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Thanksgiving Tradition Since 1934

Updated on May 21, 2013

Turkey, Dressing and Football

While everyone is gathered with friends and family to feast on traditional Thanksgiving Day menus of Turkey, dressing, ham, cranberry sauce and various side dishes, people of all demographics are gathered around the television watching one of three National Football League games played annually on the last Thursday in November. Before 2006 and the birth of the NFL Network's annual Thanksgiving Day game, there were two nationally televised football games. These two football games are traditionally hosted by the same two football teams: the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys.

The Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions first owner, G.A. Richards proposed an annual tradition of a National Football League game being played on Thanksgiving Day in 1934. Although there had been professional football games played on Thanksgiving Day by previous Detroit football teams between 1917 and 1928, those games were not necessarily considered an annual event.

I'm sure the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and subsequent Great Depression hindered, if not eliminated, the Detroit football teams playing on Thanksgiving Day.

Mr. Richards wanted to continue the Thanksgiving Day games tradition instituted by his team's predecessors as well as improve Lions home attendance.

There were no Thanksgiving Day games played between 1941 and 1944 due to America's involvement in World War II.

The Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys were an expansion team of the National Football League in 1960, playing their first Thanksgiving Day game in 1966. The team wanted a guarantee of hosting future games on Thanksgiving Day as a condition of hosting their first one. This is only a rumor and the true reasons for seeing the Dallas Cowboys every year are still unknown.

With the networks holding exclusive rights to either AFC teams or NFC teams, both networks wanted one of the two Thanksgiving Day games.  Which means that one or both of the annual teams (Detroit or Dallas) would play an AFC team with the AFC team always being the visiting team.

American Football League Games 1960 - 1969

During the ten years of the American Football League's existence, two of their teams played their own Thanksgiving Day game in each of those ten years. This fact did not dissuade the National Football League from making the arrangements with the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys for their annual games. The American Football League's tradition actually began six years before the Dallas Cowboys tradition.

When the American Football League merged with the National Football league in 1971, AFL founder and Kansas City Chiefs owner, Lamar Hunt wanted a third night game to be hosted by an AFC team. The NFL agreed to a third night game allowing the Kansas City Chiefs to host the night game on the NFL Network in 2005. The NFL quickly reneged on their agreement with Hunt after his death in December 2006, deciding not to ever give any AFC team hosting rights. Finally, in 2009, the AFC was allowed to begin hosting the night game.

Be Thankful

So while you are being thankful for friends, family and a hearty meal, also remember the Detroit Lions for giving us a Thanksgiving Day tradition that has become as much a staple of life as the turkey and dressing.

© 2010 Tammy L


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    • Tammy L profile image

      Tammy L 7 years ago from Jacksonville, Texas

      Yes, Mike, it sure has been a fun part of Thanksgiving. I've even been to a Thanksgiving Day game (Washington @ Dallas when the Cowboys were still in Texas Stadium).

    • MikeSyrSutton profile image

      MikeSyrSutton 7 years ago from An uncharted galaxy

      This has been a fun tradition! Though the Lions still struggle, they have been a big part of Thanksgiving!