Turkey Day Football


John Sharbaugh

Other than pilgrims and turkey, perhaps no Thanksgiving tradition is more deeply rooted in American culture than football. This tradition has taken many forms for generations. Whether it’s backyard football or watching the NFL on television, football has become intertwined with the fall holiday.

For professional football, the National Football League (NFL) has been part of Thanksgiving since 1934. That year the Detroit Lions, at the time a newly formed team, used the day as a publicity stunt. They played the Chicago Bears, a matchup that would be repeated this year, in the first NFL Thanksgiving Day Game. Since then they have played every year, except from 1941-1944. During the 1960s, the AFL also played on Thanksgiving. This was another professional league that eventually merged with the NFL in 1970. Starting in 1966, the Dallas Cowboys started their tradition of playing every Thanksgiving Day. From 1970 through 2005, there were only two games on the holiday. In 2006, there was a third game added. This game is on a rotating schedule with no specific team scheduled in that slot.

This year, the Lions hosted the Bears, the Cowboys hosted the Buffalo Bills, and the Atlanta Falcons hosted the New Orleans Saints. All three were high scoring games. Each had a combined score of over 40 points. The first game, between the Lions and the Bears, ended with the Bears winning by a score of 24-20. The second game ended with the Bills defeating the Cowboys by the score of 26-15. The final game ended with the score of 26-18, with the Saints beating the Falcons in Atlanta.

In the past, high school football was a large part of the Thanksgiving celebration. Many Turkey Days would have the Mustangs face off against Bound Brook. Recently, this tradition has begun to decline in the state of New Jersey. Five years ago there was 73 games on Thanksgiving and this year there were only 42 scheduled. Setting aside high school football, there are still many ways that football is part of the fall holiday. Families work off their turkey and mashed potatoes in friendly games, college football is played, and NFL games are broadcasted. On Thanksgiving, football is still one of the most firmly held traditions.