What Is the Detroit Lions’ Record in Thanksgiving Day Games?

If it’s Thanksgiving, it must mean it’s time to watch the Detroit Lions lose on national television again. While that’s the perception – and it’s technically an accurate one – the numbers say there’s almost a 50/50 chance that the Lions will prevail against the Houston Texans this time.

The Thanksgiving tripleheader lineup is now a doubleheader

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As has become the recent tradition, Thanksgiving Thursday was scheduled as a tripleheader day for NFL fans. The Nov. 26, 2020, lineup was to be:

  • Houston Texans at Detroit Lions, 12:30 p.m. ET, CBS.
  • Washington Football Team at Dallas Cowboys, 4:30 p.m., Fox.
  • Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers, 8:20 p.m., NBC.

The Ravens (6-4) and Steelers (10-0) are the only teams in the bunch with winning records this season, and even the Ravens are limping along following three losses in their last four games. However, the Ravens-Steelers contest is now a no-go. On Wednesday, the NFL announced that the game was a casualty of the pandemic and was being pushed back to Sunday.

The 4-6 Lions have played on Thanksgiving every year since 1934 except in the World War II era of 1939-44. The Texans’ only Thanksgiving appearance against anyone came in 2012 when they earned a 34-31 victory over the Lions in overtime behind 188 receiving yards from Andre Johnson and three sacks by J.J. Watt. Their efforts offset a 441-yard day by Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Stafford has averaged 300.6 yards through the air in nine Thanksgiving games.

The start of a Detroit Lions tradition

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Thanksgiving games in Detroit began in 1934, the Lions’ first year in the city. New owner G.A. Richards moved the franchise from Portsmouth, Ohio, and was looking to make a splash in a market that had thus far given pro football a lukewarm reception.

Richards got more than he could imagine with that first game. The undefeated Chicago Bears, the defending league champions, helped attract a capacity crowd of 26,000, and the Lions’ media guide said thousands more had to be turned away. The Bears earned a 19-16 victory behind a pair of Ace Gutowsky touchdowns.

Based on the immense interest in that first game, the Lions and the NFL made the holiday game a tradition. The Bears were the opponent through 1938, and the mid-week contest was put on hold in 1939 because of World War II. The Thanksgiving event was reinstituted in 1945, and the Lions have played 24 different teams since.

What is the Detroit Lions’ record on Thanksgiving?

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For all their struggles throughout the remainder of most seasons – they’ve posted winning records in just 10 of the last 36 years – the Detroit Lions are competitive in Thanksgiving games. Their record is 37-41-2.

The Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, a pair of division rivals, have provided the competition is nearly half the games. The Lions are 12-8-1 against Green Bay and 8-10 vs. Chicago. The Packers were the opponent for 13 consecutive years beginning in 1951.

Three Thanksgiving games involving Detroit have gone to overtime, with two of them being particularly memorable. In 1980, David Williams of the Bears returned the opening kickoff of the extra period 95 yards for a touchdown, making for what was at the time the shortest OT game in NFL history.

In 1998, the Lions edged the Pittsburgh Steelers on a 42-yard field goal by Jason Hanson. The overtime began with controversy over the handling of the coin toss to determine who would possess the ball first. Steelers captain Jerome Bettis insisted he called tails, but audio afterward determined that he said “hea-tails.”

When the coin landed tails, referee Phil Luckett awarded the toss to the Lions, who took the kickoff and drive to the winning field goal.

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