HINCKLEY, Ohio — Connor Cook has many fond memories playing football for the Michigan State Spartans, including beating Michigan after the Wolverines botched a punt at the end of a game, handing Urban Meyer his first loss at Ohio State and winning the Rose Bowl.
The Walsh Jesuit High School graduate was drafted by the Oakland Raiders and played in the NFL for four years.
Cook, a 28-year-old Hudson resident, now works in commercial real estate, but he's bringing his throwing talents to an annual Thanksgiving day backyard football game in Hinckley.
On Monday, Cook was driving on Center Road when he spotted the giant inflatable turkey that is erected each November for the Meadows Turkey Bowl.
"I know about the bowl, always wanted to play but couldn't," Cook said.
He got in touch with his friend, Pete Meadows, who helps organize the event along with his dad, Mike Meadows, and others.
"I said, hey you can still play. You can still play. You just have to raise $2,000. He wrote a large check and started raising money within 48 hours," Pete Meadows said.
The Turkey Bowl, now in its 32nd year, has raised $2.6 million for charity. Most of the money goes to the St. Vincent de Paul Society with a strong focus in recent years on helping families facing cancer.
"I'm very confident we're going to go over $3 million (this year), this humble backyard football game," Mike Meadows said.
In January of 2020, life called an audible on the Meadows family when Pete Meadows was diagnosed with oligodendroglioma, a rare form of brain cancer.
A baseball-sized tumor was removed during surgery in Houston. Pete's most recent scans taken in Boston this month have come back clean.
"I would say I'm cancer-free. My doctors will say there's no evidence of disease," Pete Meadows said.
This year, the Turkey Bowlers are donating 25% of the money raised to help find a cure for oligodendroglioma.
"What can we do? We can pray. We can hope for a cure, but let's get involved and that's what we're doing this year," Pete Meadows said.
"You can sit on the sidelines or your can do something," Mike Meadows added.
Cook, who has been Pete's friend for several years, felt a calling to play in the backyard game that features about 50 guys. He's thankful for the chance to give back something greater than a game.
"You don't want to see anyone get diagnosed with cancer, let alone brain cancer. My grandma, she had brain cancer when I was in sixth grade and died three months later," Cook said.
Cook, who was drafted by the Raiders in the fourth round, smiled when asked if he expected to drafted high in Meadows Turkey Bowl draft that takes place Wednesday evening.
"Well, hopefully I get drafted higher than I did in the NFL," he said.
Over the years, other well-known athletes, local leaders and dozens of businesses have contributed to the event. The Meadows family calls the fundraising efforts "the game within the game" and they're grateful for people like Cook for doing their part.
"He humbled himself to play in this backyard football game, right? He didn't have to do that and he's going to come out. I think he gets what this game is all about," Mike Meadows said.