The Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving in most years means the Prep Bowl.

This year, even with the COVID-19 pandemic making that a no-go, it promised section football championship games all over Minnesota, crowning as many as 52 teams with trophies and medals to cap a season like no other.

The surging virus wrecked that, too.

By the time teams scrambled to play, or not play, in the hours before Gov. Tim Walz ordered a four-week pause on youth sports starting Nov. 21, football looked like this: About 360 teams started the season. At least 74 were done in by COVID before the playoffs started on Nov. 17.

In the end, just 36 section champions were named, some without playing a game. In another 18 sections across the state, the record book for 2020 will be empty.

But from the first kickoffs on Oct. 9, when the season that seemed lost until spring got restarted on a perfect fall evening, football offered players, coaches, parents and fans a little slice of normal.

Even with last-minute opponents. Even with masked coaches, referees and cheerleaders. Even with no more than 250 fans in the stands and not a concession stand in sight. Even with COVID accelerating its disruptive influence in the days before the final games.

If there is one thing winning and losing coaches and players seemed to go out of their way to say after every game, it was this: We’re just grateful we had the chance to play.