Thanksgiving and NFL unite yet again in 2020


Photo credit: Gracen Hoyle

illustration by Gracen Hoyle

For many families, watching football on Thanksgiving has become just as much of a tradition as the meal itself. Football brings families together in late November to cheer on their favorite team while stuffing themselves with delicious food.

Thanksgiving football was actually once a tradition in high schools and colleges across the United States. President Abraham Lincoln named Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, and the first Thanksgiving Day game was actually played in Philadelphia in 1869 between Rutgers University and Princeton University.

Thanksgiving Day Football in the National Football League actually started in 1934 after George Richard had purchased the Portsmouth Spartans and moved them to Detroit, where they became the Detroit Lions. Richard realized that the city was not as excited about football as they were about baseball, so he started the Thanksgiving Day Football Matchup. The Lions played the Chicago Bears, and after that, Thanksgiving football became a tradition in Detroit and in cities across the United States. The Lions have played on every Thanksgiving since then, with the exception of World War II.

In 1966, the Dallas Cowboys hosted their first Thanksgiving Day game as a way to build their fanbase. That game broke attendance records with over 80,000 fans in the stadium. The Cowboys have played on all but two Thanksgivings. In 2006, the NFL added a third game to the lineup, which is not fixed to any specific team.

In 1989, the NFL introduced the Turkey Leg Award. The award was first given by John Madden to Eagles defensive end Reggie White. Today, the Turkey Leg Award is presented to the MVP or MVPs of the Thanksgiving Day primetime matchup. After the game, you can often see players eating their turkey leg on TV, highlighting the holiday spirit after a competitive game.

Historically, there have been some exciting matchups on Thanksgiving. In 2005, the Denver Broncos and the Dallas Cowboys played and were tied 21-21 before overtime. After the Broncos won the coin toss, on the second play of overtime, backup running back, Ron Dayne had a 55-yard run that allowed the Broncos to win the game with a field goal on the next play.

In 1998, the Detroit Lions and the Pittsburgh Steelers had a close game in overtime. During the overtime coin toss, Jerome Bettis, one of the Steelers’ captains, mumbled heads/trails during the coin toss, and the referee didn’t hear what he actually said, so the Lions got the ball first, which allowed the Lions to win.

Lastly, the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers played in 1994 on Thanksgiving. With the first and second string quarterback injured, Jason Garrett was able to lead the Cowboys to victory, throwing more yards than Brett Favre with fewer passes. Garrett threw 311 yards on 15 completions, whereas Favre threw for 247 yards on 27 completions. Garrett went onto become the Cowboys head coach in 2010, but he made a little history well before then.

This Thanksgiving, the Houston Texans will play the Detroit Lions, the Washington Football Team will play the Dallas Cowboys and the Baltimore Ravens will play the Pittsburgh Steelers. There are plenty of games, so take some time between rounds of food to enjoy a little football.