For better or worse, Thanksgiving Day has become synonymous with football. While there’s some variation based on time zones, most of the day is covered by three NFL games; whether you’re getting started at 12 eastern or wrapping things up later at night, there’ll probably be a game on TV or the radio to supplement the dinner table conversation. 2020, of course, means that things will be a bit different.
While families around the country are dialing back the festivities in the name of safety, the NFL has also had to make some changes. That, unfortunately, explains why the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens won’t be playing a primetime game on Thanksgiving night.
Thanksgiving has featured a primetime NFL game since 2006
Thanksgiving, like other holidays, is full of tradition. No matter what your family does to celebrate, though, football is probably part of the equation.
The first Thanksgiving Day NFL game took place in 1934 when the Detroit Lions met the Chicago Bears at the University of Detroit’s stadium. The Lions had recently moved to the big city from Portsmouth, Ohio, and wanted to make a splash; by scheduling a game on the holiday, which was also broadcast nationwide on NBC, they did just that.
In 1966, the Dallas Cowboys wanted to get in on the action and asked if they could host a Thanksgiving Day game in Texas. The NFL agreed and, after more than 80,000 fans packed the Cotton Bowl, America’s Team joined the Lions as ever-presents on the schedule.
While two games on a Thursday is already a treat, the league took things even further in 2006, adding a third primetime game to the schedule. Those matchups started out on the NFL Network but have since moved to NBC, giving fans everywhere access to a three-course meal of pro football action.
The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers were supposed to provide this year’s nightcap
Unfortunately for football fans hoping for quality games, the Detroit Lions haven’t been good in quite some time; similarly, the Washington Football Team-Dallas Cowboys game probably won’t be a barn burner. The 2020 primetime Thanksgiving game, however, looked like the pick of the litter.
On one side of things, you had the Pittsburgh Steelers. While the club has had the benefit of an easy schedule, they’re still sitting at 10-0; even if they’re not playing the most attractive football, an undefeated record in November is usually enough to grab the attention of any football fan.
The Steelers were slated to play a divisional game against the Baltimore Ravens, who, in recent weeks, have been struggling. While Lamar Jackson is still one of the NFL’s most dynamic players, his offense hasn’t exactly hit its stride this season. If the season ended today, Baltimore would miss out on the playoffs; although there’s time to remedy that, results have to start improving sooner rather than later.
Why aren’t the Ravens and Steelers playing on Thanksgiving?
Based on the Steeler’s undefeated record, the Ravens’ need for a statement win, and the overall implications of the game, the Pittsburgh-Baltimore game seemed like appointment viewing for NFL fans. That game, however, will no longer be taking place on Thanksgiving.
On Wednesday afternoon, the NFL pulled the plug on their primetime Thanksgiving game, moving it to Sunday afternoon. Unsurprisingly, the underlying issue was COVID-19.
“The game was moved after positive coronavirus tests for a number of Ravens players,” Jamison Hensley explained for ESPN. “Seven Baltimore players — running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins, quarterback Trace McSorley, center Matt Skura, guard Patrick Mekari, defensive end Calais Campbell and outside linebacker Pernell McPhee — tested positive for COVID-19 over the past three days, a source told ESPN’s Dan Graziano. None of those players will be eligible to play Sunday.”
In 2020, just about nothing has gone according to plan. That, unfortunately, includes the Thanksgiving Day NFL schedule.