Thanksgiving is all about family, food and football — unless you’re a football player.

Rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers always had giant family gatherings for the holidays, with games of basketball and football. But now that he’s in the NFL, his family members won’t allow him to participate in the football games.

“They wouldn’t even let me play catch,” Flowers said.

Meanwhile, other players said they don’t play a family football game because they don’t want to do anything resembling work on Thanksgiving. And linebacker Patrick Queen said he never needed an extra opportunity to get hurt. Running back Justice Hill said his family plays cornhole, which he’s really bad at, despite having a cornhole set at his fingertips in the locker room. If it’s nice out, they’ll play volleyball.

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Justice Hill #43 of the Baltimore Ravens runs the ball while Zay Flowers #4 of the Baltimore Ravens blocks Josh Woods #10 of the Arizona Cardinals during the second quarter at State Farm Stadium on Oct. 29, 2023, in Glendale, Arizona. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

And playing in those NFL games football fans love to put on during the holiday? The consensus in the locker room seems to be that they’ll gladly pass up that honor in favor of being able to celebrate. Right tackle Morgan Moses played in many Thanksgiving games as a Washington Commander. When asked if he enjoyed it, his response was, “No, not at all.”

But even if they’re not playing, most players still have to stick around their team for Thanksgiving. They have a game three days later, and practice must go on. As a result, family traditions shift.

In his first year in the league, Daryl Worley and his now-wife Sierra tried to have a Thanksgiving meal catered. Never again. Worley joked with Sierra that he’s holding Christmas presents hostage unless they have a home-cooked meal. He’s not around to put much of it together, but he cooks in the offseason.

Since Daryl’s and Sierra’s families live close by, and the couple has kids, the family comes to them. Moses, who is from Richmond, said the same. If he plays on Thanksgiving, they celebrate a day early or a day late, but it’s “mandatory” everyone comes to him. Luckily, for most of his career, he’s been in the DMV.

But not everyone is so lucky. The roster includes players from all over the country. While Michael Pierce’s family travels from Alabama to see him, it’s a much smaller contingent than the big family gatherings he grew up with.

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Hill, who’s from Oklahoma, hasn’t celebrated a family Thanksgiving since before college.

Queen last celebrated with his family when he was in college because LSU was close to where he grew up. In recent years, he’s received a Thanksgiving care package with food but hasn’t seen his family.

“They ain’t got time for me,” he joked.

The Flowers family Thanksgiving will go on, though Zay will be a thousand miles away.

The big cheesy debate

The Ravens have some interesting food preferences when it comes to Thanksgiving, but one thing they all agree on is that mac and cheese is, indeed, a Thanksgiving food. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey famously offered this hot take in 2019: Mac and cheese is “not even that good.”

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“Thanksgiving really ain’t complete if you got no mac and cheese, man,” Hill said.

It’s the greatest dish ever made, Worley said, and his wife’s is delicious.

The only person who even questioned it was Tyler Huntley. He is in agreement with Worley’s statement that it’s the best food ever, but that’s why he questioned whether it’s a “Thanksgiving” food.

(Ulysses Muñoz)

“I think it’s the combination of everything that make it a Thanksgiving meal,” Huntley said. “But I have macaroni too much for it to be just a Thanksgiving meal.”

Moses is a big mac and cheese fan and a firm believer that it belongs on the Thanksgiving table — that is, if you mix it up with some yams.

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Huntley prefers the sweet potatoes to come after the mac and cheese. His order goes “beans and mac and cheese, then you mix that together and follow it up with the sweet potato.”

Flowers eats his sweet potato in pie form. He also said ham is a must on a holiday known for its turkey.

He’s not the only one who likes to mix it up a bit with the proteins. Moses’ family throws in some fried chicken as well as some ham. Pierce said they always have gumbo. And where he’s from, they do a unique take on a turducken where they stuff the turkey with things like crawfish.

“That might be a Gulf Coast thing, though,” Pierce said.

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