The most American of holidays takes place on Thursday and for many in the United States, the big day is about the three F’s – family, food and football.
So we thought it would be good to give you some background information on the NFL and Thanksgiving Day and get you ready for three quality games with playoff implications.
When did the NFL start playing on Thanksgiving Day?
The NFL has played games on Thanksgiving Day as far back as its inaugural 1920 season. Among the winners on that first day of Thanksgiving football were the Akron Pros, Decatur Staleys (now the Chicago Bears) and the Dayton Triangles.
Local radio executive George A. Richards purchased the Portsmouth Spartans and moved them to Detroit and turned them into the Lions in 1934. Even though there was some risk attached to hosting a game on Thanksgiving Day, Richards also knew his Lions were taking a back seat to baseball’s Tigers in terms of media coverage and wanted to grab some of the headlines with a game played on a holiday.
So he opted to host a Thanksgiving Day game in 1934 and a tradition was born. The matchup between the Lions and the world champion Chicago Bears proved to be an all-time classic. The Lions had 10 wins, the Bears had 11 and it was the visitors who prevailed by a 19-16 scoreline.
Despite the results, Richards noted the benefits of a Thanksgiving Day game. The Lions sold 9,000 more tickets than usual and the game was the first to be nationally broadcast in the United States on the NBC Radio Network.
With the exception of a six-season gap from 1939 to 1944, Thanksgiving Day games have always been played in Detroit.
In 1966, the Dallas Cowboys, who had been founded just six years earlier, began playing Thanksgiving Day games. It was widely rumoured but never confirmed that the Cowboys sought a guarantee that they would regularly receive Thanksgiving Day games if they scheduled the first one.
The tradition of Detroit and Dallas hosting games has continued since then, with the only exception of 1975 and 1977 when the Cowboys did not play on that holiday.
What’s so special about the games being played this year?
All six teams playing on Thanksgiving Day have at least four wins to their name and are no more than two games out of a playoff position in their respective conferences with six weeks of the regular season to be played out.
While some clubs have had rougher rides than they would have hoped this season, all six teams will consider themselves very much alive in the NFL playoff race, knowing a morale-boosting victory this Thursday can kick-start a push towards the post-season.
Thanksgiving Day will also give us the chance to run the rule over two teams many experts are predicting will meet in this year’s AFC Championship Game. The 9-1 Houston Texans kick things off with a visit to take on an exciting but unpredictable Detroit Lions club who have four wins and six losses to their name this term.
The second contest features two NFC East rivals who will feel they can put together a strong finish to take their division. The 4-6 Redskins – led by exciting rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III – will take on their fierce rivals in the 5-5 Cowboys.
With RGIII and Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo running around and making plays downfield with their arms and their legs, this has the potential to be the best game of the day.
Finally, AFC East rivals will clash in the New Meadowlands as the Patriots – winners of four straight – look to maintain their charge towards the playoffs at the expense of the Jets, who if nothing else are always entertaining to watch in terms of drama on and off the field.
Is the late game worth staying up for?
Put on a large pot of coffee, get the bacon sandwiches ready for the fourth quarter and hang in there. If you watch the Patriots visit the Jets you are likely to see some intense football because these two teams simply do not like each other.
The Patriots have the more productive offense and the higher hopes for the remainder of this season, but the Jets always seem to save their best for New England. When the two teams met in Boston in October, New York gave Tom Brady and the Patriots all they could handle.
Despite a tough day at the office, New England eventually prevailed by a 29-26 scoreline in overtime. The Jets will be keen to remember how well they played the last time they took the field against the Patriots but will want to finish the job this time around.
Finally, tell us about some of the more memorable NFL moments that have taken place on Thanksgiving Day.
1962 – Detroit Lions hand the 10-0 Green Bay Packers their only defeat of the season.
1976 – Buffalo Bills running back O.J. Simpson sets an NFL record by rushing for 273 yards against the Detroit Lions.
1980 – David Williams, of the Chicago Bears, returns the opening kickoff in overtime for a touchdown against the Detroit Lions. This is the only time this has happened on Thanksgiving Day.
1986 – The highest scoring Thanksgiving Day matchup saw the Green Bay Packers beat the Detroit Lions 44-40. Unheralded receiver Walter Stanley enjoyed a career day, racking up 207 all-purpose yards and scoring three touchdowns.
1989 – The Bounty Bowl between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles led to a 27-0 loss for the home side from Texas. This led to allegations that Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan had placed a bounty on Cowboys kicker Luis Zendejas.
1993 – On a rare snow-filled day in Texas, Miami beat the Dallas Cowboys 16-14 courtesy of Pete Stoyanovich’s late field goal. Just moments earlier, Stoyanovich had a 40-yard effort blocked. Providing no Cowboys touched the rolling ball, it was game over. But defensive lineman Leon Lett inexplicably dived on the ball but failed to recover it. Miami grabbed the ball near the goal-line and kicked the game-winner!
1998 – The Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions went into overtime and running back Jerome Bettis called the coin toss in the air for the visitors. The officials misheard Bettis’ call and wrongly awarded the ball to Detroit. The Lions took full advantage and drove to a field goal and a 19-16 win on their first possession. The fiasco led to a rule change where captains must announce heads or tails before the coin is flipped into the air.
2010 – Dallas Cowboys punter Mat McBriar became only the second player in the NFL to attempt a drop-kick since the 1940s in a game against the New Orleans Saints. He didn’t quite pull it off, though, and was flagged for a fumble and an illegal kick!
2011 – Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was ejected during the course of his team’s 27-15 loss to the Green Bay Packers after he stomped on the arm of offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith.