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The NFL on Thanksgiving Day is a traditional series of games played during the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. It has been a regular occurrence since the league's inception in 1920. Currently, three NFL games are played every Thanksgiving. The first two are hosted by Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys; a third game, with no fixed opponents, has been played annually since 2006.

History

The concept of American football games being played on Thanksgiving Day dates back to 1876, shortly after the game had been invented, as it was a day that most people had offwork. In that year, the college football teams at Yale and Princeton began an annual tradition of playing each other on Thanksgiving Day.[1] The University of Michigan also made it a tradition to play annual Thanksgiving games, holding 19 such games from 1885 to 1905. The Thanksgiving Day games between Michigan and Chicago Maroons in the 1890s have been cited as "The Beginning of Thanksgiving Day Football." In some areas, high-school teams play on Thanksgiving, usually to wrap-up the regular-season.

By the time football had become a professional event, playing on Thanksgiving had already become an institution. Records of pro football being played on Thanksgiving date back to as early as the 1890s, with the first pro–am team, the Allegheny Athletic Association of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1902, the "National" Football League, a Major League Baseball-backed organization based entirely in Pennsylvania and unrelated to the current NFL, attempted to settle its championship over Thanksgiving weekend; after the game ended in a tie, eventually all three teams in the league claimed to have won the title. Members of the Ohio League, during its early years, usually placed their marquee matchups on Thanksgiving Day. For instance, in 1905 and 1906 the Latrobe Athletic Association and Canton Bulldogs, considered at the time to be two of the best teams in professional football (along with the Massillon Tigers), played on Thanksgiving. A rigging scandal with the Tigers leading up to the 1906 game led to severe drops in attendance for the Bulldogs and ultimately led to their suspension of operations. During the 1910s, the Ohio League stopped holding Thanksgiving games because many of its players coached high school teams and were unavailable. This was not the case in other regional circuits: in 1919, the New York Pro Football League featured a Thanksgiving matchup between the Buffalo Prospects and the Rochester Jeffersons. The game ended in a scoreless tie, leading to a rematch the next Sunday for the league championship.

Several other NFL teams played regularly on Thanksgiving in first eighteen years of the league, including the Chicago Bears and Chicago Cardinals (1922–33; the Bears played the Lions from 1934 to 1938 while the Cardinals switched to the Green Bay Packers for 1934 and 1935), Frankford Yellow Jackets, Pottsville Maroons, Buffalo All-Americans, Canton Bulldogs (even after the team moved to Clevelandthey played the 1924 Thanksgiving game in Canton), and the New York Giants (1929–38, who always played a crosstown rival). The first owner of the Lions, George A. Richards, started the tradition of the Thanksgiving Day game as a gimmick to get people to go to Lions football games, and to continue a tradition begun by the city's previous NFL teams.[8] What differentiated the Lions' efforts from other teams that played on the holiday was that Richards owned radio station WJR, a major affiliate of the NBC Blue Network; he was able to negotiate an agreement with NBC to carry his Thanksgiving games live across the network.

During the Franksgiving controversy in 1939 and 1940, the only two teams to play the game were the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles, as both teams were in the same state (Pennsylvania). (At the time, then-president Franklin Roosevelt wanted to move the holiday for economic reasons and many states were resistant to the move; half the states recognized the move and the other half did not. This complicated scheduling for Thanksgiving games. Incidentally, the two teams were also exploring the possibility of a merger at the time.) Because of the looming World War II and the resulting shorter seasons, the NFL did not schedule any Thanksgiving games in 1941, nor did it schedule any in the subsequent years until the war ended in 1945. When the Thanksgiving games resumed in 1945, only the Lions' annual home game would remain on the Thanksgiving holiday. In 1951, the Packers began a thirteen-season run as the perpetual opponent to the Lions each year through 1963.

In 1966, Dallas Cowboys, who had been founded six years earlier, adopted the practice of hosting Thanksgiving games. It is widely rumored that the Cowboys sought a guarantee that they would regularly host Thanksgiving games as a condition of their very first one (since games on days other than Sunday were uncommon at the time and thus high attendance was not a certainty).[11] Incidentally, Texas was the last state to recognize the "fourth Thursday" rule for Thanksgiving that had been imposed as a result of the Franksgiving compromise two decades prior, and had just adopted the rule (as opposed to the previous last-Thursday rule) in 1961, five years before Dallas started hosting Thanksgiving games. (The fourth and final Thursdays were the same between 1957 and 1960; the last time Texas had celebrated Thanksgiving on the week after the rest of the country was 1956.)

