Thanksgiving for sports fans is both football and a traditional turkey dinner. From high school football in the morning to watching the afternoon game on TV before dinner, this tradition is as old as time. Well, nearly as old as the world.

The Detroit Lions have played at home on Thanksgiving every year since 1934, except when games were suspended from 1939 to 1944 during World War II. The annual holiday tradition expanded with the addition of the Dallas Cowboys home game in the 1960s. These franchises and their fans only know football around Thanksgiving. In 2006, the NFL added a third game to prime time with no specific host team.

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Thanksgiving Day 2022 Schedule:

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    Buffalo Bills at Lions: 12:30 pm ET CBS

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    New York Giants at Cowboys: 4:30 pm ET, Fox

  • New England Patriots at Minnesota Vikings: 8:20 pm ET NBC

So why do the Lions and Cowboys always play at home on Thanksgiving? What does the day look like for coaches, players, families and fans who have paused the festivities to take part? And how many thousand pounds of food are served in the stadium? We asked NFL Nation journalists Todd Archer and Eric Woodyard to explain the story.

We’ve also presented the Thanksgiving statistics and numbers you need to know, and even traveled back in time to explore the most important and best moments in the Turkey Day scene. (Note: This article was originally published in November 2021 and has been updated to 2022.)

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Best Moments in Thanksgiving History

How the Thanksgiving Tradition Began

The Lions were the first to host games every year: In 1934, Lions owner George Richards scheduled a celebratory match between the Lions and the Bears. Earlier that year, Richards bought the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans football team and moved it to Motor City, renaming it the Detroit Lions. The Bears, the reigning world champions in a row, beat the Lions 19–16 in front of 26,000 fans at University of Detroit Stadium on November 29, 1934.

Now, more than eight decades later, Thanksgiving football has become a staple in Detroit, and the Lions are 37-42-2 in the annual holiday classic. — Woodyard

Thirty-two years later, the Cowboys became a home team: The Cowboys played their first Thanksgiving game in 1966, defeating the Cleveland Browns 26–14 at the Cotton Bowl. General manager Tex Schramm wanted the Cowboys to become more famous across the country—this was before they were known as “Team America”—and decided the holiday game made sense. However, the NFL was a little worried and guaranteed the Cowboys a certain amount of ticket revenue. Approximately 80,259 fans showed up and the tradition was born. Since then, the Cowboys have played every Thanksgiving except 1975 and 1977.

Why didn’t the Cowboys play Thanksgiving these two years? Before the 1975 season, then-commissioner Pete Rozelle wanted to see if the St. Louis Cardinals could catch on under coach Don Coryell, whose teams were nicknamed “The Cardio Kids” because of their thrilling finishes. So he scheduled their Thanksgiving games in 1975 and 1977. Unfortunately, the Cardinals lost both games emphatically, and Roselle went back to Schramm to ask if the Cowboys would take the Thanksgiving game.

“In St. Louis, it was a failure,” Schramm told the Chicago Tribune in 1988. “Pete asked if we would take him back. I said only if we get it forever. This is what you should build as a tradition. He said, “It’s yours forever.” Archer


thanksgiving records

Given how long the streak has been, it’s no wonder the Lions have the most wins and losses on Thanksgiving Day. But two other teams that frequent the holiday tradition are the Bears and Packers.

Detroit Lions: 37-43-2

Dallas Cowboys: 31-22-1

Chicago Bears: 20-15-2

Green Bay Packers: 14-14-2


What is it like to play on Thanksgiving?

Ezekiel Elliott played Thanksgiving every year but one since he joined the Cowboys in 2016. He doesn’t have one favorite memory.

“My favorite thing about playing Thanksgiving is that we are the only team playing at this time and everyone is looking at us,” Elliott said in 2021. “Everyone is watching. We have a stage, so we just have to go out and do our thing.”

Elliott had a viral moment when he threw Duck Prescott into the Salvation Army red cauldron after a touchdown in a 2018 game against Washington.

“I don’t think it was pre-planned,” Elliott said. “It was sort of a spontaneous moment.” — Archer

Lomas Brown, former Lions Pro Bowl OT (1985-95)said players who view the Thanksgiving game as an indication of how the season is going or how it should end.

