For years, the NFL’s Thanksgiving Day menu consisted of the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys. The Lions were served first, followed by the late afternoon course that was the Cowboys. By 7 p.m., holiday football was over. Today, NFL fans are treated to a third game, giving fans football all day on Thanksgiving, although the coronavirus (COVID-19) has thrown a wrench into the 2020 holiday schedule.
The Detroit Lions began playing in 1934
The Detroit Lions have been a fixture on Thanksgiving Day for nearly 90 years. The began the holiday tradition in 1934 at the request of team owner George A Richards. Richards wanted his team to attract more fans and decided to give playing on Thanksgiving a shot and it turned into an immediate success.
According to The Sporting News, the Lions sold out the stadium, a rarity for Detroit then, and actually turned fans away the first time playing on the holiday. Although the Lions lost to the Chicago Bears 19-16, the Thanksgiving tradition was a big hit in Detroit.
Richards also owned a radio station and negotiated a deal with NBC to have his team’s games broadcast on 94 stations throughout the United States. The Lions record on Thanksgiving Day is 37-41-2. From 1939-44, there were no Thanksgiving Day games because of World War II. From 1951-63 the Lions played the Green Bay Packers.
The Dallas Cowboys have been playing holiday football since 1966
The Dallas Cowboys came into the league in 1960 and the NFL was looking to expand its television coverage on Thanksgiving Day. In 1966, Cowboys owner Tex Schramm volunteered to have his team play on the holiday to gain more exposure. It certainly paid off.
According to The Dallas Morning News, a record crowd of 82,259 showed up at the Cotton Bowl to witness the Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14. since 1966, the Cowboys have played in every Thanksgiving Day game except two. The NFL gave the St. Louis Cardinals a shot between 1975-77. In 1976, the Cardinals hosted the Cowboys.
Dallas has always been the late afternoon game on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys have followed the Detroit Lions game. Dallas has been pretty strong in holiday matchups, going 30-21-1. This year, they face the Washington Football Team, a team they own an 8-1 record against on Thanksgiving.
When did the NFL add a third Thanksgiving Day game?
It’s hard to believe that it’s already been 14 years since the NFL elected to have a third Thanksgiving Day game. For years, former Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt wanted the Chiefs to host games on Thanksgiving Day. In 2006, the NFL decided to go with a prime-time holiday game and allowed the Chiefs to host it.
The Chiefs hosted the Denver Broncos on the NFL Network and won 19-10. Hunt died shortly after the 2006 season and the Chiefs’ persistence to play on the holiday subsided. Since then, the third game of the night has been on a rotating basis.
There’s been a little tweak to the 2020 prime-time game. Due to the COVID-19, the scheduled night game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens has been moved and will not be played Thanksgiving. The game is now scheduled to be played Sunday.