What do you know about football traditions

The NFL on Thanksgiving Day has seen some memorable moments, from Clint Longley leading the Cowboys comeback in 1974 and national television exposure to the incomparable Barry Sanders to the infamous Bat Vumble in 2012 and Leon Lett’s foul in 1993.

NFL Thanksgiving games have been a tradition since the league’s inception in 1920 (there were six games in the first season!).

This season will feature three games: the Detroit Lions host the Buffalo Bills (12:30 p.m. EST, CBS); Dallas Cowboys host New York Giants (4:30 p.m. ET, Fox); and the Minnesota Vikings host the New England Patriots (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC) to finish off the assist backlog for football games.

A third primetime game was added in 2006, and includes teams other than the Lions and Cowboys, each playing their traditional Thanksgiving games.

Why do the lions always play on Thanksgiving?

Fans dress up in Thanksgiving gear during the game between the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears at Ford Field on November 25, 2021.

Fans dress up in Thanksgiving gear during the game between the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears at Ford Field on November 25, 2021.

Watching the Detroit Lions lose on Thanksgiving Day has become a holiday tradition like no other. The Lions have lost their last five games on Thanksgiving Day, and posted an all-time record of 37-43-2 on Turkey Day.

If you find yourself cursing the fact that the Lions always play on Thanksgiving, you can blame George A. Richards. In 1934, Richards bought the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans for $8,000 and moved the team to Detroit, renaming the team the Lions (inspired by the local baseball team, the Tigers).

While Thanksgiving football was a normal thing for the NFL from its inception, it was Richards who took it to another level. Richards was a broadcasting executive, and used his connections to negotiate a deal with NBC to nationally broadcast the Thanksgiving game on its network of 94 stations. Richards also convinced Chicago Bears owner/coach George Halas to be the Lions’ opponent, suggesting that the game would give the NFL vital exposure. The game was a huge success. A Detroit record crowd attended the game while listeners across the United States enjoyed the pedestrian action across the airwaves. A great new American tradition was born.

With the exception of 1939-44 during World War II, the Lions have hosted a Thanksgiving Day game every year since 1934. The first nationally televised game was in 1953, when the Lions defeated the Green Bay Packers on their way to winning their second straight NFL title. championship.

A year after that primary Thanksgiving game in Detroit, the Lions captured their first NFL title in team history. Detroit would win three more championships in the 1950s before suffering a drought that Detroit does not enjoy to this day.

Despite the Lions’ lack of success on the field, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell only briefly hinted in 2009 about changing the Thanksgiving schedule so more teams could host games over the holiday.

Why do the Cowboys always play on Thanksgiving?

A Dallas Cowboys fan wears a turkey helmet before the Thanksgiving Day game between the Cowboys and Las Vegas Raiders at AT&M'S Stadium.  T on November 25, 2021.

A Dallas Cowboys fan wears a turkey helmet before the Thanksgiving Day game between the Cowboys and Las Vegas Raiders at AT&T Stadium on November 25, 2021.

By the mid-1960s, the NFL was well on its way to becoming the entertainment giant it is today. Television networks, eager to satiate the fans’ sports appetites, worked with the NFL to add a second Thanksgiving game for the 1966 season. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tex Schramm cleverly volunteered his team to play in the Thanksgiving game, as long as Dallas would host the game every year.

This decision—plus the team’s long run of success from the mid-1960s through the 1980s—contributed greatly to the nickname “America’s Team”.

With the exception of two seasons since 1966—in 1975 and 1977 when the St. Louis Cardinals hosted a Thanksgiving Day game—the Cowboys have hosted a Thanksgiving game, which was scheduled after the annual Detroit Lions game. Unlike the Lions, the Cowboys enjoy success on Thanksgiving, posting a record in holiday history of 31-22-1.

This article originally appeared in the USA TODAY: NFL on Thanksgiving: History of the Lions, Cowboys games on holiday

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