In 1975 and 1977, St. Louis Cardinals replaced Dallas as a host team (Dallas then hosted St. Louis in 1976). Although the Cardinals, at the time known as the "Cardiac Cards" due to their propensity for winning very close games, were a modest success at the time, they were nowhere near as popular nationwide as the Cowboys, who were regular Super Bowl contenders during this era. This, combined with St. Louis's consistently weak attendance and opposition from the Kirkwood–Webster Groves Turkey Day Game (a local high school football contest) led to Dallas resuming regular hosting duties in 1978.

The All-America Football Conference and American Football League, both of which would later be absorbed into the NFL, also held Thanksgiving contests, although neither of those leagues had permanent hosts. Likewise, the AFL of 1926 also played two Thanksgiving games in its lone season of existence, while the AFL of 1936 hosted one in its first season, which featured the Cleveland Rams, a future NFL team, and the 1940–41 incarnation of the American Football League played two games in 1940 on the earlier "Franksgiving" date.

Notwithstanding the aforementioned St. Louis-hosted games in 1975 and 1977, the two "traditional" Thanksgiving Day pro football games since the 1970 AFL–NFL merger have then been in Detroit and Dallas. Because of TV network commitments in place through the 2013 season, to make sure that both the AFC-carrying network (NBC from the 1970 merger to 1997, and CBS since 1998) and the NFC-carrying network (CBS from the 1970 merger to 1993, and Fox since 1994) got at least one game each, one of these games was between NFC opponents, and one featured AFC-NFC opponents. Thus, the AFC could showcase only one team on Thanksgiving, and the AFC team was always the visiting team.

Since 2006, a 3rd NFL game on Thanksgiving has been played at night. It originally aired on the NFL Network as part of its Thursday Night Football package until 2011; NBC began carrying the night game in 2012. The Thanksgiving night game has no fixed opponents or conferences, enabling the league to freely choose whatever marquee match-up to feature on that night. The 2012 changes also allowed both Dallas and Detroit in the future to offer NFC games (one would be played at night), and CBS can offer a game with two AFC teams. In 2014, the NFL added the cross-flex rule, allowing CBS to televise NFC away games, and Fox to broadcast AFC away games, under select circumstances on Sunday afternoons; however, this did not cover the Thanksgiving contests. CBS also signed a separate contract to carry Thursday Night Football from the 2014 season onward, which allowed that network to carry games from either conference on Thursdays; since then, CBS has carried all-NFC contests every year on Thanksgiving, and in 2014 and 2015, no AFC teams played in any of the Thanksgiving games.

The NFL's flexible scheduling rule currently does not apply for Thanksgiving games; however, the NFL in theory could in the future apply the rule to change start times and networks for the three games.

Throwback uniforms

Since 2001 teams playing on Thanksgiving have worn throwback uniforms on numerous occasions. In some years (namely 2002), it extended to nearly all games of the weekend, and in some cases also involved classic field logos at the respective stadiums.

In 2001–2004, and again in 2008 and 2010, the Detroit Lions have worn throwback uniforms based on their very early years.

From 2001 to 2003, Dallas chose to represent the 1990s Cowboys dynasty by wearing the navy "Double-Star" jersey not seen since 1995. In 2004, the team wore uniforms not seen since 1963. In 2009, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the AFL, both Dallas and Oakland played in a "AFL Legacy Game." In 2013, the Cowboys intended to wear their 1960s throwbacks, but chose not to do so after the NFL adopted a rule banning alternate helmets during the season; rather than sport an incomplete throwback look, the Cowboys instead wore their standard blue jerseys at home for the first time since 1963.[16] In 2015, the Cowboys resurrected their 1994 white "Double-Star" jerseys only this time wore them with white pants as part of the league's "Color Rush", a trial run of specially-designed, monochromatic jerseys to be worn during Thursday games.

