Fort Worth

How a six-legged turkey became a thing during Thanksgiving Day Cowboys’ games

Joe Pat Fieseler used to make the six-legged turkey that was featured on TV broadcasts when the Cowboys play their traditional Thanksgiving Day game at Texas Stadium.
Joe Pat Fieseler used to make the six-legged turkey that was featured on TV broadcasts when the Cowboys play their traditional Thanksgiving Day game at Texas Stadium. Star-Telegram archives

Editor’s note: This story is running as when it was first published on Nov. 25, 1998.

The six-legged turkey is a rare bird indeed.

It arrives once a year, as seen on TV.

'Tis a symbol of Thanksgiving, Texas and food.

To get a drumstick, you must play football good.

The bird's appearance has become a tradition.

After a full day in a smoker, it is an award of nutrition.

For football fans, John Madden's Turkey Leg Awards are right up there with Grandma and pumpkin pie. Every Thanksgiving, whether covering a National Football League game in Irving or in Detroit, Madden awards the legs to the game's grittiest players.

Tomorrow, Madden will join fellow Fox Sports broadcaster Pat Summerall at Texas Stadium, where the Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings won't be playing just for victory - they're also hungry for turkey legs.

Madden and Summerall
Former NFL head coach and sports commentator John Madden spoke during a memorial service for veteran sportscaster Pat Summerall at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano in 2013. AP archives

The famous six-legged turkey, created by Irving barbecue wizard Joe Pat Fieseler, will be surrounded by a security force until it's carved up. The 22-pound bird will be shown to television viewers throughout the game.

"We had to find turkeys that had a lot of legs on them," Madden said yesterday. "There's only one place you can get a turkey with more than two legs, and that's in Texas."

Fieseler is owner of Harvey's Barbecue Pit in south Irving. If Madden and Summerall are in town for Thanksgiving, he provides the bird. On occasion, he has shipped the bird to Detroit, where the Fox broadcasters go every other year for the NFL's other Thanksgiving game.

Fieseler came up with the idea for the six-legged turkey after a 1990 Thanksgiving game, during which Madden awarded a turkey leg to Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith but lamented on the air that he wished he had enough drumsticks to give to the Cowboys' five-man offensive line.

At the time, Madden and Summerall worked for CBS. They moved to Fox in 1994 and took the Turkey Leg Awards with them.

Fieseler, who said he prefers to be called Joe Pat, likes to embellish the tale of the turkeys.

"The story I like to tell is that these turkeys grow on a farm near the nuclear plant in Glen Rose," he said.

A dissection of a six-legged turkey shows that two legs are attached by bones and skin. The four other legs are fastened with - gasp! - 3-inch wood skewers.

The smoked turkey is more of an artistic overstatement than an abomination of nature.

But that has not stopped critics of the six-legged turkey from calling Fox Sports to complain.

"It is amazing the amount of mail we've gotten," Summerall said. "They think we're being cruel to animals by growing six-legged turkeys."

The 22-pound turkey is chock full of meat. Not counting its four additional feet. Until you taste a smoked six-legged turkey, you really aren't living. But Harvey's stops taking orders two days before Thanksgiving.

So by the time you read this, I hope that you ate.

If you waited until now to order, you're too late.

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796, @gdickson

Update

The inventor of the six-legged turkey, Joe Pat Fieseler of Irving, closed Harvey's barbecue restaurant in 2001. Fieseler, who also worked in the sheet metal industry, later retired and moved to Fort Worth.

Pat Summerall, a Southlake resident, retured from full-time pro football broadcasting in the early 2000s but continued to do occasional television work until his death in 2013 at a Dallas hospital.

John Madden retired from broadcasting in 2009 and lives in Pleasanton, Calif., near Oakland.

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