NFL on Thanksgiving Day

Last updated
The NFL Thanksgiving logo used for 2016; the year is updated annually, with the new NFL shield being used for the first time in 2008. NFL Thanksgiving logo.svg
The NFL Thanksgiving logo used for 2016; the year is updated annually, with the new NFL shield being used for the first time in 2008.

Since its inception in 1920, the National Football League (NFL) has played games on Thanksgiving Day , patterned upon the historic playing of college football games on and around the Thanksgiving holiday. The NFL's Thanksgiving Day games have traditionally included one game hosted by the Detroit Lions since 1934, and one game hosted by the Dallas Cowboys since 1966 (with two exceptions in 1975 and 1977). Since 2006, a third prime time game has also been played on Thanksgiving. Unlike the afternoon games, this game has no fixed host and features different teams annually; the prime time game has been contested almost solely by division rivals since 2012.

Contents

History

The concept of American football games being played on Thanksgiving Day dates back to 1876, shortly after the game had been invented, as it was a day that most people had off from work. In that year, the college football teams at Yale and Princeton began an annual tradition of playing each other on Thanksgiving Day. [1] The University of Michigan also made it a tradition to play annual Thanksgiving games, holding 19 such games from 1885 to 1905. [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] The Thanksgiving Day games between Michigan and the Chicago Maroons in the 1890s have been cited as "The Beginning of Thanksgiving Day Football." [7] In some areas, most commonly in New England, high-school teams play on Thanksgiving, usually to wrap-up the regular-season.

By the time football had become a professional event, playing on Thanksgiving had already become an institution. Records of pro football being played on Thanksgiving date back to as early as the 1890s, with the first pro–am team, the Allegheny Athletic Association of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1902, the National Football League, a Major League Baseball-backed organization based entirely in Pennsylvania and unrelated to the current NFL, attempted to settle its championship over Thanksgiving weekend; after the game ended in a tie, eventually all three teams in the league claimed to have won the title. Members of the Ohio League, during its early years, usually placed their marquee matchups on Thanksgiving Day. For instance, in 1905 and 1906 the Latrobe Athletic Association and Canton Bulldogs, considered at the time to be two of the best teams in professional football (along with the Massillon Tigers), played on Thanksgiving. A rigging scandal with the Tigers leading up to the 1906 game led to severe drops in attendance for the Bulldogs and ultimately led to their suspension of operations. During the 1910s, the Ohio League stopped holding Thanksgiving games because many of its players coached high school teams and were unavailable. This was not the case in other regional circuits: in 1919, the New York Pro Football League featured a Thanksgiving matchup between the Buffalo Prospects and the Rochester Jeffersons. The game ended in a scoreless tie, leading to a rematch the next Sunday for the league championship.

The Detroit Lions, seen here during the 2007 Thanksgiving game against their division rival Green Bay Packers, have played on Thanksgiving since 1934. DetroitLionsRunningPlay-2007.jpg
The Detroit Lions, seen here during the 2007 Thanksgiving game against their division rival Green Bay Packers, have played on Thanksgiving since 1934.

Several other NFL teams played regularly on Thanksgiving in the first eighteen years of the league, including the Chicago Bears and Chicago Cardinals (1922–33; the Bears played the Lions from 1934 to 1938 while the Cardinals switched to the Green Bay Packers for 1934 and 1935), Frankford Yellow Jackets, Pottsville Maroons, Buffalo All-Americans, Canton Bulldogs (even after the team moved to Cleveland they played the 1924 Thanksgiving game in Canton), and the New York Giants (1929–38, who always played a crosstown rival). The first owner of the Lions, George A. Richards, started the tradition of the Thanksgiving Day game as a gimmick to get people to go to Lions football games, and to continue a tradition begun by the city's previous NFL teams. [8] What differentiated the Lions' efforts from other teams that played on the holiday was that Richards owned radio station WJR, a major affiliate of the NBC Blue Network (the forerunner to today's American Broadcasting Company); he was able to negotiate an agreement with NBC to carry his Thanksgiving games live across the network. [9]

During the Franksgiving controversy in 1939 and 1940, the only two teams to play the game were the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles, as both teams were in the same state (Pennsylvania). (At the time, then-U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt wanted to move the holiday for economic reasons and many states were resistant to the move; half the states recognized the move and the other half did not. This complicated scheduling for Thanksgiving games. Incidentally, the two teams were also exploring the possibility of a merger at the time. [10] ) Because of the looming World War II and the resulting shorter seasons, the NFL did not schedule any Thanksgiving games in 1941, nor did it schedule any in the subsequent years until the war ended in 1945. When the Thanksgiving games resumed in 1945, only the Lions' annual home game would remain on the Thanksgiving holiday. In 1951, the Packers began a thirteen-season run as the perpetual opponent to the Lions each year through 1963.

The All-America Football Conference and American Football League, both of which would later be absorbed into the NFL, also held Thanksgiving contests, although neither of those leagues had permanent hosts. Likewise, the AFL of 1926 also played two Thanksgiving games in its lone season of existence, while the AFL of 1936 hosted one in its first season, which featured the Cleveland Rams, a future NFL team, and the 1940–41 incarnation of the American Football League played two games in 1940 on the earlier "Franksgiving" date.

