Being a big NFL fan, I wanted to share with you the history of NFL Football on Thanksgiving Day. Because NFL games are as much a part of Thanksgiving as turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. For starters, it has been a regular occurrence since the league’s inception in 1920. Since 2006, three games are played every Thanksgiving. The first two are hosted by the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys, and a third game, with no fixed opponents.
The first owner of the Detroit Lions, G.A. Richards, started the tradition of the Thanksgiving Day game as a gimmick to get people to go to Lions football games, and to continue a tradition begun by the city’s previous NFL teams.
Prior to World War II, the NFL did not schedule any Thanksgiving games in 1941, nor did it schedule any in the subsequent years until the war ended in 1945. In 1951, the Packers resumed its regular role on Thanksgiving, becoming the perpetual opponent to the Lions each year through 1963.
In 1966, the Dallas Cowboys, who had been founded six years earlier, adopted the practice of hosting Thanksgiving games and thus started the two “traditional” Thanksgiving Day pro football games in Detroit and Dallas.
Some memorable Thanksgiving Day games include the 1962 Lions handing the 10-0 Green Bay Packers their lone defeat of the season and the 1974 Cowboys-Redskins game in which unknown Cowboys backup quarterback Clint Longley took over for an injured Roger Staubach with the team down 16-3 and rallied them to an improbable victory on two deep passes.
A similar experience occurred in 1994 when Troy Aikman was injured and third-string Cowboys quarterback Jason Garrett
was forced to start against the Green Bay Packers and won in a shoot-out with Brett Favre 42-31.
Some of the games have been infamous for other reasons. In 1993, the Cowboys led the Dolphins 14-13 with just seconds remaining in a snow-filled Texas Stadium. Miami’s Pete Stoyanovich attempted a game winning 40 yard field goal that was blocked by the Cowboys’ Jimmie Jones. Dick Enberg of NBC proclaimed “The Cowboys will win.” However, Cowboys defensive lineman Leon Lett chased the ball and touched it, giving the Dolphins a chance to regain possession, and then kick a much shorter field goal to take an improbable 16-14 victory.
In 1998, the Steelers and Lions went to overtime. Pittsburgh’s Jerome Bettis called the coin toss in the air, but confusion surrounded the call. The officials misheard Pittsburgh’s call and awarded Detroit the ball, who went on to win 19-16 on their first drive in overtime. As a result of the fiasco, team captains are now required to call the coin toss before the coin is tossed.
This year’s holiday features a heaping helping of intriguing matchups, starting with the defending Super Bowl champs in Detroit as the Lions host the Packers, the Cowboys host the Dolphins and concluding with a matchup of the Harbaugh brothers as the Ravens host the 49ers. Only time will tell if these games will be talked about for years to come. But for now, I am truly grateful to be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy NFL Football on Thanksgiving Day!