NFL on Thanksgiving: How Detroit Lions, Dallas Cowboys Became Like Turkey, Gravy

Gregory KochContributor INovember 25, 2010

NFL has become as much a part of Thanksgiving as turkey and pumpkin pie.
NFL has become as much a part of Thanksgiving as turkey and pumpkin pie.A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Today, as we sit down at our tables and enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner with our family, chances are we will also enjoy watching some football. And I'm not talking about the backyard football game where Uncle John plays quarterback and beats your team easily, although that’s fun too.

I’m talking about the annual NFL games featuring the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys, and in a more recent occurrence, a third, rotating game. This is a tradition that has become as much a part of Thanksgiving as turkey and pumpkin pie, so let’s look at how it got started.

The NFL first played Thanksgiving Day games in 1920, with six games in Akron, Chicago (two teams), Dayton, Elyira and Rochester.

It wasn’t until 1934, however, that the Detroit Lions began hosting the Thanksgiving Classic on a semi-permanent basis. On November 29th, 1934 (until World War II, Thanksgiving was held on the last, rather than the fourth, Thursday in November) the Lions lost to the Chicago Bears 19-16.

The Brooklyn Dodgers (no relation to the MLB team of the same name) would also host several games during that time before folding. After a brief hiatus from 1939-1940 (when the Eagles hosted instead) and again from 1941-1944 due to World War II, the Lions returned to hosting in 1945, and have played every year since.

In 1966, the Dallas Cowboys began playing home games on Thanksgiving. Many people think that this was because the league wanted to add another Thanksgiving game and Dallas was the only team willing to host. This statement has not been officially confirmed, however it is worth noting that several AFL teams were playing on Thanksgiving, and the merger would happen just a couple years later.

In 2006, the NFL added the third Thanksgiving game, after Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt had been pushing for a rotating game for years.

Unfortunately, the game that year aired on the NFL Network, so not that many people could see it. In fact, Hunt was confined to a hospital at the time of the game and wasn’t even able to watch his Chiefs fulfill his goal on TV since the hospital was not subscribed to the NFL Network. (The hospital was outside the Kansas City market, so he couldn’t watch it on network TV either.)

The Thanksgiving games are known for their awards as well. Fox has given out the Galloping Gobbler—a running silver turkey wearing a football helmet—to the MVP of their game (which is always the one featuring the NFC road team).

Likewise, CBS gives the All-Iron Award, a small silver iron, to their MVP, as well as some blackberry cobbler made by Phil Simms’ mother.

Not to be outdone, since its second game in 2007, the NFL Network awards the Pudding Pie Award, which is as its name implies, some Pudding Pie.

There have been some memorable games on Turkey Day. In 1989, the Eagles defeated the Cowboys 27-0 in the “Bounty Bowl”, named not because Thanksgiving is meant to celebrate the bountiful harvest, but because the Eagles had allegedly put a bounty on the Dallas Kicker.

In 1998, the Steelers and Lions went to overtime, and Jerome Bettis called the coin toss in the air. However, it is still unclear what he called (supposedly he either started to say “heads” and switched to “tails” or the other way around). In any case, the refs misheard and awarded Detroit the ball, and they kicked a field goal to win on their first drive in overtime.

But overall, Thanksgiving Day football games, both in the backyard and on TV, are a fun tradition. And whatever your family’s Thanksgiving traditions are, have fun, stay safe and have a Great Holiday.

What’s that? Your Thanksgiving Day traditions involve hearing my predictions? Well I doubt that, since I started writing for this site two days ago, but I’ll give them to you anyway.

Patriots 37, Lions 10. All-Iron Award goes to Tom Brady.

Saints 28, Cowboys 17. Galloping Gobbler Award goes to Reggie Bush.

Jets 38, Bengals 13. Pudding Pie Award goes to Darrell Revis.


Happy Thanksgiving everyone!