In 1966, the Dallas Cowboys, who had been founded six years earlier, adopted the practice of hosting Thanksgiving games. It is widely rumored that the Cowboys sought a guarantee that they would regularly host Thanksgiving games as a condition of their very first one (since games on days other than Sunday were uncommon at the time and thus high attendance was not a certainty). [11] This is only partly true; Dallas had in fact decided on their own to host games on Thanksgiving because there was nothing else to do or watch on that day. In 1975 and 1977, at the behest of then-Commissioner Pete Rozelle, the St. Louis Cardinals replaced Dallas as a host team (Dallas then hosted St. Louis in 1976). Although the Cardinals, at the time known as the "Cardiac Cards" due to their propensity for winning very close games, were a modest success at the time, they were nowhere near as popular nationwide as the Cowboys, who were regular Super Bowl contenders during this era. This, combined with St. Louis's consistently weak attendance, a series of ugly Cardinals losses in the three-game stretch, and opposition from the Kirkwood–Webster Groves Turkey Day Game (a local high school football contest) led to Dallas resuming regular hosting duties in 1978; it was then, after Rozelle asked Dallas to resume hosting Thanksgiving games, that the Cowboys requested (and received) an agreement guaranteeing the Cowboys a spot on Thanksgiving Day forever. [12]

Since 1978, Thanksgiving games have been hosted in Detroit and Dallas every year, with Detroit in the early time slot and Dallas in the late afternoon slot. Because of television network commitments in place through the 2013 season, to make sure that both the AFC-carrying network (NBC from 1965 to 1997, and CBS since 1998) and the NFC-carrying network (CBS from 1956 to 1993, and Fox since 1994) got at least one game each, one of these games was between NFC opponents, and one featured AFC-NFC opponents. Thus, the AFC could showcase only one team on Thanksgiving, and the AFC team was always the visiting team.

Since 2006, a third NFL game on Thanksgiving has been played in primetime. It originally aired on the NFL Network as part of its Thursday Night Football package until 2011, and has been broadcast on NBC since 2012 as part of its Sunday Night Football package. The night game never had any conference tie-ins, meaning the league could place any game into the time slot. Since NBC took over the primetime game in 2012, divisional matchups have been scheduled, with the exception being in 2016 with an intra-conference game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Indianapolis Colts. In 2014, a series of changes to the broadcast contracts freed CBS from its obligation to carry an AFC team; by 2018, the last vestiges of conference ties to the Thanksgiving games were eliminated (in practice, games on Fox remain all-NFC contests).

The originally scheduled 2020 primetime game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers was postponed to the following Wednesday, December 2, after multiple Baltimore players and staff tested positive for COVID-19 in the days before the game. This thus marked the first time no primetime contest was held since 2005. [13]

Throwback uniforms

Since 2001 teams playing on Thanksgiving have worn throwback uniforms on numerous occasions. In 2002, it extended to nearly all games of the weekend, and in some cases also involved classic field logos at the stadiums.

From 2001 to 2003, Dallas chose to represent the 1990s Cowboys dynasty by wearing the navy "Double-Star" jersey not seen since 1995. In 2004, the team wore uniforms not seen since 1963. In 2009, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the AFL, both Dallas and Oakland played in a "AFL Legacy Game." In 2013, the Cowboys intended to wear their 1960s throwbacks, but chose not to do so after the NFL adopted a new policy requiring players and teams to utilize only one helmet a season to address the league's new concussion protocol; rather than sport an incomplete throwback look, the Cowboys instead wore their standard blue jerseys at home for the first time since 1963. [14] In 2015, the Cowboys resurrected their 1994 white "Double-Star" jerseys only this time wore them with white pants as part of the league's Color Rush, a trial run of specially-designed, monochromatic jerseys to be worn during Thursday games.

In 2001–2004, and again in 2008, 2010, 2017, and 2018 the Detroit Lions have worn throwback uniforms based on their very early years. For 2019, Detroit wore its silver Color Rush uniforms.

Memorable games

Home team controversy

It has remained a tradition for Dallas and Detroit to host the afternoon games dating several decades. Other teams eventually expressed interest in hosting Thanksgiving games. Lamar Hunt, the former owner of the Chiefs (who had hosted Thanksgiving games from 1967 to 1969 as an AFL team prior to the merger), lobbied heavily in favor of his team hosting a game on the holiday. When the NFL adopted a third, prime time game, the Chiefs were selected as the first team to host such a contest, but the team was not made a permanent host, and Hunt's death shortly after the 2006 contest ended the lobbying on behalf of the team.

