It’s Turkey Tussle Time, and the Rivalry is Alive For John Muir and Pasadena High Schools

Published : Thursday, November 2, 2017 | 5:47 AM

In keeping with the tradition that spans seven decades, Pasadena High School and John Muir High School will send their football teams to fight for school honor, bragging rights and the Victory Bell at the annual Turkey Tussle football game Friday night on the Rose Bowl gridiron.

The schools’ athletes, fans and extended communities wait all year for this one game of the season that takes football to the next level and often leaves locals with memories of a lifetime — it’s a kind of rite of passage, some say, for the student-athletes who get to play on that hallowed field for their school.

“There’s not a lot of words that can describe what the Turkey Tussle means to the city of Pasadena. It gives Pasadena that small town feel — this is our hometown thing,” said District 1 Councilmember and John Muir alumnus Tyron Hampton.

The annual tradition began in 1947 when the game was played between Pasadena Community College and John Muir Junior College.

The schools played against each year until 1954, when the rivalry was realigned to be what it remains today: Pasadena High School versus John Muir High School.

This year’s Turkey Tussle will be the 71st.

“This game is an opportunity of a lifetime. This is East versus West on the biggest stage of high school sports,” said Pasadena Unified School District Athletic Director Gilbert Barraza and former principal of Pasadena High from 2010 to 2016.

“We won one game in those six years and it was something I will never forget. I watched my team ring the bell. Watching my players determination, effort and faces was amazing … it took 20 years, but the Bulldogs broke the 20-year streak of losses with a victory,” Barraza added.

Winning streaks come and go naturally over the course of seventy years. They help fuel a classic rivalry which is alive and well to this day.

According to Hampton, Pasadena High School’s win two years ago after several years of consistent defeat reignited passions and has kept the Muir Mustangs on their toes.

“I will say that loss two years ago has actually helped the rivalry,” said Hampton. “I have friends that went to Pasadena High School and we probably don’t talk much around November, but outside of that, it’s really built community,” said Hampton about the rivalry that still exists among his circle of friends in adulthood.

The Victory Bell is a central element of the tradition. It came as a gift from the Santa Fe Railroad presented in 1955 at the pep rally for the Turkey Tussle.

The bell was intended to be used, as it still is, as a perpetual trophy to rotate between John Muir High School and Pasadena High School, being kept for the year by the team that wins the homecoming game.

“A lot of it has to do with this beautiful bell,” explained Hampton. “It was displayed in the hall when I was there.”

Pasadena High School Athletic Director Tony Brooks describes the bell as a sort of mystical centerpiece on campus.

“It’s on display for everybody to see on campus. It’s coveted by all and it’s a beautiful item,” said Brooks.

One of the highlights of the game is for the winning team is to rush to the end zone and celebrate their win by ringing the Victory Bell.

District 5 Councilmember and Pasadena High School alumnus Victor Gordo played in the Turkey Tussle two years in a row on Bulldog teams which tasted defeat.

Gordo recalls his memory of watching his rivals ring the bell in excitement.

“It was very emotional and painful and at the same time,” Gordo remembers. “I grew up with the kids that were ringing the bell when I played and lost the Turkey Tussle. Some of them went on to play football professionally. And you know, to this day when I see them, I tell them they got lucky.”

John Muir High School’s head coach Antyone Syms says his experience as a student-athlete in the Turkey Tussle as a teen was the highlight of his high school career.

Syms’ time on the team also saw both wins and losses of the Victory Bell.

“It’s a great thing to be able to see it and know that you had to fight to get it and to keep [the bell] here. Just that alone makes it exciting to know that I worked hard in summer, fall, and we went to the Rose Bowl to keep our trophy,” said Syms.

One of the most special elements of the famed Turkey Tussle is that it all goes down inside the legendary Rose Bowl stadium.

“It’s the kind of the place where dreams are made and where you’re probably playing in front of the biggest crowd,” said Brooks.

“I think the fact that they play in the Rose Bowl kind of puts a cherry on top of everything. They’ve been dreaming about it since they were grade school kids. They even knew that there was a Turkey Tussle. The minute the kids find that out, they literally want to play football just to be able to play on the Rose Bowl field,” added Brooks.

Brooks’ sentiment is echoed on the other side of town.

“Legends have played out on that field and to be able to say that you also played on that field is a conversation starter. It’s something to hold on to for the rest of your life. I played in it and I’ll never forget it,” said Syms about his experience as a John Muir football player.

For Councilmember Gordo, the Rose Bowl is more than just a stadium.

“It’s hallowed ground for anyone that’s interested in football,” explained Gordo. “No child should grow up in Pasadena not having have the experience of connecting personally with that field because I do believe that the Rose Bowl is the very heart and soul of our city.”

The Turkey Tussle is a game that inspires the athletes to to give it their all.

“One thing about rivalry games is you can throw out records, you can throw out what has happened during the season because anything can happen in rivalry games. Kids that never did anything all year, all of a sudden can become heroes,” said Brooks.

Friday night’s game will showcase the rivalry first-hand as Bulldogs fans separate from Mustang fans and cheer on their beloved teams.

“I know some of my good friends will be on the other side of the field cheering on their Mustangs. So that’s what makes it fun. We’ll drive there together and then we part ways when we arrive at the stadium,” said Gordo.

At the end of the day, Mustangs or Bulldogs, winners or losers, the Turkey Tussle is a game for Pasadena.

“What I’ve always enjoyed about it is that afterwards, people go back to being the friends that they are. Everybody goes back to recognizing that we’re all Pasadenans,” said Brooks.

The 71st Annual Turkey Tussle kicks off at 7:00 p.m. sharp at the Rose Bowl Stadium located at 1001 Rose Bowl Drive.

Tickets range between $5 and $12 and can be purchased by visiting

JMHS fans should park in lots F & K (west side), PHS fans should park in lots B & D (east side), PHS fans may not enter on Muir’s side and vice versa.

All JMHS fans must enter at Gate G, All PHS fans must enter at Gate C- NO re-entry allowed ALL fans will be subject to metal detector searches.

Tickets purchased online must reflect the age of the patron. Ticket takers reserve the right to ask for picture ID to verify. Online ticket sales will end at 4pm day of event.

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