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History and Tradition of Detroit Lions Thanksgiving Day Football

Turkey-Day Football


Detroit Lions play their Thanksgiving game against the Miami Dolphins, 2006

Detroit Lions play their Thanksgiving game against the Miami Dolphins, 2006

Photo © Al Messerschmidt / Getty Images

As traditions go, watching football on Thanksgiving Day is a favorite, and it was Detroit that started it all. Back in 1934, the Lions, originally a club from Portsmouth, Ohio, moved to Detroit as a new addition to the National Football League. The move gave Detroit its first professional football team.

Marketing Stunt

As a marketing ploy to drum up attendance at the new team’s games, then Lions’ owner, George A. Richards, arranged for the team to host the Chicago Bears in the University of Detroit Stadium on Thanksgiving Day. Richards also arranged for the game to be televised nationally via NBC.

74th Annual Thanksgiving Day Game

In spite of the fact the Lions lost that first Thanksgiving-Day game to the Bears, the holiday game was such a success that Detroit continues to host it to this day. The Thanksgiving Day game in 2013 will mark the Detroit Lions’ 74th. For the first five years, the Chicago Bears provided the competition to the Lions on Turkey Day. In the 1950s and 60s, Green Bay was the team that gave the Lions their holiday match. Over the years, however, the Lions have played most of the teams in the league on one Thanksgiving Day or another.

1970 Come Back

In 1970, it was the Oakland Raiders that gave the Detroit Lions’ fans post-turkey agita. This was mainly because the Lions had a less than stellar season leading into the Thanksgiving-Day game that year. They had also lost the prior seven Thanksgiving-Day games. Nothing about the first quarter of that 1970 game gave Lions’ fans much hope – the Raiders scored two touchdowns – but the Lions turned it all around in the second quarter, eventually winning the game 28-14. The win helped to change the course of the season, and the Lions went on to win the remaining three games of their schedule.

Rally Cry

Given the Lions’ record this year -- five wins, three losses in the first eight games -- the Thanksgiving Day game could be a nail biter. The Lions are also coming off of nine straight Thanksgiving-Day losses, including a 41-9 loss to Indianapolis in 2004. Frankly, we need another Thanksgiving-Day miracle in 2012. Here’s to hoping that the Lions send the Green Bay Packers home to eat crow instead of turkey on Thanksgiving Day in 2013.

2013 Thanksgiving-Day Game

The Detroit Lions play the Green Bay Packers at 12:30 p.m. on Turkey Day in Ford Field. The game will be televised on FOX.

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