The host issue came to a head in 2008, focusing particularly on the winless Lions. Going into the game, Detroit had lost their last four Thanksgiving games, and opinions amongst the media had suggested removing Detroit and replacing them with a more attractive matchup.[ citation needed ] The team also required an extension to prevent a local television blackout. [23] The Lions were routed by Tennessee 47–10, en route to the team's 0–16 season. [24] NFL commissioner Roger Goodell confirmed that the Lions would stay on Thanksgiving for the 2009 season, but kept the issue open to revisit in the future. [25] [26]

Conversely, the Dallas Cowboys, who typically represent a larger television draw, [27] have had many fewer public calls to be replaced on Thanksgiving. One issue that has been debated is a perceived unfair advantage of playing at home on Thanksgiving. [28] The advantage is given in the form of an extra day of practice for the home team while the road team has to travel to the game site. This is true for most Thursday games, but with the night games, the visitor can travel to the game site after practice on Wednesday and hold the final walk-thru the following morning.

With the introduction of the prime time game, which effectively allows all teams in the league an opportunity to play on Thanksgiving, along with the introduction of year-long Thursday Night Football ensuring all teams have one Thursday game during the regular season (thus negating any on-field advantages or disadvantages to being selected for Thanksgiving), the calls for Detroit and Dallas to be removed have diminished.

Game results

(Winning teams are denoted by boldface type; tie games are italicized.)

1920–1940

1945–1959

SeasonLeagueVisiting TeamScoreHome TeamScoreNetwork
November 22, 1945 NFL Cleveland Rams 28 Detroit Lions 21N/A
November 28, 1946 NFL Boston Yanks 34 Detroit Lions 10N/A
AAFC New York Yankees 21 Brooklyn Dodgers 7N/A
November 27, 1947 NFL Chicago Bears 34 Detroit Lions 14N/A
AAFC Cleveland Browns 27 Los Angeles Dons 17N/A
AAFC San Francisco 49ers 21 Brooklyn Dodgers 7N/A
November 25, 1948 NFL Chicago Cardinals 28 Detroit Lions 14N/A
AAFC Cleveland Browns 31 Los Angeles Dons 14N/A
AAFC Buffalo Bills 39 Chicago Rockets 35N/A
November 24, 1949 NFL Chicago Bears 28 Detroit Lions 7N/A
AAFC New York Yankees 17 Los Angeles Dons 16N/A
AAFC Cleveland Browns 14 Chicago Hornets 6N/A
November 23, 1950 NFL New York Yanks 14 Detroit Lions 49N/A
Pittsburgh Steelers 28 Chicago Cardinals 17N/A
November 22, 1951 NFL Green Bay Packers 35 Detroit Lions 52N/A
November 27, 1952 NFL Green Bay Packers 24 Detroit Lions 48N/A
Chicago Bears 23 Dallas Texans (at Akron, Ohio)27N/A
November 26, 1953 NFL Green Bay Packers 15 Detroit Lions 34 DuMont
November 25, 1954 NFL Green Bay Packers 24 Detroit Lions 28 DuMont
November 24, 1955 NFL Green Bay Packers 10 Detroit Lions 24 DuMont
November 22, 1956 NFL Green Bay Packers 24 Detroit Lions 20 CBS
November 28, 1957 NFL Green Bay Packers 6 Detroit Lions 18 CBS
November 27, 1958 NFL Green Bay Packers 14 Detroit Lions 24 CBS
November 26, 1959 NFL Green Bay Packers 24 Detroit Lions 17 CBS

1960–1969

SeasonLeagueVisiting TeamScoreHome TeamScoreNetwork
November 24, 1960 NFL Green Bay Packers 10 Detroit Lions 23 CBS
AFL Dallas Texans 35 New York Titans 41 ABC
November 23, 1961 NFL Green Bay Packers 17 Detroit Lions 9 CBS
AFL Buffalo Bills 14 New York Titans 21 ABC
November 22, 1962 NFL Green Bay Packers 14 Detroit Lions 26 CBS
AFL New York Titans 46 Denver Broncos 45 ABC
November 28, 1963 NFL Green Bay Packers 13 Detroit Lions 13 CBS
AFL Oakland Raiders 26 Denver Broncos 10 ABC
November 26, 1964 NFL Chicago Bears 27 Detroit Lions 24 CBS
AFL Buffalo Bills 27 San Diego Chargers 24 ABC
November 25, 1965 NFL Baltimore Colts 24 Detroit Lions 24 CBS
AFL Buffalo Bills 20 San Diego Chargers 20 NBC
November 24, 1966 NFL San Francisco 49ers 41 Detroit Lions 14 CBS
Cleveland Browns 14 Dallas Cowboys 26 CBS
AFL Buffalo Bills 31 Oakland Raiders 10 NBC
November 23, 1967 NFL Los Angeles Rams 31 Detroit Lions 7 CBS
St. Louis Cardinals 21 Dallas Cowboys 46 CBS
AFL Oakland Raiders 44 Kansas City Chiefs 22 NBC
Denver Broncos 20 San Diego Chargers 24 NBC
November 28, 1968 NFL Philadelphia Eagles 12 Detroit Lions 0 CBS
Washington Redskins 20 Dallas Cowboys 29 CBS
AFL Buffalo Bills 10 Oakland Raiders 13 NBC
Houston Oilers 10 Kansas City Chiefs 24 NBC
November 27, 1969 NFL Minnesota Vikings 27 Detroit Lions 0 CBS
San Francisco 49ers 24 Dallas Cowboys 24 CBS
AFL Denver Broncos 17 Kansas City Chiefs 31 NBC
San Diego Chargers 21 Houston Oilers 17 NBC