Memorable games

  • 1920: An urban legend states that the Chicago Tigers and Decatur Staleys challenged each other to a Thanksgiving duel, in Chicago, in the league's inaugural season, with the loser being relegated out of the league at the end of the season, purportedly explaining why the Tigers were the only NFL team to fold after the 1920 season (no other team would fold until 1921). The claims of it being a duel are unsubstantiated and no evidence exists that the Tigers were ever officially league members; nevertheless, the Tigers, after a 27–0 win over the non-league Thorn Tornadoes the next week, never played football again. The Staleys would move to Chicago during the next season, later renaming themselves the Bears.
  • 1921: In a matchup of two of the league's best teams, the Staleys lose to the Buffalo All-Americans at home. The Staleys demand a rematch, with Buffalo agreeing to a December match only on the terms of it being considered an off-the-record exhibition game. That later match, which Chicago won, ended up counting despite the All-Americans' insistence, controversially handing Chicago the championship.
  • 1952: The Dallas Texans are forced to move their lone remaining home game to the Rubber Bowl in Akron, Ohio as the undercard to a high school football contest. Their opponent for that game, the Chicago Bears, underestimated the then-winless Texans and sent their second string team to the game; the Texans scored a 27–23 upset over the Bears for their only win of their existence.
  • 1962: The Lions handed the 10–0 Green Bay Packers their lone defeat of the season.
  • 1964–65: The 1964 and 1965 AFL contests featured the Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers, the two teams that would eventually meet in those years' American Football League Championship Games.
  • 1974: Unknown Cowboys backup quarterback Clint Longley took over for an injured Roger Staubach with the team down 16–3 and rallied them to an improbable victory over Washington on two deep passes.
  • 1976: The Bills offense put forth one of the best and the worst performances in Thanksgiving history. O. J. Simpson set the NFL record for most rushing yards in a single game, with 273. However, Bills backup quarterback Gary Marangi completed only 4 of 21 pass attempts, for 29 yards passing, and a rating of 19.7. The Lions defeated the Bills 27-14.[18]
  • 1980: With the Lions and Bears tied 17-17 at the end of regulation, the game went to overtime, the first Thanksgiving game to do so (overtime was not added to the NFL regular season until 1974), and the first overtime game at the Silverdome. Bears running back Dave Williams returned the fifth-quarter opening kickoff 95 yards for a game-winning touchdown, ending the shortest overtime period in NFL history at the time.
  • 1986: The Lions and the Packers had the highest scoring game in Thanksgiving history. It was the best day of receiver Walter Stanley's career; Stanley netted 207 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns, including an 83-yard punt return to win the game for Green Bay, 44–40. Stanley had an otherwise undistinguished career in the NFL.
  • 1989: Known as the "Bounty Bowl", the Eagles crushed the Cowboys by a score of 27–0. Allegations surfaced that the Eagles had placed a bounty on the Cowboys kicker, thus becoming the first of a string of three bitterly contested games between the two teams, the other two being Bounty Bowl II and the Porkchop Bowl a year later.
  • 1993: In one of the more famous Thanksgiving Day games in recent history, the Cowboys led the Dolphins 14–13 with just seconds remaining in a rare, snow-filled Texas Stadium. Miami's Pete Stoyanovich attempted a game winning 40-yard field goal that was blocked by the Cowboys' Jimmie Jones. Dick Enberg of NBC proclaimed "The Cowboys will win."[19] Indeed, since the kick landed beyond the line of scrimmage, once the ball stopped moving the play would be declared dead and Dallas would gain possession. However, the ball landed and began spinning on its tip, leading Cowboys lineman Leon Lett to try to gain possession. Lett slipped, fell, and knocked the ball forward. By rule, the ball was live and the Dolphins fell on it at the two yard line. With the recovery, Stoyanovich got a second chance to win the game and hit the much shorter field goal. The Dolphins won 16–14.[20]
  • 1994: Troy Aikman was injured and third-string quarterback Jason Garrett was forced to start for Dallas against the Green Bay Packers. The Cowboys won a 42–31 shoot-out against Brett Favre.
  • 1998: In another controversial Thanksgiving Day game, the Steelers and Lions went to overtime tied 16–16. Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis called the coin toss in the air, but head referee Phil Luckett awarded Detroit the ball after Bettis tried to call both heads and tails at the same time. The Lions went on to kick a field goal on the first possession, winning 19–16. As a result of the fiasco, team captains are now required to call the coin toss before the coin is tossed, and a later rule change now prevents teams from automatically winning a game by scoring a field goal on the first possession. The day also saw a memorable performance by the Minnesota Vikingsin a 46–36 win over the Dallas Cowboys as Vikings rookie Randy Moss caught three touchdowns, all of over 50 yards.
  • 2008: The 10–1 Titans routed the 0–11 Lions by a score of 47–10, one of the most lopsided results in history on Thanksgiving. The Lions would go on to finish the season 0–16.
  • 2011: The trio of games[21] was lauded as one of the better Thanksgiving Day slates of games in NFL history.[22] The night game between Baltimore and San Francisco pitted head coaches and brothers John and Jim Harbaugh against each other – a preview of Super Bowl XLVII.
  • 2012: The prime time contest became infamous for the "Butt fumble", an incident in which Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez ran headfirst into the buttocks of his own offensive lineman. He subsequently fumbled the ball; it was recovered by New England, who returned it for a touchdown. In the earlier game, one of the NFL's most infamous rule changes came when former Lions coach Jim Schwartz challenged a play in which Texans running back Justin Forsett's knee clearly touched the ground before sprinting for an 81-yard touchdown. Referee Walt Coleman stated that, by rule, scoring plays are automatically reviewed and the play was not challengeable by a coach. Because of the improper attempted challenge, the review was cancelled and Coleman assessed a 15-yard kickoff penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. The NFL then passed a new rule that stated that if a coach attempted to challenge a play that is automatically reviewed, the review would continue. It was called the 'Jim Schwartz rule'.

