"MY MOM always sends me a pre-cooked frozen turkey, with instructions on what to do," says 76ers forward Chris Webber (left), whose mother, Doris, lives in Detroit. "Every Thanksgiving. I have the best mom in the world."
... Flyers goalie Robert Esche does his own cooking, and things got hot when he spent Thanksgiving at then teammate Todd Fedoruk's New Jersey home in 2003. The host's deep fryer boiled over on the porch. "We went to put the turkey in when the deep fryer was half full of oil," says Esche (right). "Oil was shooting up everywhere, so I dropped the thing. Grease splattered all over the place, and a fire started on the porch. [Todd's] shoe caught fire when he tried to stamp it out. We were howling." The turkey turned out O.K., but, says Fedoruk, "the grease stain on my deck has lasted years."
... Warriors forward Troy Murphy also has a burning Thanksgiving memory--of his mother's sweater catching fire when she brushed against a candle. "I'm sitting there cutting my turkey," says Murphy, who was about eight, "and my mother's on fire. My grandma and dad had to tackle her." Murphy's mother, Christine, escaped uninjured, but the sweater was ruined, as was the holiday vibe. After the fire was out, says Murphy, "that was the end of Thanksgiving. We all just grabbed our food and went to watch the Cowboys."
... Some athletes remember most what they didn't eat. "In 10th grade, a couple of days before Thanksgiving, I choked on a hamburger," Knicks guard Penny Hardaway says. "My throat was all swollen, and on Thanksgiving my [Memphis high school] team went for a huge meal. Turkey, ham, stuffing, yams, potatoes, all kinds of pies. I couldn't eat. I had to sit and watch everybody else. It was the worst Thanksgiving ever."
... Chargers center Nick Hardwick went hungry more often. Every year at Lawrence North High in Indiana he wrestled in a tournament on the day after Thanksgiving and had to make weight. "I got to have one can of Ocean Spray cranberry jelly," says the now 6'4", 295-pound Hardwick (number 61), "and a glass of water. That was it."
... Others were happy to limit their feast. "My cousin made yams, and she had some special type of blue butter," recalls Green Bay running back Tony Fisher. "It turned the yams green. Nobody wanted to touch that stuff."
... Baltimore return specialist B.J. Sams (above, pursued by fowl) will host his 18 siblings and their families, some of whom were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Main course: turducken. "It's turkey, duck and hen mixed into one," says Sams of the Cajun dish in which a hen is placed inside a duck, which is placed inside a turkey. "I have a lot of big people in my family. It's going to take a lot to feed all of them."
... Not as much as was needed at childhood Thanksgivings for Giants QB Jared Lorenzen; his mother is one of 12 children, and he has an aunt who is one of 10. He spent the holiday at his uncle's house in Kentucky, along with some 250 family members. "Another [relative] has seven kids, another six," says Lorenzen. "They're Catholic; they get after it." And the feeding? "My mom and I would make six cheesecakes. My uncle had a huge house with an indoor basketball court. We'd have a cousins-versus-uncles basketball tournament that lasted until midnight. There's a big line for food, so I would try to lose on purpose at basketball so that I could come and eat."
... When the Nets' Richard Jefferson moved with his mother from bustling L.A. to then less-than-bustling Phoenix in the late '80s, they got a turkey-day surprise. "My mom didn't realize the stores were all closed," recalls Jefferson, who was about seven. "She woke up early to shop, but nothing was open. I mean nothing. She had to go to all the convenience stores and find as much stuff as she could."
... For Ravens guard Edwin Mulitalo, raised outside San Francisco, family Thanksgiving football games were rougher than the Mannings' or the Reillys' (page 80). "I would play for, like, a minute," Mulitalo says. "There were broken noses, torn earlobes, you name it. A lot of rugby-type injuries."
... When Bucks guard Charlie Bell played in Italy a while ago, he imported the holiday. "My wife had her mother FedEx a lot of different foods. She sent us candied yams, fried chicken, green beans and seasoning salts. We invited my teammates over and had a ball."
SIX PHOTO ILLUSTRATIONS
ALTRENDO IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES (TURKEY); DIGITAL ZOO/DIGITAL VISION/GETTY IMAGES (CHICKEN); BILL COLLINS/REUTERS (SAMS); PHOTO ILLUSTRATIONS BY SI ART: ROBERT BECK (WEBBER); JIM MCISAAC/GETTY IMAGES (ESCHE); DARRON CUMMINGS/AP (FEDEX TRUCK); BOB MELNYCHUK/DIGITAL VISION/GETTY IMAGES (COOKED TURKEY); ROBERT B. STANTON/WIREIMAGE.COM (HARDWICK); GINA HOUSEMAN (CRANBERRY CAN); ARCHIVES PHOTOS/ HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES (ELDERLY WOMAN); BRUCE BENNETT/GETTY IMAGES (HELMET)