As the famed ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman would say, we’re “rumblin,’ bumblin’ and stumblin’” into the holiday season.
Family and friends will gather around the table, sharing a feast and fond stories of past times. For many households, the TVs will be on as part of another turkey day tradition. NFL football on Thanksgiving Day goes back some 87 years. Despite a brief stoppage during World War II, football became a staple of the American holiday.
This year, there’s a little bit more to be thankful for, coming out of 2020, a year that saw empty stadiums for the majority of NFL games due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. And it certainly had its effect on Thanksgiving Day last year, when the final game of the night, involving the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, was canceled due to outbreaks.
Coupled with fans back in the stands is a 2021 season that expanded from 16 to 17 games, as well as an additional wild card spot in the AFC and NFC playoffs. Races for playoff spots are tight, with 13 teams in the AFC and 12 teams in the NFC either on their way to clinching a playoff berth or still in the hunt.
The NFL enters its 16th season of scheduling three games on Thanksgiving Day. Among the teams playing are the Chicago Bears, 3-7, at the Detroit Lions, 0-9-1. Some might ask why a winless Lions team is playing on a holiday. The Thanksgiving Day tradition of football started with the team’s owner, George A. Richards, in 1934. Richards made the game in an effort to boost attendance for the team. And it seemed to work out for a while. The first game saw the defending champion Bears beating the Lions 19-16 in front of about 26,000 fans at the University of Detroit Stadium in November 1934.
Despite the team’s lack of success for years, home viewers will likely see a decent crowd coming out to watch the game at Ford Field in Detroit. The Lions have gone 37-42-2 in games played on Thanksgiving, while the Bears have gone 19-15-2.
The year 1966 was the first time the Dallas Cowboys took to the field to play a Thanksgiving Day game, beating the Cleveland Browns 26-14 at the Cotton Bowl. Tex Schramm, general manager at the time, thought more publicity would be good for “America’s team,” especially on the holiday. While the NFL was a bit worried with the idea, a little over 80,000 fans showed up for the game. With a grand stadium known as “Jerryworld” and the team holding a winning record, expect to see 80,000 fans filling the seats this Thanksgiving.
The Cowboys, with a 31-21-1 record on Thanksgiving Day games, welcome a spiraling Las Vegas Raiders team to AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys, 7-3, still lead the NFC East division despite coming off a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, while the Raiders, 5-5, remain in the hunt for a playoff spot.
“My favorite thing about playing on Thanksgiving is we’re the only team playing at that time, all eyes on us,” Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott told ESPN. “Everyone is watching. We’ve got the stage so we just have to go out and handle our business.”
An interesting matchup will round out a day of football in the NFL, as the Buffalo Bills, 6-4, travel to face the New Orleans Saints, 5-5. It will be the Bills’ 10th appearance on Thanksgiving and their fifth since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. The Saints will play their fourth Thanksgiving Day game, and they are undefeated on the holiday.
The game will be extra special for Saints fans, as former Super Bowl-winning quarterback Drew Brees returns. He’ll call the game for NBC alongside Mike Tirico.
With games on Thanksgiving also come some interesting games on the weekend following. As there seems to be a number of Ohio State Buckeyes fans on the island chain, the No. 2-ranked team will travel to Ann Arbor to face the No. 5 Michigan Wolverines on Saturday, Nov. 27 at noon. In golf, Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka will put their antics and chirping to the side as they go head to head for the fifth edition of The Match on Friday, Nov. 26 at 4 p.m. at Wynn Golf Club in Las Vegas. The match will be broadcast on TNT.
Enjoy the holidays and all the sports this season.