Turkey Day Football


Max Druckman, Staff Writer

Thanksgiving: a time of family and food, giving thanks, and elaborate parades. Above all, it is a time for America’s favorite sport, football! In between helpings of turkey and gravy, Americans across the nation are glued to the television, watching three National Football League Thanksgiving Day games. Football has become an integral part of the holiday and is ingrained in the holiday tradition. Why did NFL football games start being played on Thanksgiving day? How have the games grown so big, and, why do the same two franchises play on Thanksgiving each year? The sacred union of football and Thanksgiving has a very interesting history. 

The first NFL club that plays each season on the fourth Thursday in November is the Detroit Lions. The Lions began the tradition back in 1934, the team’s first season in Detroit. Even though the Lions were the first football franchise in the city, Silver Crush could not draw more than 15,000 fans per home game. This was due in part to the city’s beloved baseball club, the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers, led by Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg, had won over 100 games in the 1934 season and the American League pennant. Thus, the Tigers attracted both the attention and attendance of the loyal Detroit public. In an attempt to boost attendance, the franchise’s owner, George A. Richards, suggested the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving day. To increase the game’s coverage, Richards had NBC broadcast the game across the nation and also had it carried on his WJR radio network. To create an enticing matchup, Richards had the defending champions, the Chicago Bears, play his Lions. The matchup worked perfectly, as the Lions sold out the game and even had to turn fans away. Each year since the boys in blue have performed for turkey-eating superfans around the country.

The second team that plies its trade on Turkey Day is the Dallas Cowboys. In 1966, general manager Texas Schramm took a huge risk by having his club play on Thanksgiving, since there was no guarantee that fans would attend a matchup on the family holiday. Schramm also wanted to get national exposure for his struggling franchise. The NFL was so worried that no fans would show up to the game that they offered the team a gate fee in case no tickets were sold. However, Texans showed an amazing appetite for the sport and the team, as the Cowboys had 80,259 fans pack the Cotton Bowl to watch them trot over the Cleveland Browns. Schramm’s risk yielded a large reward. Since that year, America’s team has missed only two Thanksgiving day games. 

In 2006, a third game was added to the roster. It is played on Thanksgiving night, and while there are no set teams that play in the game, massive droves of fans still watch and attend the matchup. This season, the New Orleans Saints versus the Atlanta Falcons in the nightcap.

This Thanksgiving, many families will be tossing around the pigskin in their yards, playing two-hand touch and flag style for hours on end. Meanwhile, America’s teams, the Cowboys and Lions, will continue to provide the thrill of America’s favorite game on its favorite holiday. This year, the Dallas Cowboys face the Buffalo Bills and the Lions will take on their division rivals, the Chicago Bears. All three matchups promise to serve an extra helping of excitement. Who will you be cheering on this Thanksgiving Day?