1970–2005

SeasonVisiting TeamScoreHome TeamScoreOTNetwork
November 26, 1970 Oakland Raiders 14 Detroit Lions 28 NBC
Green Bay Packers 3 Dallas Cowboys 16 CBS
November 25, 1971 Kansas City Chiefs 21 Detroit Lions 32 NBC
Los Angeles Rams 21 Dallas Cowboys 28 CBS
November 23, 1972 New York Jets 20 Detroit Lions 37 NBC
San Francisco 49ers 31 Dallas Cowboys 10 CBS
November 22, 1973 Washington Redskins 20 Detroit Lions 0 CBS
Miami Dolphins 14 Dallas Cowboys 7 NBC
November 28, 1974 Denver Broncos 31 Detroit Lions 27 NBC
Washington Redskins 23 Dallas Cowboys 24 CBS
November 27, 1975 Los Angeles Rams 20 Detroit Lions 0 CBS
Buffalo Bills 32 St. Louis Cardinals 14 NBC
November 25, 1976 Buffalo Bills 14 Detroit Lions 27 NBC
St. Louis Cardinals 14 Dallas Cowboys 19 CBS
November 24, 1977 Chicago Bears 31 Detroit Lions 14 CBS
Miami Dolphins 55 St. Louis Cardinals 14 NBC
November 23, 1978 Denver Broncos 14 Detroit Lions 17 NBC
Washington Redskins 10 Dallas Cowboys 37 CBS
November 22, 1979 Chicago Bears 0 Detroit Lions 20 CBS
Houston Oilers 30 Dallas Cowboys 24 NBC
November 27, 1980 Chicago Bears 23 Detroit Lions 17(OT) CBS
Seattle Seahawks 7 Dallas Cowboys 51 NBC
November 26, 1981 Kansas City Chiefs 10 Detroit Lions 27 NBC
Chicago Bears 9 Dallas Cowboys 10 CBS
November 25, 1982 New York Giants 13 Detroit Lions 6 CBS
Cleveland Browns 14 Dallas Cowboys 31 NBC
November 24, 1983 Pittsburgh Steelers 3 Detroit Lions 45 NBC
St. Louis Cardinals 17 Dallas Cowboys 35 CBS
November 22, 1984 Green Bay Packers 28 Detroit Lions 31 CBS
New England Patriots 17 Dallas Cowboys 20 NBC
November 28, 1985 New York Jets 20 Detroit Lions 31 NBC
St. Louis Cardinals 17 Dallas Cowboys 35 CBS
November 27, 1986 Green Bay Packers 44 Detroit Lions 40 CBS
Seattle Seahawks 31 Dallas Cowboys 14 NBC
November 26, 1987 Kansas City Chiefs 27 Detroit Lions 20 NBC
Minnesota Vikings 44 Dallas Cowboys 38(OT) CBS
November 24, 1988 Minnesota Vikings 23 Detroit Lions 0 CBS
Houston Oilers 25 Dallas Cowboys 17 NBC
November 23, 1989 Cleveland Browns 10 Detroit Lions 13 NBC
Philadelphia Eagles 27 Dallas Cowboys 0 CBS
November 22, 1990 Denver Broncos 27 Detroit Lions 40 NBC
Washington Redskins 17 Dallas Cowboys 27 CBS
November 28, 1991 Chicago Bears 6 Detroit Lions 16 CBS
Pittsburgh Steelers 10 Dallas Cowboys 20 NBC
November 26, 1992 Houston Oilers 24 Detroit Lions 21 NBC
New York Giants 3 Dallas Cowboys 30 CBS
November 25, 1993 Chicago Bears 10 Detroit Lions 6 CBS
Miami Dolphins 16 Dallas Cowboys 14 NBC
November 24, 1994 Buffalo Bills 21 Detroit Lions 35 NBC
Green Bay Packers 31 Dallas Cowboys 42 Fox
November 23, 1995 Minnesota Vikings 38 Detroit Lions 44 Fox
Kansas City Chiefs 12 Dallas Cowboys 24 NBC
November 28, 1996 Kansas City Chiefs 28 Detroit Lions 24 NBC
Washington Redskins 10 Dallas Cowboys 21 Fox
November 27, 1997 Chicago Bears 20 Detroit Lions 55 Fox
Tennessee Oilers 27 Dallas Cowboys 14 NBC
November 26, 1998 Pittsburgh Steelers 16 Detroit Lions 19(OT) CBS
Minnesota Vikings 46 Dallas Cowboys 36 Fox
November 25, 1999 Chicago Bears 17 Detroit Lions 21 Fox
Miami Dolphins 0 Dallas Cowboys 20 CBS
November 23, 2000 New England Patriots 9 Detroit Lions 34 CBS
Minnesota Vikings 27 Dallas Cowboys 15 Fox
November 22, 2001 Green Bay Packers 29 Detroit Lions 27 Fox
Denver Broncos 26 Dallas Cowboys 24 CBS
November 28, 2002 New England Patriots 20 Detroit Lions 12 CBS
Washington Redskins 20 Dallas Cowboys 27 Fox
November 27, 2003 Green Bay Packers 14 Detroit Lions 22 Fox
Miami Dolphins 40 Dallas Cowboys 21 CBS
November 25, 2004 Indianapolis Colts 41 Detroit Lions 9 CBS
Chicago Bears 7 Dallas Cowboys 21 Fox
November 24, 2005 Atlanta Falcons 27 Detroit Lions 7 Fox
Denver Broncos 24 Dallas Cowboys 21(OT) CBS

