Why do the Detroit Lions always schedule a game on Thanksgiving?
Ah, Thanksgiving. It’s a day where Americans make the most comfort food of the year, give thanks, and, of course, watch football. If you’re one of the many Americans to catch the game, you might realize there’s a repeating theme every year when it comes to the matchups: the Detroit Lions. Statistically speaking, the team isn’t the most successful NFL team, but they always show up on the food-filled holiday.
One thing you can rely on during Thanksgiving is seeing the Lions be paired up with another team on Turkey Day. You may wonder, why would the Detroit Lions be the mainstay of the holiday? Why not more popular teams or teams that have a better track record? Like many things on Thanksgiving, the Lions’ Thanksgiving Day is a long-held tradition in the NFL.
Since the early days of football, the Lions have held the coveted spot on Thanksgiving. So, to catch you up to speed, here’s how the Thanksgiving tradition started and also a recap of who’s playing in this year’s Thanksgiving matchups.
Remember the Portsmouth Spartans?
Before they were the Detroit Lions, the team was located in Portsmouth, Ohio from 1928 to 1934. Shortly after G.A. Richards purchased the team, he moved the football team to Detroit, Michigan and changed their mascot to the Lions. Hoping to take advantage of the holiday, Richards scheduled a game with the championship-winning Bears team on Thanksgiving Day.
Richards also had the advantage of owning the WJR radio station, which was a major affiliate to NBC Blue Network, a network that would eventually become ABC. Thanks to his station, he was able to form an agreement with NBC to broadcast the Lions-Bears Thanksgiving game nationwide, according to WIVB.
The Lions initially had a hard time getting fans out earlier that season, drawing less than 15,000 people during their first four home games, according to Forbes. However, the Thanksgiving game almost doubled their normal audience by hosting a 26,000-person crowd, according to Forbes. Though the Lions lost the game, the tradition nevertheless stuck and the Lions have hosted a Thanksgiving Day game ever since.
Not the only Thanksgiving game
While the Lions were the only Thanksgiving team since 1934, in 1966, the Dallas Cowboys joined the Lions to become a Thanksgiving team. While the St. Louis Cardinals, now the Arizona Cardinals, held the Thanksgiving slot from 1975-1977, the Cowboys resumed their tradition in 1978 and have been the host ever since.
According to Forbes, the tradition started when Cowboys President & General Manager Tex Schramm agreed to host the 1966 Thanksgiving game with one condition: the Cowboys would host a Thanksgiving game in 1967. Since the Cowboys had such a big turnout, the NFL agreed and it’s been a tradition ever since.
In 2006, the NFL added a third game on the holiday, but without a host team. According to WIVB, the matchup is created in the offseason. The choice usually depends on rating predictions and usually pairs rivals or teams from competitive markets, according to WIVB.
Since the change, the Lions traditionally play in the morning and the Cowboys play in the afternoon. This year, the Lions will face the Texans at 12:30 p.m. ET and the Cowboys will face Washington at 4:30 p.m. ET.
For the third game, the Baltimore Ravens & Pittsburgh Steelers were set to play against each other. Though the choice was made in the offseason, it turned out to be a smart choice since the Steelers are undefeated after ten games, and the Steelers’ biggest rival is the Ravens, according to Sports Illustrated. However, the game was postponed due to COVID-19, according to USA Today. The game will be played on November 29th.