Home team controversy[edit]

It has remained a tradition for Dallas and Detroit to host the afternoon games dating back several decades. However, in recent years, other teams have expressed interest in hosting Thanksgiving games. Lamar Hunt, the former owner of the Chiefs (who had hosted Thanksgiving games from 1967–69 as an AFL team prior to the merger), lobbied heavily in favor of his team hosting a game on the holiday. When the NFL adopted a third, prime time game, the Chiefs were selected as the first team to host such a contest.

The host issue came to a head in 2008, focusing particularly on the winless Lions. Going into the game, Detroit had lost their last four Thanksgiving games, and opinions amongst the media had suggested removing Detroit and replacing them with a more attractive matchup.[23][24] The team also required an extension to prevent a local television blackout.[25] The Lions were routed by Tennessee 47–10, en route to the team's 0–16 season.[26] NFL commissioner Roger Goodell confirmed that the Lions would stay on Thanksgiving for the 2009 season, but kept the issue open to revisit in the future.[27][28]

Conversely, the Dallas Cowboys, who typically represent a larger television draw,[29] have had much fewer public calls to be replaced on Thanksgiving. One issue that has been debated is a perceived unfair advantage of playing at home on Thanksgiving.[30] The advantage is given in the form of an extra day of practice for the home team while the road team has to travel to the game site. This is true for most Thursday games, but with the night games, the visitor can travel to the game site after practice and hold the final walk-thru the following morning.

With the introduction of the prime time game, which effectively allows all teams in the league an opportunity to play on Thanksgiving, along with the introduction of year-long Thursday Night Football ensuring all teams have one Thursday game during the regular season (thus negating any on-field advantages or disadvantages to being selected for Thanksgiving), the calls for Detroit and Dallas to be removed have curtailed.

Game results

(Winning teams are denoted by boldface type; tie games are italicized.)

1920–1940

  • All three of the generally recognized iterations of the American Football League that played during this era (AFL I in 1926, AFL II in 1936 and AFL III in 1940) played Thanksgiving games, which are also listed as indicated.
  • Non-NFL team games between league teams and non league teams counted in the 1920 standings. The All-Tonawanda Lumberjacks later joined the league as the Tonawanda Kardex, albeit only for one game.
  • Thanksgiving fell on the final Thursday in November until 1938 and was held on two conflicting days from 1939 to 1941.
Season Visiting Team Score Home Team Score
Nov. 25, 1920 Canton Bulldogs 0 Akron Pros 7
Decatur Staleys 6 Chicago Tigers 0
Detroit Heralds 0 Dayton Triangles 28
Columbus Panhandles 0 Elyria Athletics* 0
Hammond Pros 0 Chicago Boosters* 27
All-Tonawanda * 14 Rochester Jeffersons 3
Nov. 24, 1921 Canton Bulldogs 14 Akron Pros 0
Buffalo All-Americans 7 Chicago Staleys 6
Nov. 30, 1922 Buffalo All-Americans 21 Rochester Jeffersons 0
Chicago Bears 0 Chicago Cardinals 6
Milwaukee Badgers 0 Racine Legion 3
Oorang Indians 18 Columbus Panhandles 6
Akron Pros 0 Canton Bulldogs 14
Nov. 29, 1923 Toledo Maroons 0 Canton Bulldogs 28
Chicago Cardinals 0 Chicago Bears 3
Hammond Pros 0 Green Bay Packers 19
Milwaukee Badgers 16 Racine Legion 0
Nov. 27, 1924 Buffalo Bisons 0 Akron Pros 22
Chicago Bears 21 Chicago Cardinals 0
Dayton Triangles 7 Frankford Yellowjackets 32
Milwaukee Badgers 10 Cleveland Bulldogs

(at Canton)

53
Green Bay Packers 17 Kansas City Blues 6
Nov. 26, 1925 Chicago Cardinals 0 Chicago Bears 0
Kansas City Cowboys 17 Cleveland Bulldogs

(at Hartford)

