forth the whole way. We were winning, 18-15, and Natick was driving down the field, and the last play of the game was us intercepting a pass in the end zone."

Framingham lost two games this season by a total of 3 points, and had every reason to hope it could pull off the upset yesterday. Because Natick is slated to play Burlington Tuesday in the MIAA Division 2 playoffs, the quarters were limited to 10 minutes, and for a while, it appeared as though Mike Russo's 33-yard field goal for Natick might hold up as the only points in the mud and the wind and the rain.

But there was Flyers senior Alan Williams Jr. rumbling 53 yards down the left side for a touchdown and a 7-3 lead. Would that be enough? No, too much time was left in this classic showdown. With his team's unblemished record in jeopardy, running back Thad McCummings broke free for a 9-yard jaunt into the end zone with 5:11 to play.

Natick hung on for the 10-7 win, the trophy, and the right to strut through the MetroWest area for another year.

"Our goal from the start was to go undefeated," McCummings said. "Even when we clinched [a playoff berth], we weren't going to let down.

"I mean, it's Framingham. It matters. Some of our seniors broke down crying today. They'll never get to play this game again."

They are welcome to return as alumni, as many former captains did yesterday. Flutie, who dropped by a Natick practice earlier this week and sneaked into drills as the quarterback for the skeleton crew, wished aloud Wednesday night that he was one of them.

"I hate to miss that game," he said.

Not to worry. The 101st Thanksgiving tilt will be next year, and it promises to be a great one. Framingham quarterback Daniel Guadagnoli is only a sophomore and looks like he has a golden arm. McCummings and his twin brother Theo, the starting quarterback, will also be around for Natick for two more seasons.

The War continues into another century. Stay tuned for a slew of new heroes in a scrapbook brimming with indelible memories.

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is

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