Watching the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys host NFL football games on Thanksgiving is a tradition, like serving turkey and stuffing for a Thanksgiving meal. It seems many families plan their Thanksgiving meal around the football games’ timing, eating either at halftime or between games.
How did NFL games on Thanksgiving become such a popular tradition? And why is it that the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys are always hosting games on Turkey Day? One more thing, who is playing in this year’s Thanksgiving football games?
This article will address those questions and more. Let’s get to it.
History of Professional Football and the Holiday
In the 1920s, it was common for professional football teams to play on Thanksgiving. As many as six games were played on one Thanksgiving. In the 1920s, TV wasn’t a thing. TV was invented in 1927, but it didn’t gain traction until the early 1950s). As such, pro football games didn’t come into our houses as it does now.
When professional football was evolving, it couldn’t compete with college football which was traditionally played on Saturday. Friday nights were considered the natural of high school football games. That left Sunday for professional football.
Why did the NFL make the jump to Thursday for Thanksgiving games?
How The Detroit Lions Began Playing on Thanksgiving
As the popularity of playing pro football games on Thanksgiving was beginning to fade, the undefeated Chicago Bears came to play the Detroit Lions in Detroit on Thanksgiving in 1934.
The Lions had moved to Detroit from Portsmouth, Ohio, and attendance had lagged. The best-attended game of the season drew about 15,000 fans. But the Bears vs. Lions clash in 1934 on Turkey Day would be different. It didn’t hurt that the Bears came in undefeated at 11-0, and the Lions were no slouches themselves at 10-1. The Western Championship was on the line.
The game drew a shocking 26,000 fans to the University of Detroit Stadium. The attendance was about 73% higher than any other game that season. The Bears edged the Lions by a score of 19 – 16. But that didn’t stop the Lions’ new owner George A. (Dick) Richards, from booking the Bears for the next four years to a Thanksgiving game in Detroit. And so the tradition began.
The Lions hosting a Thanksgiving game took a hiatus during WWII but resumed again. From 1951 to 1963, the Lions hosted the Green Bay Packers every Thanksgiving Day. At that time, it was the only game of the day.
How the Dallas Cowboys Joined the Action on Turkey Day
The upstart AFL got into the action in 1960 by offering their own professional game on Thanksgiving. In 1966 the NFL’s answer was to feature two games on Turkey Day.
Cowboys President and GM Tex Schramm saw the advantages of televised games and jumped at the opportunity to have the Cowboys host a Thanksgiving game. Since then, outside of 1975 and 1977, when the Cardinals hosted games, the Cowboys have been featured on the NFL Thanksgiving agenda. As the Lions’ success on the field began falling, the Cowboys were playing better. “America’s Team” played the second game after the Lions finished the first.
The NFL added a third game to Thanksgiving in 2006. So, in addition to fitting in all your other holiday festivities, you can count on over 10 hours of televised football action every Thanksgiving.
See the NFL Games on Christmas 2023.
What NFL Games Are Being Playing This Thanksgiving (2023)?
For Thanksgiving 2023, which falls on Thursday, November 23, here’s the line-up of the three NFL games being played.
1.) Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions.
Start Time: 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time
2.) Washington Commanders vs. Dallas Cowboys.
Start Time: 4:30 p.m. Eastern Time
3.) San Francisco 49ers vs. Seattle Seahawks
Start Time: 8:20 Eastern Time
I hope you enjoyed this look into the Lions and Cowboys’ history of hosting games on Thanksgiving.
By Mike O’Halloran
Mike is the founder and editor of Sports Feel Good Stories. He was a contributing writer for USA Football, the youth arm of the NFL.
You are on our Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Games page.
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