0
Rock Island Independents 6 Detroit Panthers 3
Green Bay Packers 0 Pottsville Maroons 31
Nov. 25, 1926 New York Giants 17 Brooklyn Lions 0
Los Angeles Buccaneers 9 Detroit Panthers 6
Chicago Cardinals 0 Chicago Bears 0
Green Bay Packers 14 Frankford Yellowjackets 20
Providence Steam Roller 0 Pottsville Maroons 8
Akron Pros 0 Canton Bulldogs 0
(AFL I) Los Angeles Wildcats 0 Chicago Bulls 0
(AFL I) Philadelphia Quakers 13 New York Yankees 10
Nov. 24, 1927 Chicago Cardinals 3 Chicago Bears 0
Providence Steam Roller 0 Pottsville Maroons 6
Green Bay Packers 17 Frankford Yellowjackets 9
Cleveland Bulldogs 30 New York Yankees 19
Season Visiting Team Score Home Team Score
Nov. 29, 1928 Providence Steam Roller 7 Pottsville Maroons 0
Dayton Triangles 0 Detroit Wolverines 33
Green Bay Packers 0 Frankford Yellow Jackets 2
Chicago Cardinals 0 Chicago Bears 34
Nov. 28, 1929 New York Giants 21 Staten Island Stapletons 7
Green Bay Packers 0 Frankford Yellow Jackets 0
Chicago Cardinals 40 Chicago Bears 6
Nov. 27, 1930 New York Giants 6 Staten Island Stapletons 7
Providence Steam Roller 12 Brooklyn Dodgers 33
Green Bay Packers 25 Frankford Yellowjackets 7
Chicago Cardinals 0 Chicago Bears 6
Nov. 26, 1931 Green Bay Packers 38 Providence Steam Roller 7
New York Giants 6 Staten Island Stapletons 9
Chicago Cardinals 7 Chicago Bears 18
Nov. 24, 1932 Green Bay Packers 7 Brooklyn Dodgers 0
New York Giants 13 Staten Island Stapletons 13
Chicago Cardinals 0 Chicago Bears 24
Nov. 30, 1933 New York Giants 10 Brooklyn Dodgers 0
Chicago Bears 22 Chicago Cardinals 6
Nov. 29, 1934 Green Bay Packers 0 Chicago Cardinals 6
New York Giants 27 Brooklyn Dodgers 0
Chicago Bears 19 Detroit Lions 16
Nov. 28, 1935 Green Bay Packers 7 Chicago Cardinals 9
New York Giants 21 Brooklyn Dodgers 0
Chicago Bears 2 Detroit Lions 14
Nov. 26, 1936 Chicago Bears 7 Detroit Lions 13
New York Giants 14 Brooklyn Dodgers 0
(AFL II) Cleveland Rams 7 Rochester Tigers 6
Nov. 25, 1937 Chicago Bears 13 Detroit Lions 0
New York Giants 13 Brooklyn Dodgers 13
Nov. 24, 1938 Chicago Bears 7 Detroit Lions 14
New York Giants 7 Brooklyn Dodgers 7
Nov. 23, 1939 Pittsburgh Pirates 14 Philadelphia Eagles 17
Nov. 21, 1940 (AFL III) New York Yankees 16 Columbus Bullies 17
(AFL III) Buffalo Tigers 13 Milwaukee Chiefs 30
Nov. 28, 1940 Pittsburgh Steelers 0 Philadelphia Eagles 7

1945–1959[edit]

  • No Thanksgiving games were held from 1941 to 1944 due to World War II.
  • Thanksgiving games were played on the fourth Thursday in November from 1945 onward.
  • The All-America Football Conference (AAFC) also played Thanksgiving games from 1946 to 1949.
Season League Visiting Team Score Home Team Score
Nov. 22, 1945 NFL Cleveland Rams 28 Detroit Lions 21
Nov. 28, 1946 NFL Boston Yanks 34 Detroit Lions 10
AAFC New York Yankees 21 Brooklyn Dodgers 7
Nov. 27, 1947 NFL Chicago Bears 34 Detroit Lions 14
AAFC Cleveland Browns 27 Los Angeles Dons 17
AAFC San Francisco 49ers 21 Brooklyn Dodgers 7
Nov. 25, 1948 NFL Chicago Cardinals 28 Detroit Lions 14
AAFC Cleveland Browns 31 Los Angeles Dons 14
AAFC Buffalo Bills 39 Chicago Rockets 35
Nov. 24, 1949 NFL Chicago Bears 28 Detroit Lions 7
AAFC New York Yankees 17 Los Angeles Dons 16
AAFC Cleveland Browns 14 Chicago Hornets 6
Nov. 23, 1950 NFL New York Yanks 14 Detroit Lions 49
Pittsburgh Steelers 28 Chicago Cardinals 17
Nov. 22, 1951 NFL Green Bay Packers 35 Detroit Lions 52
Nov. 27, 1952 NFL Green Bay Packers 24 Detroit Lions 48
Chicago Bears 23 Dallas Texans (at Akron, Ohio) 27
Nov. 26, 1953 NFL Green Bay Packers 15 Detroit Lions 34
Nov. 25, 1954 NFL Green Bay Packers 24 Detroit Lions 28
Nov. 24, 1955 NFL Green Bay Packers 10 Detroit Lions 24
Nov. 22, 1956 NFL Green Bay Packers 24 Detroit Lions 20
Nov. 28, 1957 NFL Green Bay Packers 6 Detroit Lions 18
Nov. 27, 1958 NFL Green Bay Packers 14 Detroit Lions 24
Nov. 26, 1959 NFL Green Bay Packers 24 Detroit Lions 17

