In 1934, the University of Detroit Stadium held the first-ever broadcast Thanksgiving Day football game, pitting the Detroit Lions against the Chicago Bears and establishing a new tradition. The game was nationally televised with an audience of 34 million people watching on what is now known as Thanksgiving Day.
The game came just one year after the debut of the NFL, and it wasn't the only early edition of the season-opening game on record either. In 1923, the Washington Redskins played their first game of the season against the Philadelphia Eagles. That game too was held at Griffith Stadium and was also broadcast live by WFBR radio (now WTOP-FM).
Both these games were close contests with scores near zero going into the last minutes of play. The Thanksgiving Day game saw the Lions defeat the Bears 7-6 while the Redskins beat the Eagles 3-0. These are the only two official games that have been played on Thanksgiving Day - all others were played on Friday, November 29 or Saturday, December 6.
The holiday weekend has become increasingly popular over time, so much so that today's games often don't come down to the final seconds like those of years past. But they still tend to be close games, with field goals being kicked nearly every other minute of play.
Lions of Detroit The Thanksgiving Day tradition of the Detroit Lions earned national notice in another way, beginning with the inaugural game in 1934. Since then, the Lions have played on Thanksgiving five times, most recently in 2018.
The Lions' first two games were held at home, but they also played two road games because no stadium in Detroit could accommodate a large crowd. The first game was held at Philadelphia's Franklin Field and ended in a 0-0 tie. Both games were broadcast by WJZ radio (now WWJ) and featured crowds of 55,000 people or more.
The third game was held at Chicago's Soldier Field and also ended in a 0-0 tie. This game is particularly memorable for being one of only two NFL games ever decided by a field goal kick; Walter Yount kicked the ball through the uprights to beat the Bears 3-0.
The fourth game was also held at Chicago's Soldier Field and ended in a 13-13 tie. This was the last game played at Soldier Field before it was demolished following the '85 season.
In 1876, the Intercollegiate Football Association championship game was played on Thanksgiving. The game and the holiday were so intertwined that, by 1893, the New York Herald declared Thanksgiving to be the official holiday for football viewing. In 1920, the NFL held its inaugural game on Thanksgiving. They have been playing on Turkey Day ever since.
The connection between football and Thanksgiving is probably more prevalent than you think. Before there was a NFL, college football was dominant on Thanksgiving; indeed, it's still popular today. In addition, the first ever World Cup final was also played on Turkey Day in 1930. And last but not least, Thanksgiving is considered American football's biggest day of the year.
There are many other examples of football being linked with Christmas or Easter, but these three events cover most of the major holidays. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!
Since 1934, the Detroit Lions have hosted one of the NFL's Thanksgiving Day games, while the Dallas Cowboys have hosted one since 1966. (with two exceptions in 1975 and 1977). The Lions have always played at home on Thanksgiving, while the Cowboys have always played away from home.
Both teams are members of the American Football League (AFL) original league: the Lions joined in 1950 and the Cowboys in 1960. In 1963, the two teams met on Thanksgiving with no game scheduled that year between the NFL's Green Bay Packers and AFL's Chicago Bears. Due to a labor dispute between the two leagues, no football was played that season. In 1994, the two leagues agreed to play a single annual game on Thanksgiving Day - the first season was the 1993 campaign. This arrangement has continued through 2015, when the Pittsburgh Steelers hosted the Baltimore Ravens on this date.
The NFL had been hosting Thanksgiving Day games since 1957, when the Chicago Bears played host to the Detroit Lions. The Thanksgiving Day game has become a popular event with fans across America, and both the Lions' and Cowboys' franchises have experienced success during their time hosting them. The Lions have won five of their six Thanksgiving games, including four straight from 1974-77. The Cowboys have never lost a Thanksgiving game despite playing most of them outside of Texas.