For as long as I can remember, there were three certainties on Thanksgiving Day. A delectable turkey with all the traditional accompaniments, going through numerous Black Friday ads to plan the next day’s route, online deals, and finally napping through the afternoon knowing the Lions and the Cowboys were on the docket for NFL games that day. I get it, one is “America’s Team” and the other, well, they’re the Lions.
How about a little love for the rest of the markets around the country on a day where we give thanks to family, friends, and especially this year, sports. Before I get into that, let’s have a brief history lesson on how the tradition came to be of Thanksgiving NFL football.
The Detroit Lions started their tradition in 1934 when they were formerly the Portsmouth Spartans and they were bought and moved to Detroit by a local radio executive George A. Richards. Upon being moved, the Detroit sports fan base was still favoring the Tigers so Richards, taking a chance, decided to schedule a game on Thanksgiving against the World Champion Chicago Bears. The 11-0 Bears came into Detroit against a 10-1 Lions in front of 26,000 fans at University of Detroit stadium, which had been sold out for weeks, and snuck out a victory 19-16.
Both teams actually met three days later with the Lions being victorious 10-7, and well, the rest is history. Since Richards was a radio executive, he helped set up a 94 station network with NBC radio to broadcast that Thanksgiving day brawl to gain national attention. Unfortunately, from 1939 to 1944, the Lions did not play these games due to World War II.
Overall the Detroit Lions are 37-41-2 on Turkey Day and most notably 4-12 over the last 16 years. That doesn’t really build a solid case for me to watch football instead of overindulging in homemade stuffing and pumpkin pie. How about taking some notes from the NBA who have no fixed opponents on their Christmas Day lineup and actually try to feature great matchups and sometimes have paired the previous year’s NBA Finals teams together. In this year’s matchup, the 4-6 Detroit Lions hosting the 3-7 Houston Texans. Unless you’re a fan of either team or have fantasy football riding on it, it’ll more than likely be background noise during a mid-day feast.
The Dallas Cowboys, on the other hand, didn’t start their tradition until 1966. Long story short, President and GM Tex Schramm were looking to market the team nationally, and the NFL guaranteed revenue if they agreed to play on Thanksgiving. More than 80,000 showed up to the Cotton Bowl to see the Dallas Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14. The Cowboys ripped off their first six Thanksgiving day games for wins and have a 30-21-1 overall record.
In the ’70s the Cowboys didn’t play on Thanksgiving twice in ‘75 and ‘77 because the NFL was trying to help a struggling St. Louis Cardinals find their way. St. Louis hosted games in those years and were destroyed both times, and that was the end of that. Dallas has hosted ever since.
Move forward to 2020, Dallas is 3-7 and a half-game out of first place. Yes, that is not a typo, 3-7 and a half-game out. This year’s Thanksgiving matchup for the Cowboys is hosting the 3-7 Washington Football Team, another barn burner I’m sure. Both teams ridden with QB injuries, it is said that the winner of this game will sit atop the NFC (L)east when the day is over.
Thankfully in 2006, a third game was introduced and this is usually the game of the day. Since 2012, the primetime matchup has usually been division rivals except for 2016. Why can’t this be the case for all three games? Maybe flex those games a week or two prior? The NFL has no problem doing this in December, why not do it in November? Follow the NBA’s lead and put in a Super Bowl rematch, or an AFC/NFC Championship rematch.
At least the prime time game this year should be worth the watch with an AFC North battle between the undefeated Steelers against a 6-4 Ravens. That is if you’re not defeated from the day’s caloric intake, among other family traditions.
Fun Fact: the Jacksonville Jaguars are the only team never to play on Thanksgiving Day.