1960–1969

  • The American Football League (AFL) also played Thanksgiving Day games during this decade.
  • The Dallas Cowboys started playing their traditional series in 1966.
Season League Visiting Team Score Home Team Score
Nov. 24, 1960 NFL Green Bay Packers 10 Detroit Lions 23
AFL New York Titans 41 Dallas Texans 35
Nov. 23, 1961 NFL Green Bay Packers 17 Detroit Lions 9
AFL Buffalo Bills 14 New York Titans 21
Nov. 22, 1962 NFL Green Bay Packers 14 Detroit Lions 26
AFL New York Titans 46 Denver Broncos 45
Nov. 28, 1963 NFL Green Bay Packers 13 Detroit Lions 13
AFL Oakland Raiders 26 Denver Broncos 10
Nov. 26, 1964 NFL Chicago Bears 27 Detroit Lions 24
AFL Buffalo Bills 27 San Diego Chargers 24
Nov. 25, 1965 NFL Baltimore Colts 24 Detroit Lions 24
AFL Buffalo Bills 20 San Diego Chargers 20
Nov. 24, 1966 NFL San Francisco 49ers 41 Detroit Lions 14
Cleveland Browns 14 Dallas Cowboys 26
AFL Buffalo Bills 31 Oakland Raiders 10
Nov. 23, 1967 NFL Los Angeles Rams 31 Detroit Lions 7
St. Louis Cardinals 21 Dallas Cowboys 46
AFL Oakland Raiders 44 Kansas City Chiefs 22
Denver Broncos 20 San Diego Chargers 24
Nov. 28, 1968 NFL Philadelphia Eagles 12 Detroit Lions 0
Washington Redskins 20 Dallas Cowboys 29
AFL Buffalo Bills 10 Oakland Raiders 13
Houston Oilers 10 Kansas City Chiefs 24
Nov. 27, 1969 NFL Minnesota Vikings 27 Detroit Lions 0
San Francisco 49ers 24 Dallas Cowboys 24
AFL Denver Broncos 17 Kansas City Chiefs 31
San Diego Chargers 21 Houston Oilers 17

