Thanksgiving Football

Thanksgiving Football

The National Football League has been playing games on Thanksgiving Day since its inception in 1920. The NFL’s Thanksgiving Day games have traditionally included one game hosted by the Detroit Lions since 1934, one game hosted by the Dallas Cowboys since 1966, and a third prime-time game has been played since 2006. This prime-time game has no fixed host and features different teams every year, mainly consisting of division rivals ever since 2012. This year the Lions host the Bears, the Cowboys host the Raiders, and the primetime game will be the Bills against the Saints in New Orleans. Since the NFL has been playing games on Thanksgiving Day, there has only been one team to not play on the holiday, the Jacksonville Jaguars. 

So, why do the Lions get to host a game every Thanksgiving Day? In 1934, when the Lions decided to play on Thanksgiving, their owner George A. Richards was aiming to attract more fans. Richards was known for his great marketing skills, and he planned to use Thanksgiving as an easy way to bring more fans into the stadium. Detroit’s main sports attraction at the time was the city’s baseball team, the Detroit Tigers, so the Lions had not been drawing much of a crowd. But, on that first Thanksgiving game day, the Lions had so many fans show up that they sold out the stadium and had to turn people away at the gates. After the great success, Richards saw a great opportunity, and the tradition was born. In 1966, the Cowboys were also looking to boost their popularity when they were given the chance to play on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm knew that this would be a great opportunity for Dallas to really gain more popularity. After the Cowboys signed up for their first Thanksgiving Day game, there were NFL executives that were concerned that fans might not show up on a holiday in Texas. The NFL executives were wrong, and the Cowboys broke their previous record of attendance in their first Thanksgiving game and their tradition of playing every Thanksgiving was born. 

Thanksgiving football has given NFL fans some very memorable games and moments. In 1993, the Cowboys led the Dolphins 14-13 with just seconds remaining in a very rare snow-filled Texas Stadium. The Dolphins attempted a field goal to win the game and it was blocked by the Cowboys. Everyone thought that the Cowboys had sealed a victory, but the ball landed beyond the line of scrimmage and was recovered by the Dolphins at the two-yard line. The Dolphins were able to kick a much shorter field goal and win the game. In 1998, Jerome Bettis called both heads and tails at the overtime coin toss and the ball was rewarded to the Lions. Detroit would go on to win the game by a field goal in overtime. In 2011, The night game was between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers and featured head coaches John and Jim Harbaugh coaching against each other. This game would also end up being a preview to the Super Bowl later that season. Easily the most notable moment in Thanksgiving football happened in 2012, in the prime-time game with the Jets playing the Patriots. Jets quarterback at the time, Mark Sanchez, ran headfirst into the back of his own offensive lineman and subsequently fumbled the ball. The fumble was recovered by the Patriots and returned for a touchdown. This play later became known as the “Butt fumble”. Thanksgiving football is a great tradition and has given football fans some great memories over the years.

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