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Original Issue

Nothing is Out-of-Bounds

You've seen films of the Kennedy family playing Thanksgiving touch football, right? Bobby going long and chowder for everybody?

Big freakin' beans.

The Reillys would've kicked the Kennedys' butts at Thanksgiving touch football. And do you know why?

We cheat.

Nothing is beneath us. It's not unusual to hear in the huddle, "Everybody go out 10 yards and fake a seizure."

Reillys will come to the line and pelt you with snowballs to get open. Throw grass in your face, underwear, even raw vegetables. Once, we formed an entire high-kicking Rockettes' chorus line to block for my son Kellen.

"All good backyard Thanksgiving football games must involve cheating," says Archie Manning, who, with two NFL No. 1 draftees for sons and himself a Heisman Trophy finalist, probably ran history's greatest family touch game, "but never until third down."

Pah! Reillys start cheating 364 days before the game, getting ready.

During one game, family friend Leslie had to leave early. O.K., happy Thanksgiving, see ya later. Exactly three minutes later my nephew dropped back to pass. All his receivers went short, but, inexplicably, he heaved one all the way to the end zone, where, to our shock, Leslie stood, grinning madly. She had driven down the block, sneaked through a neighbor's backyard, hopped two fences and hid behind a bush until the big moment.

(Problem was, she dropped the ball.)

We've caught TD passes piggyback, blocked throws with branches and pulled T-shirts over defenders' heads. My son Jake caught one TD pass by climbing a maple.

"In our games Peyton and Cooper [the oldest Manning boy] were so much older than Eli," Archie recalls. "They let him play, but he was always mad about it 'cuz they always made him be the center."

Not us. The center is eligible in our games. Once, I bought an exact duplicate of the foam ball we always use, threw the fake ball for an interception and the real one to my center for a wide-open TD. (That one's still in litigation.)

Remember the old Bill Cosby street-football routine? O.K., you go down to Third Street, catch the J bus, have 'em open the doors at Lincoln, and I'll fake it to you. We make that look simple.

Once, in a front-yard game, my niece Michaela dropped back to pass and flung the ball to her brother Casey. He caught it standing next to his 1993 Honda, jumped in and was about to drive to the end zone. (Problem was, his brother Reilly simply opened the door and tagged him. Casey had forgotten to lock it.)

We cheat in ways that would make Enron accountants gasp. One time, my evil nephew Reilly secretly moved the two touchdown T-shirt markers up 30 yards so that a crummy little buttonhook was suddenly a TD. So my brother and I tried the corollary: We left Reilly open while we grabbed the end zone T-shirts and started running away from him, so that he couldn't actually cross the goal line. (Problem was, he's younger than we are. He simply kept running until he passed us.)

"What I remember was lots of arguing," Archie says. "I remember one year, Peyton got tackled too hard. He was only about six or seven. And he was so mad he was crying. He wanted to quit. I wouldn't let him. I was filming the whole thing. And all of a sudden, Peyton's in the lens, his face purple. And he snarls at me, 'I'm gonna tell Mom what her Christmas present is!'"

Hah! Reillys don't get mad. We get even. My spies have already tipped me off to what my nephew Reilly has up his sleeve this year:

1. Secretly insert a Velcro football into the game, then equip his team with Velcro gloves.
2. Stuff my daughter Rae into a huge Hefty trash bag with the ball, then carry her for a touchdown, claiming that technically our team never touched her.
3. Get his sister to marry USC quarterback Matt Leinart.

What Reilly doesn't know is that we've already got our plays ready:

1. Don exact replica masks of their team, making it chaos for their defense. Wait, wait! Who's got me?
2. Working from midnight to 4 a.m., a team of ex-POWs has been digging a complex set of tunnels in my sister's backyard, making it very hard to cover our deep routes.
3. Get a niece on the opposing team to marry any Oklahoma quarterback.

And if we still lose?

I'm telling everybody what they're getting for Christmas.

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"All good backyard Thanksgiving games must involve cheating," says Archie Manning, who, with two No. 1 draftees for sons, probably ran history's best touch game.