1970–2005

  • From 1970 to 2005, three NFC teams and one AFC team played each Thanksgiving.
  • The two afternoon games were held at Detroit (12:30 p.m. EST) and Dallas (4:15 p.m. EST), respectively. Detroit always hosts the "early" game because a 12:30 p.m. EST kick-off at Dallas would be 11:30 a.m. local time (CST), and the NFL avoids starting games before noon locally. The two games rotate annually as intra-conference (NFC vs. NFC) and inter-conference (AFC vs. NFC) games. This is to satisfy the television contract balance between CBS (which broadcasts games in which the visiting team is from the AFC) and Fox (which broadcasts games in which the visiting team is from the NFC).
  • The "early" game kicks off at a special time of 12:30 p.m. EST as opposed to the typical afternoon start time of 1 p.m. This provides an additional 30 minutes to prevent overlapping of the "late" game, and also gave the network time for a pregame show and some additional time for an expanded halftime show (selected years). When Fox carries the "early" game, they typically start their pregame coverage (Fox NFL Sunday) at 11:30 a.m. (with the addition of Fox NFL Kickoff to the Fox lineup, its pregame will begin at 10:30 a.m. for 2015). When CBS carries the "early" game, they start their pregame coverage (The NFL Today) at 12:00 p.m., due to the fact that their morning parade coverage runs until noon. The network with the 4:15 "late" game begins pregame coverage at 3:30 p.m. EST.
  • Dallas was replaced by St. Louis Cardinals as a host team in 1975 and 1977; Dallas and St. Louis faced each other at Texas Stadium in 1976. Because of the Missouri Turkey Day Game, the long-established Kirkwood–Webster Groves high school footballgame that takes place on Thanksgiving in St. Louis, weak fan support in St. Louis, and general national preference of the Cowboysover the historically weaker Cardinals, the Cardinals' hosting of the Thanksgiving game was not popular. Dallas returned to hosting the game in 1978 and has hosted since. Likewise, the Rams never played on Thanksgiving while in St. Louis, in part because of the Turkey Day Game and also because the Missouri State High School Activities Association has held its state football championship games on Thanksgiving weekend at The Dome at America's Center since 1996.
  • Since the time NFL began its current alignment in 2002, no team from the AFC North can play a Thanksgiving Day game against the traditional hosts. This is because under the current rotation, the Cowboys and the Lions each play AFC North teams in years that FOX is scheduled to broadcast its Thanksgiving Day game, requiring an NFC opponent. To date, the last game to feature an AFC North team was the Lions matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1998. AFC North teams can play in the prime time game, as the Cincinnati Bengals did in 2010.
Season Visiting Team Score Home Team Score OT
Nov. 26, 1970 Oakland Raiders 14 Detroit Lions 28
Green Bay Packers 3 Dallas Cowboys 16
Nov. 25, 1971 Kansas City Chiefs 21 Detroit Lions 32
Los Angeles Rams 21 Dallas Cowboys 28
Nov. 23, 1972 New York Jets 20 Detroit Lions 37
San Francisco 49ers 31 Dallas Cowboys 10
Nov. 22, 1973 Washington Redskins 20 Detroit Lions 0
Miami Dolphins 14 Dallas Cowboys 7
Nov. 28, 1974 Denver Broncos 31 Detroit Lions 27
Washington Redskins 23 Dallas Cowboys 24
Nov. 27, 1975 Los Angeles Rams 20 Detroit Lions 0
Buffalo Bills 32 St. Louis Cardinals 14
Nov. 25, 1976 Buffalo Bills 14 Detroit Lions 27
St. Louis Cardinals 14 Dallas Cowboys 19
Nov. 24, 1977 Chicago Bears 31 Detroit Lions 14
Miami Dolphins 55 St. Louis Cardinals 14
Nov. 23, 1978 Denver Broncos 14 Detroit Lions 17
Washington Redskins 10 Dallas Cowboys 37
Nov. 22, 1979 Chicago Bears 0 Detroit Lions 20
Houston Oilers 30 Dallas Cowboys 24
Nov. 27, 1980 Chicago Bears 23 Detroit Lions 17 (OT)
Seattle Seahawks 7 Dallas Cowboys 51
Nov. 26, 1981 Kansas City Chiefs 10 Detroit Lions 27
Chicago Bears 9 Dallas Cowboys 10
Nov. 25, 1982 New York Giants 13 Detroit Lions 6
Cleveland Browns 14 Dallas Cowboys 31
Nov. 24, 1983 Pittsburgh Steelers 3 Detroit Lions 45
St. Louis Cardinals 17 Dallas Cowboys 35
Nov. 22, 1984 Green Bay Packers 28 Detroit Lions 31
New England Patriots 17 Dallas Cowboys 20
Nov. 28, 1985 New York Jets 20 Detroit Lions 31
St. Louis Cardinals 17 Dallas Cowboys 35
Nov. 27, 1986 Green Bay Packers 44 Detroit Lions 40
Seattle Seahawks 31 Dallas Cowboys 14
Nov. 26, 1987 Kansas City Chiefs 27 Detroit Lions 20
Minnesota Vikings 44 Dallas Cowboys 38 (OT)
Nov. 24, 1988 Minnesota Vikings 23 Detroit Lions 0
Houston Oilers 25 Dallas Cowboys 17
Nov. 23, 1989 Cleveland Browns 10 Detroit Lions 13
Philadelphia Eagles 27 Dallas Cowboys 0
Nov. 22, 1990 Denver Broncos 27 Detroit Lions 40
Washington Redskins 17 Dallas Cowboys 27
Nov. 28, 1991 Chicago Bears 6 Detroit Lions 16
Pittsburgh Steelers 10 Dallas Cowboys 20
Nov. 26, 1992 Houston Oilers 24 Detroit Lions 21
New York Giants 3 Dallas Cowboys 30
Nov. 25, 1993 Chicago Bears 10 Detroit Lions 6
Miami Dolphins 16 Dallas Cowboys 14
Nov. 24, 1994 Buffalo Bills 21 Detroit Lions 35
Green Bay Packers 31 Dallas Cowboys 42
Nov. 23, 1995 Minnesota Vikings 38 Detroit Lions 44
Kansas City Chiefs 12 Dallas Cowboys 24
Nov. 28, 1996 Kansas City Chiefs 28 Detroit Lions 24
Washington Redskins 10 Dallas Cowboys 21
Nov. 27, 1997 Chicago Bears 20 Detroit Lions 55
Tennessee Oilers 27 Dallas Cowboys 14
Nov. 26, 1998 Pittsburgh Steelers 16 Detroit Lions 19 (OT)
Minnesota Vikings 46 Dallas Cowboys 36
Nov. 25, 1999 Chicago Bears 17 Detroit Lions 21
Miami Dolphins 0 Dallas Cowboys 20
Nov. 23, 2000 New England Patriots 9 Detroit Lions 34
Minnesota Vikings 27 Dallas Cowboys 15
Nov. 22, 2001 Green Bay Packers 29 Detroit Lions 27
Denver Broncos 26 Dallas Cowboys 24
Nov. 28, 2002 New England Patriots 20 Detroit Lions 12
Washington Redskins 20 Dallas Cowboys 27
Nov. 27, 2003 Green Bay Packers 14 Detroit Lions 22
Miami Dolphins 40 Dallas Cowboys 21
Nov. 25, 2004 Indianapolis Colts 41 Detroit Lions 9
Chicago Bears 7 Dallas Cowboys 21
Nov. 24, 2005 Atlanta Falcons 27 Detroit Lions 7
Denver Broncos 24 Dallas Cowboys 21 (OT)

