A History Of Football On Thanksgiving

A History Of Football On Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Football: Thanksgiving Day football, once a tradition among the high schools and colleges of America, has more or less faded into oblivion in most sections of the country.

But it is still alive in the National Football League in two franchise cities, Detroit and Dallas, where Thanksgiving Day football has become a normal, expected way of life.  Beginning in 1966, Dallas has missed playing on the holiday only in 1975 and 1977.

A History Of Football On Thanksgiving

However, when it comes to Thanksgiving Day football, NFL style, most fans first think of the Lions and the tradition that was started in 1934. It was their first year in Detroit after a local radio executive, George A. Richards, had purchased the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans and moved the team to Detroit. The Spartans were members of the NFL from 1930 to 1933.

Watching football on Thanksgiving might seem like a modern tradition, but Americans have been taking to the gridiron on Turkey Day since the 19th century. … Today, the NFL holds three Thanksgiving games each November, two of which always feature the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys.

If it seems like the Detroit Lions always play on Thanksgiving, well, that’s because they do. The Lions‘ annual tradition of playing on the American holiday, which began in 1934, is nearly as old as the franchise itself.

– The only two NFL Franchises who have never played a game on Thanksgiving are the two 1995 Expansion teams, the Carolina Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Football Thanksgiving

Football Thanksgiving

The first Thanksgiving Day football game was played in Philadelphia in 1869. According to that year’s November 17 edition of the Evening Telegraph newspaper, “a foot-ball match between twenty-two players of the Young America Cricket Club and the Germantown Cricket Club will take place on Thanksgiving Day at 12 1/2 o’clock, on the grounds of the Germantown Club.”

This game was played two weeks after Rutgers University defeated Princeton University on November 6 in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in what is considered to be the first-ever football game. The Young America-Germantown game also occurred six years after President Abraham Lincoln declared the first fixed national Thanksgiving holiday in 1863.

At the collegiate level, Princeton University and Yale University played on Thanksgiving from 1876 to 1881.

The tradition grew as many high schools began playing on Thanksgiving each year as well. Boston Latin School, the oldest school in the United States (established April 23, 1635), began playing English High School of Boston on Thanksgiving in 1887 at Harvard University. It is the longest continuous Thanksgiving Day rivalry in the country.

Thanksgiving Day Football

The first professional football games on Thanksgiving were played November 25, 1920. No games were played on the holiday from 1941-44 because of World War II.

In the NFL, the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys have been Thanksgiving staples. The Lions began playing on the day because owner GA Richards wanted to get more fans in the stands. Detroit played the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving Day 1934, and the Lions have played on the holiday nearly every year since. The Cowboys jumped on the Turkey Day bandwagon in 1966 (defeating the Cleveland Browns) in an effort to build their brand and fan base as well.

The NFL has since expanded what used to be “Detroit vs.” and “Dallas vs.” to a three-game slate. The game times each Thanksgiving are 12.30pm EST, 4.30pm EST and 8.20pm EST – because as with the food, no one can ever get enough football on Thanksgiving.

Football Games On Thanksgiving

The NFL was founded in 1920 and consisted of teams such as the Akron Pros, the Muncie Flyers and the Rock Island Independents. If these aren’t familiar to you, it’s because they’re no longer around. In fact, only two of the original 11 NFL franchises remain today: the Decatur Staleys (now known as the Chicago Bears) and the Chicago Cardinals (now known as the Arizona Cardinals). Early Thanksgiving Day games, then, were made up of teams that don’t grace our TV sets today.

Every year since 1934 (except for 1939 through 1944), the Detroit Lions have suited up on Thanksgiving Day. While the Lions began playing as the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans in 1930, George Richards, a local radio executive, purchased the team and moved them to Motor City. It was Richards’ idea to schedule a Thanksgiving Day match, and the sellout crowd (26,000!) and the game’s rousing success bolstered the idea for years to come. Since then, the Lions have been one of the traditional two NFL franchises to play on T-Day.

Thanksgiving Football Schedule 2017

With the Spartans, not only was Richards bringing a proven, quality team to Detroit, he was also bringing at least one super-star, Earl “Dutch” Clark, one of the most versatile backs ever to play the game. Clark had an outstanding supporting cast in the Detroit backfield with a big, talented line anchored by Frank Christiansen.Even though he knew there was some risk in scheduling a game on Thanksgiving Day, Richards also recognized that his Lions were taking a back seat to the baseball Tigers on the sports pages. So as one way of attracting Motor City fans during the team’s first season, he opted for the Thanksgiving Day contest.

The matchup between the Lions and the World Champion Chicago Bears proved to be an all-time classic. The 1934 Lions had not allowed a touchdown until their eighth game and entered the game with the Bears with a 10-1 record. But with 11 straight wins, Chicago had an even better record. Still a win would put the Lions into a first-place tie with the Bears with only a game left, a repeat clash with the Bears in Chicago, just three days later on December 2.

The 26,000 tickets for the Turkey Day clash in the University of Detroit Stadium, were sold out two weeks in advance of the game. It was estimated that another 25,000 would have attended had there been seats available.

The Bears edged out the Lions 19-16 in the classic holiday struggle and then prevailed 10-7 three days later to clinch the NFL Western Division crown.

Not despondent over the last two losses, Richards reasoned that his team had done well in its first year in Detroit. His confidence was rewarded the next year when the Lions won the 1935 NFL Championship. The key game in the title drive came on Thanksgiving Day, when the Lions defeated the Bears 14-2 to clinch the West championship.

Thus the football-on-Thanksgiving tradition became firmly established in Detroit. With the exception of a six-season gap from 1939 to 1944, the Thanksgiving Day game has been played with no interruptions.

The Detroit Lions Thanksgiving Day heritage gained national attention in another way, starting with the very first game in 1934. Knowing the publicity potential of radio, Richards along with NBC Radio, set up a 94-station network to broadcast the Lions-Bears showdown. The famous announcing team of Graham McNamee and Don Wilson described the action.

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