A half dozen young men wearing H.D. Woodson High School football jerseys stood defiantly among Eastern High School football fans at the south end of Howard University's Greene Stadium yesterday.

They were there to remind Eastern that, had it not been been for an eligibility violation that forced Woodson to forfeit 10 games -- Woodson was using an overage player -- Woodson would have played in this year's Thanksgiving Day Interhigh League championship game against Wilson.

"Eastern couldn't beat us to get here, so they had to get here somehow," said Marcus Stevens, a Woodson running back and one of the most vocal of the group. "We should be on the field."

Woodson defeated Eastern, 21 to 0, in one of the games it had to forfeit.

"Eastern is sneaking in the back door on us," said senior Woodson quarterback Antonio Watson. "I'm here just to see what I'm missing."

If Wilson 10th-grader Tanique Thompson is an accurate barometer, Wilson fans thought they had the better bargain. "Woodson would have probably beat us," she said as she stood at the front of the aluminum bleachers. "I prefer playing Eastern, they're the easier challenge."

Not easy enough. East Division champion Eastern beat West Division champion Wilson 12 to 6.

"We have proven that we deserve to be here," said Sherrell Turner, an Eastern senior who made up part of the enthusiastic crowd of 11,400 who came to watch the game.

Since at least 1955, when the city integrated its athletic programs, thousands of fans have gathered on Thanksgiving to cheer for their teams or simply to enjoy the game as part of their holiday celebrations.

"This is the best kind of football," said Clinton cabdriver Robert Robinson, who said he had no ties to any of the teams yesterday; he simply loves the game.

"I'm just here to enjoy football. I come to every one that I can."

"I thought it was a great game. The two teams were evenly matched," said Sam Jones, the D.C. school athletic director, who made the decision to disqualify Woodson.

Even D.C. Police Chief Isaac Fulwood Jr. was on hand, monitoring a police radio for signs of problems that never arose.

Espousing a philosophical assessment of the controversy that resulted in Woodson's disqualification, Fulwood said, "You never have a winner in this kind of stuff, always losers."

That's a shame, he said, because the city needs to "move on and improve its athletic program. The kids need extracurricular activities and they need to learn to play by the rules, that winning isn't everything."

Truth be known, Fulwood had an underlying motive for being there.

"I'm a graduate of Eastern High School and there's no doubt about it," he confessed, "I definitely want Eastern to win."