Turkey, family, and a little bit of football have been Thanksgiving day staples for years with no sign of stopping. The tradition of football has intertwined deep roots in the American holiday, dating all the way back to 1876 at the collegiate level when on November 30, 1876 Yale defeated Princeton 2-0 in a cold and rainy game.
The first professional football games on Thanksgiving took place on November 25, 1920. Forty-six years before the NFL-AFL merger, this Thanksgiving day featured teams such as the Akron Pros, Canton Bulldogs and the Columbus Panhandles. None of these teams survived to the modern day, but their history still digs deep into the early stages of the NFL and Thanksgiving football.
We’ve reached the 2022 season after 102 years of Thanksgiving NFL football. The modern day Thanksgiving schedule consists of three games in three different time windows. Some of the league’s greatest games and individual performances happened on Thanksgiving day. O.J. Simpson’s 273 yard and two touchdown rushing game in 1976 set a league record at the time. The Cowboys and Dolphins faced off in a snow covered gridiron in Dallas, Texas in 1993 that ended in a game winning field goal for the Fins. Hall of Famer Peyton Manning on the Colts threw six touchdown passes in a 41-9 blowout against the Lions. Over the century-long timeline, the Jacksonville Jaguars are the only team that have not played on Thanksgiving. The only teams that have not won a Thanksgiving day game are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns.
The first Thanksgiving day game this year at 12:30 pm will be the Detroit Lions hosting the Buffalo Bills. The Lions franchise holds deep value in the history of Thanksgiving day football, with their first ever Thanksgiving day game being in 1934. Ever since then, the Lions have hosted on Thanksgiving every single year, the longest active streak of a team playing on a specific day. As a result of this history, the Lions hold the record for most Thanksgiving day wins, as well as losses, with an all time record of 37-42-2 on turkey day. Detroit has struggled over the past few decades on Thanksgiving with a 6-15 record since 2000. The Lions are on a 5 year Thanksgiving day losing streak with their last win being in 2016 against the Minnesota Vikings. Breaking that chain of losses will be a tough task this year because the Bills are hot as ever, especially on Thanksgiving. The first game Buffalo played on Thanksgiving was a 1961 win against the New York Titans, and since then hold a 5-4-1 Thanksgiving record.
This year will be the third time in four years the Bills play on the holiday, and maybe their third win a row. “I am expecting a Buffalo stampede over the Lions in this game,” says Masuk sophomore and Bills fan Brady Floramo. “I’m excited for the game to be on Thanksgiving too. The 3 F’s: family, food and football”.
The 4:30 pm game will be between the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants, a matchup that could pay dividends into the NFC East standings come January. The Cowboys first Thanksgiving day matchup was in 1966, and similar to the Lions, have hosted on every Thanksgiving day since. However, the Cowboys boast a much better Thanksgiving day record of 31-21-1. Dallas’ last Thanksgiving day win was in 2018 against the Washington Commanders. The first time the Giants played on Thanksgiving was in 1982, which is also the date of their last Thanksgiving day win against the Lions, marking a 40 year drought of a win on Thanksgiving. As long as the franchise dates back, the Giants have played only a few Thanksgiving games with a record of 7-6-3 on the holiday.
“I’m very excited, it should be a very good game,” says Masuk senior and Giants fan Owen Smith. “It’s a great opportunity for me and my family to spend some good time together during the holiday”.
The last game, taking place at 8:20 pm, will be an outer conference matchup between the Minnesota Vikings hosting the New England Patriots, two teams with very little Thanksgiving day history. The Vikings are 5-1 on Thanksgiving, their last game and win being in 2016 against the Detroit Lions. The Patriots have played even fewer turkey day games with a 4-1 record on Thanksgiving, the last game and win being in 2012 against the New York Jets. Many remember this matchup against the Jets for the infamous “butt fumble” play from Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. Sanchez took the snap, faked a handoff to his fullback, took off running himself and ran into his center’s butt, fumbling the football for the Patriots to pick up and score a touchdown.
“I’m absolutely excited for the game to be on Thanksgiving because I get to watch the Patriots while eating a delicious dinner with my family,” says Masuk senior and Patriots fan Ryan Monaco. “I feel confident that [running back] Rhamondre Stevenson can run all over the Vikings but I’m afraid of our corner against [Vikings wide receiver] Justin Jefferson”.
Get excited to eat some good food and spend time watching some good football this Thanksgiving. No matter how you’re going to spend the holiday, now you know some of the history of the pastime of America’s sport on America’s holiday.