Photo of a Detroit Lions game at Ford Field on Thanksgiving Day. 

Image Credit: Dave Hogg (CC BY 2.0)

You can’t always count on the Detroit Lions making the NFL playoffs. However, you can guarantee that every Thanksgiving Day, they’ll be playing on national television. The Detroit Lions have been playing a home game on Thanksgiving Day every season since 1934. How did this tradition begin?

Detroit Lions owner George Richards opted to play a Thanksgiving Day game to help increase the attendance at Lions’ home games. The Detroit Lions struggled to even match the crowds the Detroit Tigers were drawing at Tiger Stadium. George Richards was also the owner of WJR, a local radio station, and convinced NBC to broadcast the Thanksgiving Day game on more than 90 radio stations across the United States.

Come gameday, the Detroit Lions managed to draw more than 26,000 fans to their game vs. the Chicago Bears, the Lions’ bitter rival. The Bears were undefeated at the time and the Lions had only lost one game; the winner would take the lead of the league’s Western Division. The Chicago Bears had also won the league championship the prior season. Although the Chicago Bears went on to win the inaugural Thanksgiving game, a new tradition had begun. Since 1932, one of the most memorable Thanksgiving Day games in Detroit include the Thanksgiving Day Massacre game in 1962 vs. the Green Bay Packers. The Detroit Lions amassed 11 total sacks and gave the Green Bay Packers what would be the team’s only loss that season.


Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys also play a home game on Thanksgiving Day but their tradition began much later in 1966. Since 1966, the Dallas Cowboys have not played on Thanksgiving Day only twice. In 2006, the National Football League added a third Thanksgiving game as the night cap and its participants rotate each year. Since 1997, both teams have added halftime shows featuring well-known musical acts.


Turkey Leg Award

Another quirky NFL Thanksgiving Day tradition includes the Turkey Leg Award which recognizes the MVP of the Thanksgiving Day games. The Turkey Leg Award was created back in 1989 by the late NFL analyst John Madden. Reggie White of the Philadelphia Eagles was the NFL's first Turkey Leg Award winner.


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