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Sports Then and Now

NFL Classic Rewind: Punt Return for TD Gives Packers Win in Thanksgiving Shootout 130

Posted on November 23, 2011 by A.J. Foss

Since they began their tradition of playing on Thanksgiving Day in 1934, the team that the Detroit Lions has faced the most on that day has been the Green Bay Packers, as they have played each other 19 times on Thanksgiving with the Detroit coming out on top with an 11-7-1 record.

While the Lions’ upset of the undefeated Packers in 1962 is regarded as the most memorable Thanksgiving moment between the two teams, the two teams combined for 84 points in a wild shoot-out in 1986 that had the game-winning score come on a punt return in the final minute.

Detroit entered the game with a 5-7 record, and needed to win their remaining four games of the season to have any chance of landing a playoff spot under second-year head coach Darryl Rogers.

The Lions would have to go with 14-year veteran quarterback Joe Ferguson, formerly of the Buffalo Bills, at the helm for the annual Thanksgiving game as regular starter Eric Hipple was out with an elbow injury.

While the Lions were trying to hang on in the playoff chase, the Packers were eliminated from playoff contention as they limped in in with a 2-10 record.

The Packers were trying to make a successful transition from Lynn Dickey, who retired after the 1985 season, to third-year quarterback Randy Wright who was in his first full season as the Packers’ starting quarterback.

As they traveled to Detroit, the Packers were trying to shake off the embarrassment of the previous week when defensive tackle Charles Martin body slammed Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, which led to a two-game suspension for Martin and knocking McMahon out for the rest of the year.

Green Bay was also looking for someone to fill in for injured wide receiver Phillip Epps, who broke his ankle in the Bears game.

Enter Walter Stanley, whose primary role was to return kickoffs and punts for Green Bay, to take Epps’ place in the game against the Lions.

Stanley would fill in more than amicably as he played the game of his life on this Thanksgiving Day. Read the rest of this entry →

Clint Longley: Thanksgiving’s Unlikeliest Hero 6

Posted on November 24, 2010 by Dean Hybl

In his NFL debut, Clint Longley led Dallas to a 24-23 victory over the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving Day.

Professional football has a long and storied history as part of our American Thanksgiving tradition. Many of the greatest players and best teams in NFL history have made their mark on this holiday and thus created a special place for themselves in the memories of families across the country during this time of fellowship and giving thanks.

You can read about some of those memorable moments and games in a column I first published last year.

While many of the players who have performed well on Thanksgiving Day were familiar faces and established stars of the game, there also have been a number of players whose one shining moment as a professional football player occurred on the big stage of Turkey Day.

One such player was former Dallas Cowboys backup quarterback Jason Garrett. Until recently becoming interim head coach of the Cowboys, he was likely best remembered by most football fans for his nearly flawless performance in place of starting quarterback Troy Aikman on Thanksgiving Day in 1994.

In only his second career start, Garrett passed for 311 yards and two touchdowns to help Dallas defeat the Green Bay Packers  42-31.

However, while Garrett’s performance was impressive, it was arguably not the best or most memorable performance by a Dallas backup quarterback on Thanksgiving Day.

That honor would belong to a rookie quarterback from Abilene Christian who two decades before Garrett’s Thanksgiving performance made a lasting impression on the football world with a memorable Thanksgiving Day show of his own.

In the mid-1970s, the rivalry between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins was emerging as one of the most interesting in all of professional sports.

Thanks to the contrast between Washington’s spirited head coach George Allen and the stoic leader of the Cowboys Tom Landry, the rivalry had gained steam and by 1974 was among the most anticipated battles on the NFL calendar.

When the two squads squared off on Thanksgiving Day in 1974 it provided a perfect venue for the renewal of this special rivalry. Playing on national television in an era before video games, multiplex theaters and cable television provided people with other entertainment options, the late afternoon battle between the Cowboys and Redskins was truly America’s afternoon dessert following the traditional Thanksgiving meal. Read the rest of this entry →

Football on Thanksgiving: An American Tradition 9

Posted on November 23, 2009 by Dean Hybl
Football has been a Thanksgiving tradition for more than a century.

Football has been a Thanksgiving tradition for more than 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.

Read the rest of this entry →

  • Vintage Athlete of the Month

    • Archie Griffin: 2-Time Heisman Winner
      December 11, 2022 | 1:42 pm
      Archie Griffin

      The Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month is the only football player ever to capture college football’s top individual award twice.

      As a star running back for the Ohio State Buckeyes, Archie Griffin claimed the Heisman Trophy during his junior season in 1974 and then was able to repeat the honor the following season.

      Griffin joined the Buckeyes for the 1972 season, which happened to be the first in which freshmen were eligible to play varsity football, and made an immediate impact. After fumbling in his only carry of his first game, Griffin more than made up for it in his second game by rushing for 237 yards against North Carolina. By the end of the season, Griffin had rushed for 867 yards.

      Read more »

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