This Thanksgiving -- as ever -- the NFL's Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys will forgo family meals, instead taking to the gridiron. The two squads play every year on the gluttonous holiday, while other NFL teams vary.
The Lions began the tradition of playing NFL football on Thanksgiving more than 80 years ago, according to the Professional Football Hall of Fame. Football had been played on the holiday before, but in 1934 the NFL ranked behind college football in popularity and new Detroit Lions owner G.A. (Dick) Richards was looking for a way to promote his franchise. Richards had just purchased the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans, relocated the squad to Detroit and renamed them the Lions.
The Lions were lagging behind city's beloved baseball team, the Tigers, in popularity, so Richards dreamed up the Thanksgiving game as a way to try to bring in new fans. The team went into its initial holiday matchup against the defending-champion Chicago Bears with just one loss but had drawn a measly 15,000 people to its best-attended game, according the Lions' website.
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The Thanksgiving game was a hit. Richards convinced the NBC Radio Network to carry the game nationwide on some 94 stations, making it the first-ever nationally broadcast NFL game. About 26,000 fans packed into the University of Detroit Stadium to watch the matchup, which the Bears won 19-16. Because the game was a success, Detroit held onto the right to host a game on Thanksgiving every year. It also didn't hurt that Richards was a radio executive who had helped make sure the game was broadcast, Time reported. Over time, the Lions' Thanksgiving game became a tradition. Since 1934, the Lions have had a game every Thanksgiving, except for six years during World War II.
The Cowboys, on the other hand, began hosting a Thanksgiving game in 1966. The NFL was looking to expand its turkey day offerings and Dallas pounced on the opportunity. The club's general manager, Tex Schramm, was the driving force behind the move. Schramm was a former employee of CBS Sports and is generally considered the marketing guru who helped turned the young franchise, which was started as an expansion team in 1960, into "America's team." Since packing more than 80,000 fans into Dallas' Cotton Bowl in the inaugural game, the Cowboys have hosted a game every Thanksgiving except for two seasons. And, as with the Lions, it has become tradition.
Starting in 2006, the NFL added a third game that is not hosted by a specific franchise. This year the Lions will host the Philadelphia Eagles at 12:30 p.m. EST. The Cowboys will then host the undefeated Carolina Panthers at 4:30 p.m. EST and the Green Bay Packers will host the Bears at 8:30 p.m. EST.