NFL Thanksgiving Day games history: Why the Lions and Cowboys play every year, best moments, traditions, records


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Thanksgiving Day to sports fans is all about football and turkey. The tradition of watching a high school football game in the morning is as old as time. It's almost as old as time.

The Detroit Lions have played at home on Thanksgiving every year since 1934, except for when the games were stopped during World War II. The Dallas Cowboys played a home game in the 1960s. The franchises and their fans only know football on Thanksgiving. In 2006 the league added a third game with no host team.

This year's Thanksgiving Day schedule.

Why do the Lions and Cowboys always play on Thanksgiving? What does the day look like for the people who put their holiday celebrations on hold? How much food is served at the stadium? We asked the reporters about the history.

We took a journey back in time to explore the best and worst moments on turkey day, and laid out the Thanksgiving statistics and numbers you should know.

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The numbers for Thanksgiving records.

There are some best moments in Thanksgiving history.

There is a method for this.

The Thanksgiving tradition began.

The Lions hosted their first game in 1934 against the Bears. The Detroit Lions were renamed after Richards purchased the Spartan football team from Ohio. The Bears beat the Lions 19-16 in front of a crowd of 26,000 at the University of Detroit Stadium.

Thanksgiving football has become a tradition in Detroit with the Lions going 37-42-2 during the holiday classic.

The Cowboys first played on Thanksgiving in 1966 and won against the Cleveland Browns at the Cotton Bowl. The holiday game made perfect sense because the general manager wanted more national publicity for the Cowboys. The Cowboys were guaranteed a certain amount of gate revenue by the NFL. A tradition was born when 80,259 fans showed up. The Cowboys have played on Thanksgiving Day since 1977.

Why didn't the Cowboys play on Thanksgiving? Pete Rozelle wanted to see if the St. Louis Cards could build their popularity under coach Don Coryell, who had teams nicknamed the Cardiac Kids because of their exciting finishes. The Cowboys would take the Thanksgiving game back if the Cards lost both games.

"It was a dud in St. Louis," he said. Pete asked if we would take it back. If we get it permanently, I said only. You have to build a tradition with it. He said, "It's yours forever."

Thanksgiving records.

The Lions have the most wins and losses on Thanksgiving Day. The Packers and Bears are two teams that have a tradition during the holiday season.





The Detroit Lions.




The Dallas Cowboys.




The Bears are from Chicago.




The Green Bay Packers.




What is it like to play on Thanksgiving?

Since joining the Cowboys, he has played on Thanksgiving only once. He doesn't have a favorite memory.

"My favorite thing about playing on Thanksgiving is that we're the only team playing and everyone is watching us," he said. Everyone is watching. We have the stage, so we have to handle our business.

When he scored a touchdown in the game against Washington, he tossed the quarterback into the Salvation Army red kettle.

"I don't think it was planned," he said. "It was kind of a spur of the moment thing."

The Thanksgiving game is seen by players as a marker for how the season is going or how it needs to end, according to former Lions Pro Bowl OT Lomas Brown.

He said that the Thanksgiving Day game marks the point of the season. If you want to be a playoff team, you're getting ready to turn the last quarter of the season over and get into the home stretch. If you want to make noise in the playoffs, you need to play better. If you're at that point in the season, everything should be clicking for you.

How do players celebrate Thanksgiving?

Lions players can celebrate with their families on the next day. He says he couldn't wait until after the game was over.

I went on an eating binge Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I would put on some weight over the holiday because my brother would throw down if you didn't take care of him after the game. It was almost like another little open week and we looked at it that way as well.

Most players with families will celebrate on Friday. Most of the time, players will not get back to their homes until later in the evening, far too late for a heavy meal.

"We always do a Friday dinner," Martin said. "We play the Raiders this year, which my brother is on, so we've got a big group coming."

Is there any team traditions?

While the Lions don't hold any traditions for the holiday game, former coach Wayne Fontes did place extra emphasis on the contest by dropping his interest in it all season. Players took that to heart too.

