AROUND THE NFL

The History of Thanksgiving Day Football: More Than Just a Game

Thanksgiving and football go together like peanut butter and jelly. Whether one watches or plays the game, football is a reason that people look forward to the holiday.

Photo Courtesy of "Newsweek"

Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy this wonderful day with your family, friends, or whoever you are celebrating with.

While eating a big meal is largely the highlight of Thanksgiving Day, one annual traditional is a slate of three NFL games. The Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys always play on Thanksgiving, with a third game being chosen randomly.

Why do the Lions and Cowboys always play on Thanksgiving? The Lions, specifically, were a young NFL franchise who started out as the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans in 1929, with George A. Richards trying to find ways to build a following for the Lions.

The Detroit Tigers, while not the most successful of teams present-day, used to be one of baseball’s best. They used to be the team to see in Detroit, going 101-53 to win the 1934 American League pennant.

Richards came up with the idea: why not play on Thanksgiving? His thought was that it is a national holiday, and a lot of people will be looking to do things on Thanksgiving Day besides the dinner feast.

This turned out to be a success, as the Lions sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, even having to turn away fans at the gate. The Lions beat the then-undefeated Bears, took the NFL’s Western Division crown, and the rest is history.

The Dallas Cowboys did not start playing on Thanksgiving until 1966, but they were a huge hit as well. While they might be known as America’s team today, they were not nearly as popular back in the 20th century. Then-Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm saw the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as a popularity boost.

The Cowboys broke their attendance record at the Cotton Bowl on Thanksgiving Day in 1966, packing 80,259 into the stadium as the Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns, 26-14. Since this day, the Cowboys have only missed turkey day football twice.

Today, the Lions host the Chicago Bears at 12:30 pm, the Cowboys host the Buffalo Bills at 4:30, and the Atlanta Falcons host the New Orleans Saints at 8:20.

Happy Thanksgiving. Be thankful not only today, but every day.

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