The Greatest Thanksgiving Performances in NFL History

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor INovember 28, 2013

The Greatest Thanksgiving Performances in NFL History

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    Was it really 15 years ago that Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss tortured the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving?
    Was it really 15 years ago that Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss tortured the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving?Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    Here’s to a Happy Thanksgiving Day for everyone.

    As we know, when it’s time to eat on this holiday, you don’t want anyone to get in your way.

    So, in terms of football, here are the 10 greatest Thanksgiving Day performances in the league’s glorious history—and we won’t waste anyone’s time by adding anything else.

    Enjoy your meal and your family, and have a good time reminiscing when it comes to these exceptional pigskin memories.

    Hey, we have to eat too!

10. Cowboys QB Tony Romo vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2006)

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Despite being signed by the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2003, quarterback Tony Romo didn’t see his first action on the field until 2006.

    It began when Romo, making just his second career appearance, took over for a struggling Drew Bledsoe on a Monday night against the New York Giants. The Cowboys would still fall short that evening, but the team had found its quarterback for what would be the foreseeable future.

    In his fifth career start, Romo and his team welcomed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to Texas Stadium on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys proved to be anything but gracious hosts.

    Romo completed 22 of his 29 passes for 306 yards and five touchdowns without an interception in his team’s 38-10 victory.

    The season would conclude with a playoff appearance for Romo and the Cowboys in Seattle.

    Then the real “fun” began.

9. Vikings WR Randy Moss vs. Dallas Cowboys (1998)

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    In 1998, the Minnesota Vikings were in the midst of a 15-1 season and on their way to scoring 556 points that year—an NFL record at the time.

    Brad Johnson began the season at quarterback, but veteran Randall Cunningham soon became the main man behind center.

    Dennis Green’s team brought a 10-1 record and a three-game winning streak into Texas Stadium that day. And it is safe to say that rookie wide receiver Randy Moss gave the Dallas Cowboys something to remember him by in his team’s 46-36 win.

    The first-year phenomenon caught just three passes that afternoon, but those catches were good for 51, 56 and 56 yards—all touchdowns.

    Three receptions totaling 163 yards and three scores is what you would call the definition of economical.

8. Dolphins QB Bob Griese vs. St. Louis Cardinals (1977)

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    For fans of Turkey Day trivia, it should be noted that the last time the Dallas Cowboys didn’t host a game on this holiday was 1977.

    The scene for this big-time performance was Busch Stadium. The then-St. Louis Cardinals, still more than a decade from making their move to Arizona, took on Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins and quarterback Bob Griese.

    The Cards were in the midst of a tremendous turnaround, winners of six straight games following a 1-3 start. But all of that came to an end when Griese and Co. came to town.

    The Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback and two-time Super Bowl champion did his best Clark Kent impression. The bespectacled signal-caller completed just 15 of his 23 passes for 207 yards and was picked off once. But six of those 15 completions went for touchdowns (three to wide receiver Nat Moore) in a resounding 55-14 victory.

    It’s also worth noting that Griese threw just 16 touchdown passes in his other 13 starts that season.

7. Packers WR Sterling Sharpe vs. Dallas Cowboys (1994)

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    Apparently, there is only so much one man can do.

    On an afternoon perhaps better remembered for the play of Cowboys quarterback Jason Garrett, it was Green Bay Packers wide receiver Sterling Sharpe who came up big on Thanksgiving Day of 1994.

    In what proved to be a playoff preview between these teams for the second straight year, Dallas came away with a wild 42-31 victory. Garrett, starting for an injured Troy Aikman, threw for 311 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in his team’s victory.

    But it was Sharpe who actually stole the show in what eventually proved to be his final season in the league. The Packers gained just 277 total yards that day, but Sharpe hauled in nine passes for 122 yards and scored all four of Green Bay’s touchdowns in the loss.

6. Oilers RB Earl Campbell vs. Dallas Cowboys (1979)

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    In what may have been a Super Bowl preview that season that never really materialized, this battle of Texas powers remains one of the best games to be played on Thanksgiving.

    When it was all said and done, the Houston Oilers edged the Dallas Cowboys 30-24 in a seesaw affair at Texas Stadium.

    And as usual back in those days, the catalyst for Bum Phillips' team was running back Earl Campbell. The Pro Football Hall of Famer ran for scores of 61 and 27 yards, and finished the day with 195 yards rushing on 33 carries.

    As for that near-Super Bowl matchup, Houston would be derailed by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC title game for the second straight year. Meanwhile, the Cowboys were denied a third straight trip to the Super Bowl by the Los Angeles Rams, who would go on to lose to the Steelers in Super Bowl XIV.

