Thanksgiving and football are as American as Ford trucks and apple pie. With that being said, I found out some interesting facts on how Thanksgiving football came about, the first Thanksgiving Day football game was played in Philadelphia back in 1869 just a few years after Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday.The teams involved in that game on November 17th where the Young America Cricket Club versus the Germantown Cricket Club. Interestingly enough, two weeks earlier on November 6th, Rutgers University defeated College of New Jersey now, Princeton University which was the very first college football game. Many feel these two games where the start of the Thanksgiving Day football revolution.
The tradition of Thanksgiving High School football games started back in Massachusetts with Boston Latin, the oldest school in the United States playing rival English High in 1887. These two teams are still the longest high school rivalry in history and from there, high school Thanksgiving football grew across the country. As the professional football era begins, the first Thanksgiving game was played on November 25th 1920, Columbus Panhandles vs Elyira Athletics, it ended with a 0-0 tie. Thanksgiving Day games continued on in pro football although no games were played from 1941 to 1944 due to World War II. Since 1934, the Detroit Lions have played on Thanksgiving, it goes back to when the team was still a young franchise and could not draw a large crowd compared to the success of their baseball counterparts, the Tigers who had won the World Series in 1935. The owner at the time, George A. Richards came up with a clever marketing idea to fill the near-empty stadium by playing a game on Thanksgiving Day, a genius move! The Lions had sold all 26,000 seats and to this day they continue to play on Thanksgiving. Another popular Thanksgiving team are the Dallas Cowboys, their tradition started in 1966 as a promotional move in order to try to bill the Cowboys as America's team.
As the years pass, Thanksgiving high school and college games has lost some of their popularity but the NFL is still going strong. The Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys have played some of the most memorable Thanksgiving games in history. After we are done feasting on turkey, stuffing and plenty of desserts, we have witnessed some of the best football rivalries ever. Who could forget the 80’s John Madden's turducken or the 90’s Barry Sanders of the Lions dazzling us with the most acrobatic running attack ever seen? What about OJ Simpson of the Bills running 273 yards on 29 carries with 2 touchdowns against the Lions in 1976 and rookie Randy Moss of the Vikings with 3 receptions for 3 touchdowns totaling 163 yards in a 1998 shootout against the Cowboys? Troy Aikman threw for 455 yards in that game alone. How about the 1993 Hall of Shame moment in snowy Irving, Texas with the Cowboys leading the Dolphins 14 to 13 with 15 seconds left only to lose the game after Leon Lett muffed the blocked field goal recovery? After much debate and three seconds remaining, the Dolphins got the ball at the one-yard line to rekick the field goal for a miracle Thanksgiving win of 16-13.
Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on family, friends, health, food and of course, football that holds a special place in American’s hearts. Enjoy the games and Happy Thanksgiving.