“Playing Thanksgiving marks the point of the season you’re in,” he said in 2021. “That means you’re getting ready to turn the last quarter of the season around and reach the finish line or qualify. If you want to make the playoffs, you need to start playing better. At this point, you should succeed, especially if you are at this point in the season.

Aidan Hutchinson, the Lions’ runner-up overall and Michigan native, will play in his first Thanksgiving game in 2022.

“It will be cool,” he said. “A whole bunch of people come to the game. This will be my first time playing two games in four days, so it’s a lot of fun and hopefully we’ll win big this Thanksgiving. after that eat some turkey and eat good food. That’s the plan.

“I’m waiting for victory.” — Woodyard


How do players celebrate Thanksgiving?

All celebrations in general won’t happen until the next day when Lions players can celebrate with their families. Brown says he “couldn’t wait for the game to end, man.”

“Because, look, it wasn’t just that Thursday night, at least for me, I ate on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I put on weight over the holidays because my brother burped because you don’t. I have no more responsibility after this game until next week. So it was almost another little open house week and we looked at it that way too.” — Woodyard

For the cowboys most players with families will also be celebrating on Friday. When a match starts late in the evening, in most cases the players don’t get home until late in the evening, too late for such a heavy meal. — Archer


Are there any team traditions?

While the lions don’t Sticking to any locker room or team traditions for the holiday game, Brown said former Lions coach Wayne Fontes has been focusing on the annual competition, refusing to hint at its importance throughout the season. The players also took it to heart.

“When I looked at the schedule when it came out, the second thing I noticed was Thanksgiving,” Brown said. “The first thing I’ve always looked at is to see if we’re having a football game on Monday night, and the second is who we’re playing with on Thanksgiving. Every year I looked at the schedule in that order. the most important thing, and we emphasized this as leaders in the team. We told all the boys who came that we don’t lose on Thanksgiving. We said that this is a game that we absolutely must win.” — Woodyard

cowboys open The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle launch campaign during the Thanksgiving break of every game. Nearly $3 billion has been raised since 1997, and helping the Salvation Army has been a longstanding priority for Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Jerry, along with his daughter Charlotte, led several initiatives all year round with the Salvation Armyfrom fundraising with a 50/50 in-game lottery to holiday initiatives that benefit local communities.

In most years, Cowboys players will visit a Salvation Army shelter in Dallas or Fort Worth and serve an early Thanksgiving dinner to those in need, although the practice has been put on hold in the past two years due to the pandemic.

In the past, players were often joined by their wives and children. Former TE Jason Witten has two sons and two daughters involved in food distribution during his career with the Cowboys.

“I’m just trying to say [my kids]“Look, you will have the opportunity to give money back to people who are less fortunate,” Witten said a few years ago. “They do it from the bottom of their hearts. I think they enjoy seeing these fans and being able to hand out food.” — Archer


What are the traditions of season ticket holders?

There is a “back door” group of over 100 diehard Lions fans who gather brightly and early at 9am, typically in the parking lot of Detroit East Market. They usually cook about four turkeys and each one is signed up to bring a side dish. Dishes are named after the team the lions face, such as Bears Stew and Mac-And-Not-Packer-Cheese.

Megan Stefansky, a longtime Lions fan and season ticket holder, is helping organize the celebration. She makes the five-hour drive from Goetzville, Michigan, on the Upper Peninsula, to Detroit.

Mark “Pilgrim” Mullins has been a season ticket holder since 1991 and dresses up as a Pilgrim for every Thanksgiving game every year with his daughter Mandy, who also accompanies him in costume.

“We are known in Detroit as pilgrims,” he said in 2021. “In fact, this year I have souvenirs from all my friends because I turned 30 when I really dressed up as a pilgrim.” He’s added something to his suit every year since the Pontiac Silverdome and now at Ford Field. He also visits the back gate with Stefanski.

“The whole goal was just to dress like a pilgrim, be festive and get on TV,” Mullins said. “So next year comes around and all the people in my department are like, ‘Hey big guy, are you going to be a pilgrim again?’ And I’m like, “Well, I think I should.” — Woodyard

What about perhaps the most famous Cowboys season ticket (or suite) owner Roger Staubach?

Hall of Fame…