When the schedule came out, Brown looked at Thanksgiving. The first thing I looked at was to see if we had a Monday Night Football game, and the second thing was who we were playing on Thanksgiving. When I looked at the schedule, that was the order every year. As leaders on the team, we used to emphasize that Thanksgiving was the most important thing. We used to tell the young boys that we don't lose on Thanksgiving. We said we had to win that game.

Everything you need this week.

The full schedule is Standings.

Every team has depth charts.

Transactions and injuries.

Football Power Index rankings.

There is more coverage of the NFL.

The Salvation Army's Red Kettle campaign starts at halftime of every Thanksgiving game. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has a long-standing interest in helping the Salvation Army. Jerry and his daughter Charlotte have led many initiatives with the Salvation Army from raising money with the 50/50 raffle at games to holiday initiatives that benefit local communities.

The practice of Cowboys players visiting a Salvation Army shelter in Dallas or Fort Worth to feed those in need has been put on hold the past two years because of the swine flu.

In the past, players were with their wives and children. During his career with the Cowboys, Witten had his sons and daughters help out with meals.

Witten told his children that they would have an opportunity to give back to people who are less fortunate. They do it with joy. I think they enjoy seeing the fans and being able to give out food.

What are some traditions for season ticket holders?

A group of die-hard Lions fans gather in the parking lot of Detroit's Eastern Market at 9 a.m. to tailgate before the game. They cook about four turkeys and each of them brings a side dish. The dishes are named after the team the Lions are facing.

Megan is a lifelong Lions fan and a season ticket holder. She drives from Goetzville, Michigan to Detroit.

Mark "Pilgrim" Mullins has been a season-ticket holder since 1991, and every Thanksgiving Day he dresses up as a pilgrim and accompanies his daughter, Mandie, to the game.

He said that they are known as the pilgrims in Detroit. This year is my 30th anniversary of dressing as the pilgrim and I have souvenirs from all my friends. He has added to his costume every year since he moved to Ford Field. He is also at the tailgates.

Lions fans at Ford Field on Thanksgiving Day have more than just turkey.

The goal was to dress like a pilgrim and get on TV. The next year, all of the people in my section were like, 'Hey, big guy, you're gonna be the pilgrim again?' Woodyard was like "Well, I guess I should."

Roger Staubach is perhaps the most famous Cowboys season-ticket holder.

The Turkey Bowl game is held at AT&T Stadium on the day before Thanksgiving and is hosted by the Hall of Fame quarterback, better known as Captain America. He still plans to play after the game was taken a year off because of COVID.

How much sway does Staubach have? McCarthy had to catch his breath as he saw the quarterback as he entered The Star.

McCarthy, a native of Pittsburgh, turned his attention back to the media. I'm shaking. The old Super Bowls, the Steelers and the Cowboys, I just thought about them.

Team dinners.

The Cowboys don't have a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving night, but they can get turkey and all the other ingredients if they want. A lot of the players stick with their traditional night-before-game meal of steak, chicken, fish or pasta. It's wise for the players to not gorge themselves like that, since most people feel the same after eating turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing.

Some might think that the Lions don't have a Thanksgiving dinner. Some men prefer to eat at home with their family. The Lions' training facility in Allen Park will serve traditional Thanksgiving fare to their players the day before the game.

Jerry Jones eats for Thanksgiving.

Our experts make game picks.

The PickCenter is part of the ESPN Chalk.

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Most of their players are like the Joneses. They have a full Thanksgiving meal on the Friday after the Cowboys game. It's a traditional Thanksgiving meal with dishes that have been passed down through the years from the mothers of Jerry and Gene Jones.

The family recipes for duck, dressing and sweet potatoes are at the top of the list.

The stadium has Thanksgiving dinners.

A traditional Thanksgiving Day meal is served for all Cowboys' suite holders, as well as those with access to the club areas and the press box at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

This is the breakdown of the food that will be served this year.

11,500 pounds of turkey.

Cowboys Mac 'N Cheese is 7,600 pounds.

4,640 pounds of cornbread.

4,150 pounds of ham.

2,340 pounds of potato puree.

There are 234 gallons of cranberry sauce.

175 gallons of whipped cream for dessert.

