Did John Madden Ever Coach an NFL Game on Thanksgiving Day?

Easily one of the most popular and successful sports media personalities of all time, the late, great John Madden was long one of the highlights of the NFL’s Thanksgiving Day coverage.

Between handing out turkey legs to the day’s top performers to his love for the turducken and everything else he brought to the booth, not only on Thanksgiving but each and every week for decades, his legacy will live on forever.

And to honor that legacy, the NFL has branded its trio of 2022 Thanksgiving Day games on CBS, Fox, and NBC as the “John Madden Thanksgiving Celebration.” The Minnesota native worked for all three networks and also spent time at ABC.

While Madden may always best be remembered for his broadcasting days (and the video game, of course), let’s not forget he was the head coach of the Oakland Raiders for 10 years and won a Super Bowl. So did he ever coach a game on Turkey Day?

As it turns out, yes, he did. But he wouldn’t have given himself a turkey leg the way his lone Thanksgiving Day appearance turned out.

John Madden coached one Thanksgiving Day game with the Raiders and lost to the Lions

John Madden
John Madden | Tim Culek/Getty Images

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From the first year of the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 to 2005, the year before a third game was added to the Thanksgiving Day slate, just one AFC team was chosen to participate on Turkey Day each season.

So that’s the main reason why Madden, who coached the Raiders from 1969 to 1978, only got one opportunity to coach on the holiday with which he later became synonymous.

That lone opportunity came during that first year of the merger when Oakland traveled to the Motor City to take on the Detroit Lions on November 26, 1970, in front of a crowd of 56,597 at Tiger Stadium.

The Lions, coached by Joe Schmidt, came into the matchup with a 6-4 record and were coming off a win over the San Francisco 49ers after losing their previous three games. Madden and the Raiders came to Tiger Stadium with a 6-2-2 mark and hadn’t lost since October 3, a Week 3 defeat at the hands of the Miami Dolphins.

Early on, it appeared that streak would continue as Oakland led 14-0 after the first quarter after Daryle Lamonica and Fred Biletnikoff hooked up for a pair of touchdown passes. But that was all the offense the Raiders could muster, and the defense didn’t hold up.

With three touchdown passes from Greg Landry and a touchdown run from Mel Farr, the Lions reeled off 28 straight points over the next three quarters to take a 14-point victory.

My guess is that John Madden would’ve given his Turkey Leg Award to Landry, who completed two-thirds of his passes for 176 yards with those three touchdowns and no picks.

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