Thanksgiving Day football has been dominated by the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys. Those teams have been hosting holiday football games together since 1966, although the Lions have been doing it much longer. When the NFL added a third Thanksgiving Day game in 2006, it allowed other NFL teams to showcase themselves in front of a vast television audience. Has every active NFL team played a football game on Thanksgiving?
The Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys are holiday regulars
Since 1934, the Lions have been a fixture on Thanksgiving Day. From 1941-44, there were no Thanksgiving Day games played due to World War II, but Detroit got back into hosting games again in 1945. Since then, the Lions have hosted a Thanksgiving Day football game.
The Cowboys jumped on board in 1966. After coming into the NFL in 1960, then-Cowboys president and general manager Tex Schramm was hoping to get his team a little more exposure. Hence, he volunteered his team to play on Thanksgiving when the league was looking to expand its television coverage on the holiday. Since then, the Cowboys have hosted a game every year except two in the 1970s.
In those two years, the NFL wanted to give the St. Louis Cardinals a shot. The Cardinals were an exciting team, and then-NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle thought it might be good for the league to show them on the holiday stage. Instead, they got pummeled during their Thanksgiving games, and the Cowboys have hosted a game ever since.
The NFL expanded to three Thanksgiving games in 2006
Former Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt always wanted to have his team host Thanksgiving Day football games, according to Pro Football Network. He didn’t believe it was right that just two teams – the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys – were always hosting games. In 2006, Hunt got his wish.
The NFL expanded its Thanksgiving Day menu to three games, adding a prime-time slot. Although it’s a rotating schedule with different teams hosting the night game each year, Hunt’s Chiefs hosted the first one. The Chiefs played home to the Denver Broncos, with Kansas City coming out on top 19-10.
2020 marked the first time since 2006 that no third game was played on Thanksgiving. The Pittsburgh Steelers were set to host the rival Baltimore Ravens in the night game, but the game was moved to Sunday afternoon after several Ravens players and staff members were affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19). The game would’ve been a rematch of the 2013 Thanksgiving Day game when the visiting Steelers lost to the Ravens 22-20.
Has every active NFL team played on Thanksgiving?
The addition of the third NFL game on Thanksgiving has allowed just about every team the opportunity to play on the holiday. The Carolina Panthers played their first Thanksgiving Day game in 2015 when they crushed the Dallas Cowboys 33-14. The Cincinnati Bengals got their first taste of Turkey Day football in 2010 when they traveled to the New York Jets only to lose 26-10.
In 2012, the Houston Texans played their first Thanksgiving Day game. They defeated the Detroit Lions 34-31. The teams will meet again this year. Only one active team – the Jacksonville Jaguars – has never played on Thanksgiving Day.
The good news for the Jaguars is they are one of five NFL teams to have never suffered a loss on Thanksgiving. The other four are the New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers, Baltimore Ravens, and Houston Texans.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference