Thanksgiving Football Equals Americana

LVCorrespondent INovember 26, 2009

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 22: Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions runs with the football against the Cleveland Browns at Ford Field on November 22, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan. The Lions came from behind to defeat the Browns 38-37. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Masters of Disaster (MOD) from a Turkey Bowl circa 1991

Football on Thanksgiving is an “Autumn Ritual” to me just like the phrase, “Can you please pass the gravy.” 

The game has aligned itself beautifully with the greatest holiday ever, in my opinion, and it provides an opportunity for fellowship by friends and family around America’s Game.

“The Thanksgiving games are quite a tradition, not just in Detroit, but for America,” says NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci, a Michigan native who participated in three Thanksgiving Day games as the Lions’ head coach in 2003-05. 

“I learned firsthand about the excitement in Detroit for the game.  You enjoy playing in front of the home crowd.  It’s special.”

Whether attending a hometown rivalry game...in my town growing up it is Abington (my alma mater) vs. friendly rival Cheltenham that goes back to 1915 (see all of the scores from this rivalry )...or playing in a “Turkey Bowl” touch football game with friends/family, or just watching the now three NFL games and other college games, Americans like myself cannot get enough Turkey Day football.

My most vivid memories of Thanksgiving are attending the hometown rivalry game in the early afternoon then going over to my paternal grandmother’s house for a celebration like none other with food like turkey, macaroni and cheese, stuffing, cranberry, candy yams and many other favorites while having good fellowship over food and, of course, football. 

When I was younger my grandmother’s television was a big cabinet black/white set and I vividly remember watching the Detroit Lions (usually lost) and Dallas Cowboys (usually won) play many Thanksgiving games on that set. 

The earliest Thanksgiving game that I can remember was the Chicago Bears against the Detroit Lions in the Pontiac Silverdome November. 27, 1980.

I remember this game, because Vince Evans was at quarterback for the Bears (rare to see an African-American quarterback at the time) and the great Walter Payton rushed 18 times for 123 yards, and I think he even threw a pass.

The ending was everything, as the Bears won an overtime thriller 23-17 when Bears kick returner Dave Williams returned the overtime kickoff for a touchdown, completing a Bears’ comeback from a 17-3 deficit.

My favorite Thanksgiving game of course involved the classic broadcasting team of John Madden and Pat Summerall commentating a Turkey Bowl classic on Nov. 23, 1989 in Texas Stadium. 

This game dubbed “Bounty Bowl I” featured a Philadelphia Eagles 27-0 shellacking win over the hated Dallas Cowboys, which left me over-the-top giddy.

My joy came from the fact that as a one-time long-suffering Eagles follower, I finally got to stick it to the many stinking Cowboys’ fans in my family (brother and many cousins). 

Funny thing about Philadelphia, there are many “never have been to Texas” Dallas Cowboys fans who year after year love to talk about Super Bowl rings to hometown Eagles fans. 

However this 1989 NFC East afternoon rivalry game was something extra special for me to watch as the Birds won handily and the Cowboys turncoats in my grandmother’s suburban Philadelphia home had to eat some crow with their turkey that day. 

The story of the game was Buddy Ryan’s Eagles defense knocking the stuffing of Troy Aikman, as they seemed to sack him a million times.  The game ended with my favorite player Reggie White eating the ceremonial Madden Turkey Leg as the game’s MVP.


2009 NFL Thanksgiving Schedule  

Green Bay Packers (6-4) at Detroit Lions (2-8), 12:30 PM  (FOX)

Yes, everyone just like going to your grandmother’s house on Thanksgiving, the nation still must endure watching the usually pitiful Detroit Lions on TV on Turkey Day, even though it seems like forever. 

This year,  in an old-time Thanksgiving Day traditional match-up, the Packers will travel to Detroit to face the Lions who maybe without QB Matthew Stafford (shoulder) and WR Calvin “Megatron” Johnson (hand, knee).


Oakland  Raiders (3-7) at Dallas Cowboys (7-3), 4:15 PM (CBS)

Naturally America’s Holiday, Thanksgiving, will feature “America’s Team” as the Cowboys take on the dangerous Oakland Raiders in Jerry Jones’ billion-dollar playpen.  We will see if Turkey Day will be Cowboys QB Tony Romo’s last hurrah before his usual December swoon.


New York Giants (6-4) at Denver Broncos (6-4) , 8:20 PM  (NFLN) — The G-Men continue their quest to return to the team that started 5-0 this season as they travel to the Rockies for a huge Thanksgiving night game against the Broncos. 

This game will surely have playoff implications in both the AFC and NFC as both were fast starters, but have shown inconsistency of late.

Lloyd’s Leftovers

  • Lets talk about seating arrangements at the 2009 NFL Thanksgiving table.  At the “Adult table ” for playmakers are Vikings QB Brett Favre, Titans RB Chris Johnson, Colts head coach Jim Caldwell, Colts QB Peyton Manning, Eagles WR DeSean Jackson, Bills safety Jairus Byrd, Bears WR Johnny Knox, Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, Saints QB Drew Brees, and Broncos DE Elvis Dumervil.  Spots at the “Kids table ” for disappointments should be seated NY Jets QB Mark Sanchez, Cowboys WR Roy Williams, Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell, Eagles O-lineman Stacy Andrews, Bears QB Jay Cutler, Giants DB C.C Brown, Texans kicker Kris Brown, the Steelers’ coverage units, Bears DT Tommie Harris, and Broncos backup QB Chris Simms.
  • There was a time that Thanksgiving football was defined in the African-American community by rivalry games like Lincoln vs Howard.  Here is an excerpt from a piece that I wrote on the subject… “The “outside world” of major white college football may have had traditional rivalries like Harvard-Yale, Ohio State-Michigan, and Notre Dame-Army.  But to most African-American football fans those contests had nothing on the annual Thanksgiving Day clash between the mighty men of Lincoln (PA) and their rival school Howard University.  After their initial meeting in 1894, the annual Lincoln-Howard Thanksgiving game quickly became an autumn ritual.”  Check out the rest of the piece .
  • I am often asked, “Why are we subjected to the stinking Detroit Lions and hated Dallas Cowboys every Thanksgiving??”  The reason is “Carpe diem” as these two teams both had the vision of matching College Football on America’s Holiday and seized opportunities to host football games when everyone else was afraid the crowds would stay away.  The Lions were the first in 1934 and the Cowboys followed suit in 1966.  The NFL also added a rotating third game in 2006 (Chiefs winning 19-10 over the Broncos) on Turkey Day to help boost their channel NFL Network.  Our friends over at Mental Floss give some great background on the subject of NFL football on Thanksgiving .
  • The oldest high school Turkey Day Game rivalry is in Massachusetts between Needham and Wellesley, dating back to 1882.  Find out everything about Thanksgiving Football .
  • You can now see the results for every NFL Thanksgiving game going back to the 1920’s (courtesy of the Pro Footballl Hall of Fame )

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Posted in 2009 Thanksgiving Games, Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, Thanksgiving Football, Thanksgiving Rivalries Tagged: 2009 NFL Thanksgiving Games, Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, Football, NFL, Sports, Thanksgiving Football 


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