Thanksgiving Football Games Trivia

Lions, and Cowboys, and Football, Oh My!

November 23, 2016

It’s as much of a Thanksgiving tradition as eating too much. Here’s a look at why Turkey Day ALWAYS includes an NFL game featuring the Detroit Lions…and another one featuring the Dallas Cowboys.
Thanksgiving Football Games Trivia
This Thanksgiving, millions will gather around their TV screens to watch the Detroit Lions host the Minnesota Vikings. Then, the Dallas Cowboys will take on Washington. It doesn’t even matter if any of the teams are any good or if anybody in the house is a hardcore fan—such is the lure of football and something to pass the time while the turkey cooks. The Lions have played on Thanksgiving since 1934, when the tradition began as a publicity stunt.
Just a few years earlier, Detroit radio station owner George Richards bought the Portsmouth Spartans and moved them out of Ohio and into the Motor City. They were a good team in the early 1930s (11-3 in 1931, for example), but the transplanted team couldn’t get a foothold in terms of local popularity, usually just barely filling half of its stadium during home games. To get the city interested in his team, Richards talked the NFL into letting him play a game on Thanksgiving—the sole game on the schedule for the day. Richards, who owned a major NBC radio affiliate, also talked NBC into running the game on its nationwide network. Result: The 10-1 Lions faced the 10-1 Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving to a sold out crowd of 26,000 fans, with hundreds of thousands more listening at home on their radios. Even though the Lions lost, a tradition was born.
The Dallas Cowboys also started playing on Thanksgiving as a promotional stunt. It’s hard to believe now, but “America’s Team” had trouble attracting fans when it entered the NFL in the 1960s. Despite the success of the Lions playing on the holiday, neither the league nor the Cowboys’ GM Tex Schramm was convinced that fans would show up to the Cotton Bowl to see the game—pro football was still way more popular in the upper Midwest than it was in Texas or the South. Schramm was placated when the league promised the Cowboys a set amount of money regardless of attendance. The risk paid off: more than 80,000 watched the Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns on Thanksgiving Day 1966.