Judge Clay Jenkins Reflects on Thanksgiving Day Meals and Memories

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins Mikel Galicia
It was Thanksgiving Day in 1993, and the Dallas Cowboys were hosting the Miami Dolphins in the coldest regular-season home game in team history. An ice storm had blanketed the city and the playing field at Texas Stadium, which had a large opening in the roof (so God could watch, right?).

According to the book America's Team: The Official History of the Dallas Cowboys, prior to the game, the team borrowed tarps from the Cotton Bowl to protect the field. By 1:30 p.m. they were so heavy with ice they could barely be moved. In a panic, the grounds crew used a truck and all the help they could find (including concession workers) to rip the tarps up to avoid a forfeit. The chaos the ice was causing would continue.

The triplets — Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irving — had led the team to a Super Bowl Championship the season before and were on a path to do so again. With just 15 seconds left in the game, the field covered in ice, Dallas was leading 14-13. Miami attempted a field goal, which was blocked by defensive tackle Jimmie Jones. All the Cowboys had to do was … nothing. It was a dead ball and the game clock would have simply ticked to zeroes. But, for reasons the player himself isn't even sure about, Leon Lett slip-slid his way over to the ball in an attempt to recover it, but awkwardly kicked it instead, making it a live ball, which Miami recovered. The visitors then attempted another field goal and won the game.

An avid Cowboy’s fan, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins missed that ending.

“When I face tough challenges like the COVID challenge we’re facing now, I know that no matter what’s happening, it’s not my toughest day or my toughest year" – County Judge Clay Jenkins

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“I was in a very serious automobile accident, sustained a broken neck and a spinal cord injury and a head injury and some internal injuries,” Jenkins says.

Jenkins, who was 29 at the time, was placed in a medically induced coma for “two Cowboy games,” as he explains it. When he awoke, one of the first things he asked about was if the Cowboys had won, which is when his friends explained the icy end of the Thanksgiving game.

“But, I’ve always been especially thankful for Thanksgiving now because of that,” Jenkins says.

He endured a painful year of rehabilitation and surgeries, adding “but by the grace of God, I overcame that.”

Even while managing the response to the pandemic, not to mention the recent historic elections, these aren't Jenkins' worst days.

“When I face tough challenges like the COVID challenge we’re facing now, I know that no matter what’s happening, it’s not my toughest day or my toughest year, I’ve already been through that,” Jenkins says.

This year Jenkins and public health administrators are discouraging large family gatherings over Thanksgiving, as events of even just four or more people are increasingly linked to community spread.

Jenkins realizes that this holiday will be different, but says that doesn't mean they have to be any less special. “We have a lot to be thankful for even though we can’t get together like we want to or normally would.”

In terms of his own Thanksgiving food traditions, Jenkins says he always sticks to the classics, “Gotta have the classic turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce. And we gotta have sweet potatoes; the healthy way, of course, with brown sugar and marshmallows. Only the best-in-health for our family. Calories don’t count on Thanksgiving. If you’re not passed out on tryptophan-induced sleep, you’re not doing it right.”

Might want to go ahead and sleep through the football game too, Judge. And this time when you wake up, don’t ask what happened. Next year should be better all the way around. 
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Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.