The tradition begins with Steve Schain, so it's his story. He's a 47-year-old lawyer reliving childhood as a suburban Superdad. Only instead of a cape, he flies around Bala Cynwyd wearing an American flag bandanna on his bald head.

Nine years ago, the Amherst Bowl was just Steve calling buddies to drag their boys out for touch football on Thanksgiving morning. If they were lucky, the kids worked up an appetite and the men scored points with their wives.

"I was there the first year. It was just a few of us and it was very casual," recalls Michael O'Hare, a lawyer for mutual funds and father of Connor, 13, and Tim, 10.

Now, 127 players make up 12 teams playing five 20-minute games for neighborhood glory. They wear color-coded T-shirts and pay a $25 entry fee that lets them carb up on doughnuts and pretzels.

Schain matches the money left over after the costs are paid and donates it to children's charities. This year's list includes a foundation memorializing Charlie Schwab, a beloved Lower Merion dad who died recently.

Within days of the games, action photos are available online for ogling. Talk of an Amherst Bowl beefcake calendar and celebrity cookbook are jokes - for now.

Intense competitors crave a gilded Amherst Bowl Cup, but Schain eschews such pageantry.

"If there was a brass ring," he surmises, "people wouldn't play for the fun of it."

"I want every kid to have one great play they talk about with their kids at Thanksgiving in 30 years," he adds. "I'm just trying to give every father and son a memory."

Profiles in Courage

Every Labor Day, Schain begins e-mailing hilarious "Profiles in Courage" of the adult standouts.

Guys like Craig Newschaffer, a pioneering autism researcher, and Eric Rothschild, a lawyer who won the famous Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District "intelligent design" case, were cited for their professional acumen.

Walt Einhorn got a nod for rooming with future Bratpacker Judd Nelson at Haverford College; Marc Neiberg, for enlisting in the Air Force after running a family medical practice. He'll miss this year's game while he tends to troops in Turkey.

Those with everyday stories may find themselves Schainified for a laugh. "Like the mythological figure Prometheus who stole fire from the Gods to share with mankind," he wrote, "Mike Bershad works in vending."

These dads know they are different from their dads, who didn't moonlight in dugouts or as chauffeurs.

"I was head coach of my son's Little League team and an assistant basketball coach," says Keith Calligaro, chief of vascular surgery at Pennsylvania Hospital and father to Anthony, 14.

"It's a big-time commitment. . . . But I don't know of anyone who is involved as much as Steve is."

Schain is a Lower Merion Little League commissioner - so official! - who beams over son Harry, 14, and daughter Annabell, 10. When I ask if she minds the bowl being boys-only, he regales me with stories of daddy-daughter nights and Sunday's "Family Fun Hour."

"I like hanging out with my kids. They're more interesting than adults," Schain says. Besides, "that window isn't open very long. Pretty soon, kids go their own way."

No more holding back?

The Amherst Bowl has outgrown Amherst Field. Thursday's contest will take place at South Ardmore Park. Players begin arriving at 8 a.m. for the 9:30 a.m. kickoff. Anyone who practices or runs plays in advance should expect to be mocked.

Some hope for snow, others prefer mud. Schain just prays none of the dads "lose their minds." Taking things too seriously is not allowed.

Adults split quarterbacking with sons. Only kids can cover other kids or score, but the rules keep evolving as the boys become men.

"This may be the last year we will hold back," Schain says, with a mix of regret and glee. "These kids are getting too big, too good, too fast. And I'm not getting any younger."

Contact Monica Yant Kinney at 215-854-4670, myant@phillynews.com, or @myantkinney on Twitter. Read her blog at philly.com/blinq