Football on Thanksgiving is equally as important as the turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes.
More specifically, the Detroit Lions are always playing in the early game while everyone is still scrambling to get the house cleaned and the food prepped. It’s perfect because the Lions are rarely a contending team, so if you have to miss a quarter to make a last-minute grocery store run, it’s no big deal.
Then, the afternoon slot is taken by the Dallas Cowboys, who have been almost equally as successful in the playoffs as the Lions since Y2K. But since 2000, Dallas has had 11 winning seasons, and Detroit has had just five. Statistically speaking, you’re bound to see a more meaningful Thanksgiving day game from the Cowboys.
Since 2006, the NFL has added a night game to the holiday tradition. But it’s always two different teams playing each year.
So, why do the Cowboys and Lions always play on Thanksgiving? Let’s blow the dust off the NFL history books and learn about the origins of the longstanding Thanksgiving tradition:
Cowboys-Lions on Thanksgiving is an unwritten rule
There’s nothing contractual about the two teams always playing on turkey day; it’s just a tradition the NFL has honored for a long time.
The 2022 season will be the 54th time the Cowboys take the field on Thanksgiving. The tradition dates back to 1966 when Dallas’ then-general manager Tex Schramm wanted the team to gain national notoriety. So Dallas met the Cleveland Browns on Thanksgiving and won 26-14 while 80,000 fans watched on.
Since that first game, Dallas has played on Thanksgiving each season besides 1975 and 1977. In those years, the St. Louis Cardinals played on turkey day because its ownership wanted to jumpstart the franchise. But it didn’t work, and the Cowboys would get the holiday game back, and the Cardinals later moved to Arizona.
This year will be the 83rd time the Lions play on Thanksgiving, and it all started in 1934. The franchise had a new owner that season, and he, too, was looking to gain some popularity for the team. So in front of 26,000 fans, the Lions lost to the back-to-back world champion Chicago Bears.
The Lions have played on Thanksgiving every year besides 1939-1944 because of World War II.
Thanksgiving Day matchups in 2022
- Buffalo Bills at Detroit Lions – 11:30 a.m. CST on CBS
- New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys – 3:30 p.m. CST on FOX
- New England Patriots at Minnesota Vikings – 7:20 p.m. CST on NBC