2006–present

SeasonVisiting TeamScoreHome TeamScoreOTSignificanceNetwork
November 23, 2006 Miami Dolphins 27 Detroit Lions 10 CBS
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10 Dallas Cowboys 38 Fox
Denver Broncos 10 Kansas City Chiefs 19 Broncos–Chiefs rivalry; debut of Thursday Night Football NFL Network
November 22, 2007 Green Bay Packers 37 Detroit Lions 26 Lions–Packers rivalry Fox
New York Jets 3 Dallas Cowboys 34 CBS
Indianapolis Colts 31 Atlanta Falcons 13 Colts enter as the defending Super Bowl champions NFL Network
November 27, 2008 Tennessee Titans 47 Detroit Lions 10 CBS
Seattle Seahawks 9 Dallas Cowboys 34 Fox
Arizona Cardinals 20 Philadelphia Eagles 48A preview of that season's NFC Championship game. NFL Network
November 26, 2009 Green Bay Packers 34 Detroit Lions 12 Lions–Packers rivalry Fox
Oakland Raiders 7 Dallas Cowboys 24 50th anniversary for both teams (AFL Legacy Game) CBS
New York Giants 6 Denver Broncos 26 Super Bowl XXI rematch NFL Network
November 25, 2010 New England Patriots 45 Detroit Lions 24 CBS
New Orleans Saints 30 Dallas Cowboys 27Saints' first Thanksgiving game, enter as the defending Super Bowl champions Fox
Cincinnati Bengals 10 New York Jets 26Bengals' first Thanksgiving game NFL Network
November 24, 2011 Green Bay Packers 27 Detroit Lions 15 Lions–Packers rivalry; Packers enter as the defending Super Bowl champions Fox
Miami Dolphins 19 Dallas Cowboys 20 Super Bowl VI rematch CBS
San Francisco 49ers 6 Baltimore Ravens 16Ravens' first Thanksgiving game, first Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh matchup NFL Network
November 22, 2012 Houston Texans 34 Detroit Lions 31(OT)Texans' first Thanksgiving game CBS
Washington Redskins 38 Dallas Cowboys 31 Cowboys–Redskins rivalry Fox
New England Patriots 49 New York Jets 19 Jets–Patriots rivalry (butt fumble) NBC
November 28, 2013 Green Bay Packers 10 Detroit Lions 40 Lions–Packers rivalry Fox
Oakland Raiders 24 Dallas Cowboys 31 CBS
Pittsburgh Steelers 20 Baltimore Ravens 22 Ravens–Steelers rivalry; Ravens enter as the defending Super Bowl champions NBC
November 27, 2014 Chicago Bears 17 Detroit Lions 34 Bears–Lions rivalry CBS
Philadelphia Eagles 33 Dallas Cowboys 10 Cowboys–Eagles rivalry Fox
Seattle Seahawks 19 San Francisco 49ers 3 49ers–Seahawks rivalry and the 2013 NFC Championship game rematch; Seahawks enter as the defending Super Bowl champions NBC
November 26, 2015 Philadelphia Eagles 14 Detroit Lions 45 Fox
Carolina Panthers 33 Dallas Cowboys 14Panthers' first Thanksgiving game CBS
Chicago Bears 17 Green Bay Packers 13 Bears–Packers rivalry NBC
November 24, 2016 Minnesota Vikings 13 Detroit Lions 16 Lions–Vikings rivalry CBS
Washington Redskins 26 Dallas Cowboys 31 Cowboys–Redskins rivalry Fox
Pittsburgh Steelers 28 Indianapolis Colts 7 NBC
November 23, 2017 Minnesota Vikings 30 Detroit Lions 23 Lions–Vikings rivalry Fox
Los Angeles Chargers 28 Dallas Cowboys 6Chargers' first Thanksgiving game since before the AFL–NFL merger CBS
New York Giants 10 Washington Redskins 20 Giants–Redskins rivalry NBC
November 22, 2018 Chicago Bears 23 Detroit Lions 16 Bears–Lions rivalry CBS
Washington Redskins 23 Dallas Cowboys 31 Cowboys–Redskins rivalry Fox
Atlanta Falcons 17 New Orleans Saints 31 Falcons–Saints rivalry NBC
November 28, 2019 Chicago Bears 24 Detroit Lions 20 Bears–Lions rivalry Fox
Buffalo Bills 26 Dallas Cowboys 15Commemoration of Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII (NFL 100) CBS
New Orleans Saints 26 Atlanta Falcons 18 Falcons–Saints rivalry NBC
November 26, 2020 Houston Texans 41 Detroit Lions 25 CBS
Washington Football Team 41 Dallas Cowboys 16 Cowboys–Washington rivalry Fox
November 25, 2021 Chicago Bears Detroit Lions Fox
Las Vegas Raiders Dallas Cowboys CBS
Buffalo Bills New Orleans Saints NBC

Game standings

Of current NFL franchises. This includes American Football League (AFL) games; however, it does not include All-America Football Conference (AAFC) games.

