It’d be nice if the highest-paid players in sports always came through when the games mattered most. If that was the case, then maybe we could justify paying these athletes obscene amounts of money; rather than throwing cash at an individual out of need as opposed to actual merit. Then again, sometimes, under the bright lights of the national spotlight, players manage to rise to the occasion and put on the performance of a lifetime. Fortunately for us, this often happens on Thanksgiving.
For the majority folks, Thanksgiving is about family, fun, and food — way too much food. However, for NFL fans, it’s also about gathering around and watching the time-honored tradition that is Thanksgiving Day games. In fact, if you ask us, these matchups are usually almost as satisfying as all that turkey we stuff our faces with.
If we’re lucky, not only will our favorite teams pull out the W, making the holiday that much more special, we’ll even get to witness an all-time great individual effort. To do so, however, would mean outshining one of these six epic past performances.
6. Barry Sanders (1997)
On November 27, 1997, the Detroit Lions decimated the Chicago Bears by the score of 55-20. Leading the way, as seemed to always be the case with this particular group, was running back Barry Sanders. For his Thanksgiving Day masterpiece, the Hall of Fame back carried the ball 19 times, rushed for 167 yards, and finished the afternoon with three rushing touchdowns. This performance is just another example of why Sanders is considered among the best running backs to ever play the game.
5. Tony Romo (2006)
In his first-ever Thanksgiving Day game, Tony Romo didn’t just lead the Dallas Cowboys to a 38-10 victory over the Tampa Buccaneers, he put his name on the map. Romo completed 22 of 29 passes, threw for 306 yards and five touchdowns, and finished the game with a passer rating of 148.9. His time with America’s team may soon come to an end, but considering how he’s carried himself over the years, Romo has certainly left a lasting mark in the Big D.
4. Bob Griese (1977)
On November 24, 1977, the St. Louis Cardinals played host to the Miami Dolphins on Thanksgiving Day. Unfortunately for the home team, Dolphins QB Bob Griese rose to the (holiday) occasion. On his way to a 115.4 passer rating, Griese completed 15 of 23 passes, threw for 207 yards, and ended the day with six touchdown passes and one interception. Thanks to the efforts of their Hall of Fame quarterback, Miami won convincingly 55-14.
3. Randy Moss (1998)
As a young rookie, Randy Moss played the first Thanksgiving Day game of his career against the Dallas Cowboys on November 26, 1998. On this particular afternoon, the six-time Pro Bowler finished the contest with just three catches. To the dismay of the Dallas faithful, these were no ordinary grabs. Each of Moss’s catches went for over 50 yards, and each turned into a touchdown reception. The superstar wideout’s final numbers on the day in which the Vikings defeated the Cowboys 46-36: three catches, 163 receiving yards, and three touchdowns. That’s one way to exact your revenge against a team that passed you up in the draft.
2. Peyton Manning (2004)
On November 25, 2004, the Indianapolis Colts stormed Ford Field and whooped the Detroit Lions. While this 41-9 victory was obviously a concerted effort by the road team, it’s really a testament to the greatness of quarterback Peyton Manning. During this Thanksgiving Day contest, The Sheriff completed 23 of 28 passes, compiled a passer rating of 141.4, and finished the affair with 236 passing yards, six touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Just another day at the office for one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
1. O.J. Simpson (1976)
The Buffalo Bills may have lost their Thanksgiving Day showdown against the Detroit Lions by the score of 27-14, but that didn’t prevent running back O.J. Simpson from putting together an individual performance for the ages. Simpson carried the ball 19 times, rushed for two touchdowns, and set a then-NFL record for rushing yards in a single game with 273. To this day, that number stands as the sixth-greatest mark ever.
Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.