5. Packers WR Walter Stanley vs. Detroit Lions (1986)

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    Photo credit: Pro Football Hall of Fame

    When the smoke finally cleared following the 1986 season, the Green Bay Packers (4-12) and Detroit Lions (5-11) would combine for a 9-23 record.

    But that didn’t stop the teams for combining for 84 points on Thanksgiving Day that season.

    The Lions opened with a 10-0 first-quarter lead, but by the game’s end, they were on the short end of a 44-40 score. And that’s because the Packers had the right tool for the job in Stanley.

    As in Walter Stanley, who lit up Detroit as both a receiver and in his ability to return kicks. Stanley amassed 287 all-purpose yards and scored three touchdowns in Green Bay’s four-point victory.

    He totaled four receptions for 124 yards and two scores. But it was his 83-yard punt return for a touchdown with 41 seconds to play that proved to be the difference that afternoon.

4. Colts QB Peyton Manning vs. Detroit Lions (2004)

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    And so it began.

    When you’re watching the Lions take on the Packers Thursday, the latter will be looking to snap a nine-game losing streak on Thanksgiving Day. That number is a little mind-boggling considering that the Lions have hosted all nine of those games.

    That unfortunate streak began in 2004 when quarterback Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts came to the Motor City and left 41-9 winners.

    The prolific signal-caller threw for just 236 yards, but he completed 23 of his 28 passes and six of those completions went for touchdowns, three each to wide receivers Marvin Harrison and Brandon Stokley.

    Manning would finish the season with 49 touchdown passes, an NFL record at the time that was broken by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (50) in 2007. And it's a mark that Manning (36 scores in 11 games this season) has within his sights in 2013.

3. Browns WR Jim Benton vs. Detroit Lions (1945)

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    Kink Richards (13), New York Giants back, cuts over end for a 25-yard gain against the Cleveland Rams in the 2nd quarter of a National Football League game on Nov. 13, 1938 at the Polo Grounds in New York. Ward Cuff (14) is taking out an opposing backer-up. Others identified are Giants Tuffy Leemans (4); Gildea (17) and Cope (36); Rams are Ted Livingston (31), and Benton (26). Giants won 28-0.
    Kink Richards (13), New York Giants back, cuts over end for a 25-yard gain against the Cleveland Rams in the 2nd quarter of a National Football League game on Nov. 13, 1938 at the Polo Grounds in New York. Ward Cuff (14) is taking out an opposing backer-up. Others identified are Giants Tuffy Leemans (4); Gildea (17) and Cope (36); Rams are Ted Livingston (31), and Benton (26). Giants won 28-0.(AP Photo)

    Earlier this season, we saw Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson total 329 yards receiving in a 31-20 win over the Cowboys.

    It was the second-most receiving yards in a game in league annals and just the fifth time in NFL history a player reached the 300-yard mark in that statistic.

    Guess who was the first person to do it.

    It was Jim Benton of the Cleveland Rams in 1945, and he managed to accomplish the feat against the Lions on Thanksgiving Day that year. Benton amassed 303 yards on just 10 catches and scored the game’s only touchdown in his team’s 6-3 victory.

    Of course, the bigger news that year would be a championship for the Rams, who finished 9-1 and went onto the defeat the Washington Redskins 15-14 in the NFL title game.

2. Bills RB O.J. Simpson vs. Detroit Lions (1976)

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    It’s safe to say that The Juice was loose this day at the Pontiac Silverdome.

    Just six times in NFL history has a player in one game rushed for at least 270 yards. These days, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson holds the league record for one contest with 296 yards.

    But the first to accomplish this feat was Pro Football Hall of Fame running back O.J. Simpson in 1976. Three years earlier (1973), Simpson became the first player in league annals to rush for at least 2,000 yards in a single season.

    But this Thursday afternoon nearly 40 years ago, the thrilling performer ran around, over and through the Lions defense for 273 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries. It was a near-perfect performance by the Hall of Famer.

    Except for one minor fact: The Lions won the game, 27-14.

1. Cardinals RB Ernie Nevers vs. Chicago Bears (1929)

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    What’s in a name?

    Perhaps it is only fitting that Chicago Cardinals running back Ernie Nevers set an NFL record way back in 1929 that may never be broken—even tying this accomplishment may prove to be impossible.

    On Thanksgiving Day more than 80 years ago, Nevers scored all of his team’s points in a 40-6 victory over the Chicago Bears. The Pro Football Hall of Fame performer rushed for six touchdowns (also an NFL record) and added four PATs in the rout of George Halas’ team.

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