TeamGames playedFirst gameMost recentWinsLossesTiesWin %Other names appeared under
Arizona Cardinals 21192220086152.304 Chicago Cardinals (1920–1959)
St. Louis Cardinals (1960–1987)
Phoenix Cardinals (1988–1993)
Atlanta Falcons 420052019130.250
Baltimore Ravens 2201120132001.000
Buffalo Bills 919612019441.500Does not include 1–0 record of unrelated AAFC team of same name.
Carolina Panthers 1201520151001.000
Chicago Bears 361920201919152.556Decatur Staleys (1920)
Chicago Staleys (1921)
Cincinnati Bengals 120102010010.000
Cleveland Browns 319661989030.000Does not include 3–0 record when team was a member of the AAFC.
Dallas Cowboys 531966202031211.594
Denver Broncos 1119622009470.364
Detroit Lions 811934202037422.469 Portsmouth Spartans (1930-1933)
Green Bay Packers 361923201514202.417
Houston Texans 2201220202001.000
Indianapolis Colts 419652016211.625 Baltimore Colts (1953–1983)
Jacksonville Jaguars 0NeverNever000Only active franchise to have never played on Thanksgiving.
Kansas City Chiefs 1019672006550.500Dallas Texans (1960–1962), does not include 1–0 record of unrelated NFL Dallas Texans.
Las Vegas Raiders 719632013340.429 Oakland Raiders (1960-1981; 1995-2019)
Los Angeles Raiders (1982-1994)
Los Angeles Chargers 519642017311.700 San Diego Chargers (1961–2016)
Los Angeles Rams 519361975410.800 Cleveland Rams (1936–1945)
St. Louis Rams (1995–2015)
Miami Dolphins 719732011520.714
Minnesota Vikings 819692017620.750
New England Patriots 519842012320.600Boston Patriots (1960-1970)
New Orleans Saints 3201020193001.000
New York Giants 1519262017753.567
New York Jets 819602012440.500New York Titans (1960–1962)
Philadelphia Eagles 719392015610.857
Pittsburgh Steelers 819392016260.250
San Francisco 49ers 519662014221.500Does not include 1–0 record when team was a member of the AAFC.
Seattle Seahawks 419802014220.500
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 120062006010.000
Tennessee Titans 719682008520.714 Houston Oilers (1960–1996)
Tennessee Oilers (1997–1998)
Washington Football Team 1219682020480.333Boston Braves (1932)
Boston Redskins (1933-1936)
Washington Redskins (1937–2019)

Notable appearance droughts

The last currently active franchise to have never played on Thanksgiving through 2021 is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who joined the league in 1995.

An idiosyncrasy in the NFL's current scheduling formula, which has been in effect in its basic form since 2002, effectively prevented teams from the AFC North from playing the Lions or Cowboys on Thanksgiving, as the formula had the AFC North playing in Dallas or Detroit in years when the other team was slated to play the AFC game on Thanksgiving. These teams, under the television contracts in place at the time, could only play in the third (night) game. With the changes in the scheduling practices in 2014, the division is no longer barred from participating in the game (since both CBS and Fox can choose teams from either conference; because of the idiosyncrasy, the AFC North team would, if chosen, always play on Fox). In practice, Fox has never carried an AFC team on Thanksgiving and all of the AFC North's appearances have been in the night game.

The Los Angeles Rams have the longest active appearance drought of any team, with their last appearance coming in 1975. Among current NFL markets, Cleveland has had the longest wait to have a team from its city play on Thanksgiving; the Browns last appeared in 1989, six years before suspending operations in 1995, and have not appeared in the game since rejoining the league as an expansion team in 1999.

Since 2010, several appearance droughts have ended. New Orleans, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Houston, and Carolina all played their first Thanksgiving games during this time frame. San Francisco likewise played their first Thanksgiving game since 1972 in 2011, and the Los Angeles Chargers, who last played on the holiday in 1969 (while the team was still an AFL franchise in San Diego) before actually joining the league, appeared for the first time as an NFL member in 2017. [31]

