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Football is Part of America’s Thanksgiving Tradition 0

Posted on November 22, 2017 by Dean Hybl
Football has been part of the Thanksgiving tradition for nearly a century.

Football has been part of the Thanksgiving tradition for nearly a century.

Ever since the first professional football league was formed in the early 1900s, football has been as much a part of Thanksgiving Day as pumpkin pie, turkey and dinner at Grandma’s.

Upon creation of the NFL in 1920, the league initially played multiple games on Thanksgiving Day.

In 1920 there were a total of six games played on Thanksgiving. Included during that first season were matchups between the Canton Bulldogs and Akron Pros, Daytona Triangles against the Detroit Heralds, and the Elyria Athletics against the Columbus Panhandles.

The first matchup between two current NFL franchises was in 1922 when the Chicago Cardinals defeated the Chicago Bears 6-0. The first regular Thanksgiving rivalry, the Cardinals and Bears met every year between 1922 and 1933.

The following year, the Cardinals played the Green Bay Packers on Thanksgiving Day while the Bears faced the Detroit Lions.

From 1934-1938 the Bears and Lions played annually on Turkey Day.In 1939 and 1940 the only Thanksgiving Day game was played between the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers.

No Thanksgiving Day games were played during World War II, but since 1945 the Lions have played on Thanksgiving Day ever year.

From 1951 through 1963 the Lions and Packers were a regular Thanksgiving tradition.The Lions and Packers met on Thanksgiving Day every year between 1951 and 1963. In 1962 the Lions handed the Packers their only loss of the season.

The Packers and Lions met annually on Thanksgiving from 1951 through 1963. In 1962 the Lions ended the Packers hopes for an undefeated season with a 26-14 Thanksgiving Day victory.

However, after the Lions handed the Packers their only loss of the 1962 season in a shocking Thanksgiving massacre and then the following season played the defending champions to a 13-13 tie, Vince Lombardi and the Packers thought they should share the Thanksgiving experience with the rest of the NFL.

The Dallas Cowboys made their first Thanksgiving Day appearance in 1966 when they defeated the Cleveland Browns 28-14. With the exception of the 1975 and 1977 seasons, the Cowboys have hosted a game on Thanksgiving ever since.

When the AFL began play in 1960 they also started playing games on Thanksgiving Day. From 1960 through 1969 the AFL had at least one game on Thanksgiving every year.

Following the NFL-AFL merger and realignment in 1970, the league settled on having two Thanksgiving Day games with Detroit and Dallas traditionally serving as the hosts.

In 2006 a third game was added originally televised by the NFL Network and now on NBC, but unlike the two other games of the day, the host site has been rotated between several teams.

Below are some specific games and memories from the Golden Era of Thanksgiving football that helped solidify football as an important part of the American holiday:

November 29, 1934 – In the first Thanksgiving matchup between the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears, the Bears won 19-16 to improve their season record to 12-0. They defeated the Lions again the following week in Chicago to finish the regular season undefeated.

November 22, 1951 – In what became a Thanksgiving Day tradition for more than a decade, the Detroit Lions defeated the Green Bay Packers 52-35. Jack Christiansen scored on punt returns of 71 and 89 yards and Bobby Layne tossed four touchdown passes.

November 27, 1952 – In their only year of existence, the Dallas Texans had already become wards of the NFL by Thanksgiving and were playing out the schedule wherever they could find a potential audience. On Thanksgiving Day, the winless Texans faced the Chicago Bears in Akron, Ohio. In front of a sparse crowd, the Texans claimed their only victory of the season with a 27-23 victory over the Chicago Bears. Read the rest of this entry →

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    • Larry “The Zonk” Csonka
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      Larry Csonka

      The Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month was the leader of a running attack that was the cornerstone of two Super Bowl Championship teams, including the only undefeated squad in NFL history.

      With his distinctive headgear and a body suited for punishing contact, Larry Csonka looked the part of a fullback and for 11 NFL seasons delivered and took regular punishment on his way to the Hall of Fame.

      Following in the great tradition of Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Jim Nance and Floyd Little, Csonka earned All-American honors at Syracuse while rushing for 2,934 yards.  He began earning a name for himself as the Most Valuable Player of the East–West Shrine Game, the Hula Bowl, and the College All-Star Game.

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