Ford Field in Detroit will start the day at 3 a.m. To make sure everything is ready for the 12:30 p.m. The start time is at 10:00 am Fans in the stadium will be able to purchase turkey legs, loaded sweet potatoes, and Bourbon-spiked cider. Suite members get more extensive Thanksgiving meals.

Levy Restaurants has a breakdown of food by the pound.

1,300 pounds of turkey.

There are 1,000 turkey legs.

There are 2,500 slices of pie.

75 gallons of gravy.

35 gallons of cranberry sauce.

25 gallons of cranberry BBQ sauce.

2,000 pounds of mashed potatoes.

400 pounds of green beans.

300 pounds of corn is on the cob.

1,100 pounds of stuffing.

The numbers for Thanksgiving.

Number of teams that will never play on Thanksgiving: Jacksonville.

The Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Cincinnati teams are winless on Thanksgiving.

Bob Griese and Peyton Manning scored the most touchdown in a single Thanksgiving game.

Thanksgiving Day has been blanked since 1970. The Cowboys shut out the Miami Dolphins in 1999.

The most career sacks on Thanksgiving were held by Ansah.

Calvin Johnson holds the most career receiving touchdown.

Former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and former Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford have the most career touchdown passes on Thanksgiving.

The most receiving yards on Thanksgiving was held by former Cowboys tight end.

Emmitt Smith held the record for most career rushing yards on Thanksgiving. Smith has 13 rushing touchdown on Thanksgiving.

Stafford held the record for most career passing yards on Thanksgiving.

The best moments of Thanksgiving.


Clint Longley took over for Roger Staubach after he was knocked out by a blow to the head. Longley capped off the comeback with a 50-yard touchdown pass to Drew Pearson with 28 seconds left, and the extra point sealed the deal.

AP Photo/Ferd Kaufman


Dave Williams' 95-yard kick return was the difference in the Bears' overtime victory over the Lions. The first overtime game on turkey day was in 1974.

On the final play of regulation, the Bears tied the game. Then on the first play of overtime, they won.
#DETvsCHI was posted on November 27, 1980
The NFL posted a video on November 11.


Lawrence Taylor returned a pick-six for the Giants.

He collapsed the pocket all day. It's hard for a defensive player to leave a big impression on a game like Lawrence Taylor did in this Thanksgiving clash with the Lions.
On Nov. 25, 1982, the Giants played the Giants.
The football team posted a video on November 23, 2018.


Leon Lett tried to recover a blocked field goal. The ball was recovered by the Dolphins at the 2-yard line. The next field goal attempt by Miami was connected and the team won.

Leon Lett's ill-advised blocked field goal recovery attempt gave the Dolphins an icy Thanksgiving win in 1993.


The Lions scored 55 points on the Bears, with Barry Sanders rushing for 167 yards and three touchdown.

His first big run of the fourth quarter didn't go well.
What did Barry do?
Another big run is in the offing. The Lions are pictured.
The football team posted a video on November 22, 2018).


Randy Moss went for 50-plus-yard touchdown in three of his catches. Three catches. Three points. 163 yards.

Three catches. Three points. 163 yards.
The Cowboys passed on RandyMoss.
He ripped them up when he took the field in Dallas. The Vikings are pictured on Nov. 26, 1998.
The football team posted a video on November 22, 2018).


Manning threw six touchdown passes against the Lions, tying Bob Griese for the most on Thanksgiving Day.

On Thanksgiving, Peyton threw more touchdown passes than incompletions. There was a report on Nov. 25, 2004.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Week will be on the NFL Network.
July 30, 2021.


Tom Brady had a perfect passer rating. Brady had 341 yards and four touchdown in the win over the Lions. Brady threw three touchdown passes in a row to Deion Branch, Wes Welker and Brady in the third quarter, as the Pats erased a 24-17 deficit.

Tom Brady's perfect passer rating on Thanksgiving 2010 is notable, as it is old hat for him to score on offensive outings.


No one will forget the play. The Jets quarterback fumbled the ball after running into his teammate. The "Butt Fumble" is also known as.


The 1993 Thanksgiving game between the Cowboys and Dolphins was defined by a rare snowstorm and a bungled play.

The Jets lost 17 of 23 prime-time games after the "Butt Fumble" defeat.