Thanksgiving Day records of defunct teams

League teams only, since 1920.
TeamWinsLossesTiesWin Pct.Other names appeared under
Frankford Yellow Jackets 20 1.000Defunct (1931)
New York Yankees *20 1.000Defunct (1949)
Pottsville Maroons 20 1.000Defunct (1928)
Boston Yanks 10 1.000Defunct (1948)
Buffalo Bills *10 1.000Defunct (1949), unrelated to current NFL team with this name
Dallas Texans 10 1.000Defunct (1952), does not count AFL's Dallas Texans, which are now the Kansas City Chiefs
Los Angeles Buccaneers 10 1.000Defunct (1926)
Oorang Indians 10 1.000Defunct (1923)
Rock Island Independents 10 1.000Defunct (1925)
All-Tonawanda Lumberjacks 10 1.000Defunct (1921)
Akron Pros 311.700Defunct (1926)
Buffalo Bisons 111.500Buffalo All-Americans (1920–1923), Defunct (1929)
Canton Bulldogs 111.500Defunct (1926)
Cleveland Bulldogs 11 .500Defunct (1927)
Dayton Triangles 11 .500Defunct (1929)
Kansas City Cowboys 11 .500Kansas City Blues (1924), Defunct (1926)
Milwaukee Badgers 11 .500Defunct (1926)
Brooklyn Lions 01 .000Defunct (1926)
Chicago Tigers 01 .000Defunct (1920)
Detroit Heralds 01 .000Defunct (1920)
New York Yanks 01 .000Defunct (1950)
Providence Steam Roller 01 .000Defunct (1931)
Racine Legion 01 .000Defunct (1926)
Toledo Maroons 01 .000Defunct (1923)
Brooklyn Dodgers *02 .000Defunct (1949)
Chicago Hornets *02 .000Chicago Rockets (1946–1948), Defunct (1949)
Columbus Panhandles 02 .000Defunct (1926)
Detroit Panthers 02 .000Defunct (1926)
Hammond Pros 02 .000Defunct (1926)
Rochester Jeffersons 02 .000Defunct (1925)
Los Angeles Dons *03 .000Defunct (1949)

*All-America Football Conference team.

Most frequent match-ups among active teams

CountMatchupRecordYears Played
21 Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers Lions, 12–8–11951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1984, 1986, 2001, 2003, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013
18 Chicago Bears vs. Detroit Lions Bears, 10–81934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1947, 1949, 1964, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1991, 1993, 1997, 1999, 2014, 2018, 2019
12 Arizona Cardinals vs. Chicago Bears Bears, 7–3–21922, 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933
10 Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Football Team Cowboys, 8–21968, 1974, 1978, 1990, 1996, 2002, 2012, 2016, 2018, 2020
5 Detroit Lions vs. Minnesota Vikings Vikings, 3–21969, 1988, 1995, 2016, 2017
5 Dallas Cowboys vs. Miami Dolphins Dolphins, 3–21973, 1993, 1999, 2003, 2011
4 Arizona Cardinals vs. Dallas Cowboys Cowboys, 4–01967, 1976, 1983, 1985
4 Detroit Lions vs. Kansas City Chiefs Tie, 2–21971, 1981, 1987, 1996

Game MVPs

Since 1989, informal and sometimes lighthearted Man of the Match/MVP awards have been issued by the networks broadcasting the respective games. Running back Emmitt Smith holds the record for most Thanksgiving MVPs with five (1990, 1992, 1994, 1996 and 2002). Voting on the respective awards is typically done informally by the announcing crew, and criteria are loose. Noteworthy statistical accomplishments weigh heavily, and "group" awards are not uncommon. The announcement of the winner(s), and the presentation of the award is normally done immediately following the game, during post-game network coverage.

Turkey Leg Award (CBS & Fox)

In 1989, John Madden of CBS awarded the first "Turkey Leg Award", for the game's most valuable player. Pursuant to its name, it was an actual cooked turkey leg, and players typically took a celebratory bite out of the leg for the cameras during post-game interviews. Reggie White of the Eagles was the first recipient. The gesture was seen mostly as a humorous gimmick relating to Madden's famous multi-legged turkey, [32] cooked and delivered by local restaurant owner Joe Pat Fieseler of Harvey's Barbecue (located less than a mile from Texas Stadium). Since then, however, the award has gained subtle notoriety. Madden brought the award to Fox in 1994, and it continued through 2001.

Because of the loose and informal nature of the award, at times it has been awarded to multiple players. On one occasion in 1994, it was given to players of both teams.

Galloping Gobbler / Game Ball / WWE Championship Belt (Fox)

When John Madden left Fox after 2001, the network introduced a new award starting in 2002, named the "Galloping Gobbler." It was represented by a small figurine of a cartoonish, silver turkey wearing a football helmet [33] striking a Heisman-like pose. [34] Much like Cleatus and Digger, the original Galloping Gobbler trophy reflected Fox's irreverent mascots, and went through several iterations. [33] Unimpressed by its tackiness after having won four Turkey Legs in the 1990s, the inaugural winner, Emmitt Smith, famously threw the 2002 award into a trash can. [33]

In 2007, the kitschy statuette was replaced with a bronze-colored statue of a nondescript turkey holding a football. [34] In 2011, the trophies were discarded altogether and replaced by an attractive plaque. Unlike the aforementioned "Turkey Leg Award", the "Galloping Gobbler" is normally awarded to only one player annually, [35] however in 2016, co-winners were honored. [36]

For 2017, the Galloping Gobbler was permanently retired, and replaced with the "Game Ball," a stylish, ornate football-shaped trophy, reminiscent of the tradition where game-used balls are typically awarded to players of the game. No one at Fox seemed to notice the first ball awarded had the stripe markings of a college ball (with stripes on each lace-end of the ball; NFL game balls have no stripes).

As Fox had signed a deal with the WWE to air SmackDown , the Game Ball was replaced by a WWE Championship Belt in 2019. Mitchell Trubisky of the Chicago Bears became the first recipient of the belt.

All-Iron Award (CBS)

When the NFL returned to CBS in 1998, they introduced their own award, the "All-Iron Award", which is, suitably enough, a small silver iron, a reference to Phil Simms' All-Iron team for toughness. The All-Iron winner also receives a skillet of blackberry cobbler made by Simms' mother.

Through 2006, the trophy was only awarded to one player annually. Occasionally, it has been issued as a "group award" in addition to a single player award. In 2008, Simms stated it was "too close to call" and named four players to the trophy; he then gave the award to several people every year until 2013, after which he reverted to a single MVP in 2014.

Simms was removed from the broadcast booth for the 2017 season in favor of Tony Romo, who did not carry on the tradition. Instead, the "Chevrolet Player of the Game" award was extended to CBS' Thanksgiving Day game. As in CBS' regular Sunday afternoon NFL coverage as well as Fox's regular NFL coverage, Chevrolet will donate money in the player's name to the United Way if the game is played in Detroit, the Salvation Army if the Thanksgiving Day game is played in Dallas.

For the 2019 season, CBS revived the Turkey Leg Award, awarding it to Josh Allen. [37]

Prime time games (NFLN & NBC)

During the time when NFL Network held the broadcast rights the prime time game, from 2007 to 2011 they gave out the "Pudding Pie Award" for MVPs. The award was an actual pie. In 2009, NFL Network gave Brandon Marshall a pumpkin pie rather than the chocolate pudding pie of the previous two years.

NBC, which carried Thanksgiving afternoon games through 1997, did not issue an MVP award during that time. NBC began broadcasting the Thanksgiving prime time game in 2012, at which point the MVP award was added. The award is currently called the Sunday Night Football on Thanksgiving Night Player of the Game, and is typically awarded to multiple players on the winning team. [38] From 2012 to 2015, the NBC award was referred to as the "Madden Thanksgiving Player-of-the-Game", honoring John Madden (who announced NBC games from 2006 to 2008). [39] [40] In the first few years, the award specifically went to players on both offense and defense, but in recent years, there have been no quotas for each phase and thus the awards can be given to any position (in 2019, for example, the award went to an offensive player, a defensive player, and a special teamer). The winning players are presented with ceremonial game balls and, as a gesture to Madden, a cooked turkey leg. [41]

Complete list

Broadcasting

DuMont was the first network to televise Thanksgiving games in 1953; CBS took over in 1956, and in 1965, the first color television broadcast of an NFL game was the Thanksgiving match between the Lions and the Baltimore Colts.

Starting in 2012, all three broadcast networks with NFL rights will carry one game apiece. The first two games are split between CBS and Fox. These games are rotated annually, with CBS getting the 12:30 p.m. (EST) "early" game, and Fox getting the 4:30 p.m. "late" game in even-numbered years, while Fox likewise gets the "early" game and CBS the "late" game in odd-numbered years. The third game, with a prime time 8:20 p.m. start, is carried by NBC. [42]

In 2014, two developments would eventually allow for the networks to carry teams from either of the two conferences, something that was not allowed prior to this point. First, a system known as "cross-flex" was imposed, in which the two networks bound by conference restrictions, CBS and Fox, could carry Sunday afternoon games that would otherwise air on the other network. [43] [44] That same year, in order to accommodate CBS's new contract to simulcast Thursday Night Football , the network was given permission to air games with teams from either conference on Thursdays in a deal separate from its Sunday afternoon rights. [45] From that year through 2016, CBS carried all-NFC contests every year on Thanksgiving, and in 2014 and 2015, no AFC teams played in any of the Thanksgiving games. It was initially unclear what mechanism was involved that allowed CBS to carry the NFC vs. NFC matchups; two separate articles on the NFL's official Web site gave conflicting possibilities, with one by Kevin Patra speculating that it was covered under the cross-flex rule [29] and another by Gregg Rosenthal stating that, because the Thanksgiving matchup was on a Thursday, the cross-flex rule did not apply. [46] [ failed verification see discussion ]

CBS's Thursday Night Football rights expired after the 2017 season, after which Fox won the bidding. The league then scheduled all three games in 2018 to feature NFC vs. NFC opponents, with CBS given the Chicago Bears as the Lions' opponent for the early game while Fox carried the Washington Redskins at Dallas late afternoon game. NBC still held the rights to the Thanksgiving night game, Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints. [30] (The same year, the league expanded its flexible scheduling policies to include days other than Sundays.) [47] To date, the NFL has never assigned an AFC road game to Fox on Thanksgiving.

Westwood One most recently held national radio broadcast rights to all three games, with Compass Media Networks sharing rights to the Cowboys contest. (Under league rules, only radio stations that carry at least 12 Cowboys games in a season are allowed to carry the Compass broadcast.) The participating teams also air the games on their local flagship stations and regional radio networks.

The Cowboys Thanksgiving game has regularly been the most watched NFL regular season telecast each year, with the Lions Thanksgiving game usually in the top five.[ citation needed ]

See also

Notes

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