2006–present

  • Since 2006, three contests have been played on Thanksgiving. In addition to the traditional Detroit and Dallas home afternoon games, a third game is now played in primetime and televised by NFL Network (2006–2011) or NBC (since 2012). Current plans call for the various NFL teams (other than the Lions and Cowboys) to take turns hosting the night game on a rotation basis.
  • In 2006, Kansas City hosted the first prime time Thanksgiving game. The game marked a new "Thanksgiving Tripleheader" tradition. The Denver/Kansas City game marked the first time more than two games were played on Thanksgiving (as well as the first all-AFC holiday matchup) since the AFL–NFL merger in 1970.
  • Rule changes in the 2012–2022 television contracts permit "cross flexing", whereby selected games can be switched between CBS and Fox, effectively allowing CBS to schedule an NFC vs. NFC matchup on Thanksgiving Day rather than an AFC at NFC game. The 2014 season was the first in which all three games feature NFC vs. NFC opponents under these rules; the league again scheduled an all-NFC Thanksgiving for 2015.
Season Visiting Team Score Home Team Score OT
Nov. 23, 2006 Miami Dolphins 27 Detroit Lions 10
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10 Dallas Cowboys 38
Denver Broncos 10 Kansas City Chiefs 19
Nov. 22, 2007 Green Bay Packers 37 Detroit Lions 26
New York Jets 3 Dallas Cowboys 34
Indianapolis Colts 31 Atlanta Falcons 13
Nov. 27, 2008 Tennessee Titans 47 Detroit Lions 10
Seattle Seahawks 9 Dallas Cowboys 34
Arizona Cardinals 20 Philadelphia Eagles 48
Nov. 26, 2009 Green Bay Packers 34 Detroit Lions 12
Oakland Raiders 7 Dallas Cowboys 24
New York Giants 6 Denver Broncos 26
Nov. 25, 2010 New England Patriots 45 Detroit Lions 24
New Orleans Saints 30 Dallas Cowboys 27
Cincinnati Bengals 10 New York Jets 26
Nov. 24, 2011 Green Bay Packers 27 Detroit Lions 15
Miami Dolphins 19 Dallas Cowboys 20
San Francisco 49ers 6 Baltimore Ravens 16
Nov. 22, 2012 Houston Texans 34 Detroit Lions 31 (OT)
Washington Redskins 38 Dallas Cowboys 31
New England Patriots 49 New York Jets 19
Nov. 28, 2013 Green Bay Packers 10 Detroit Lions 40
Oakland Raiders 24 Dallas Cowboys 31
Pittsburgh Steelers 20 Baltimore Ravens 22
Nov. 27, 2014 Chicago Bears 17 Detroit Lions 34
Philadelphia Eagles 33 Dallas Cowboys 10
Seattle Seahawks 19 San Francisco 49ers 3
Nov. 26, 2015 Philadelphia Eagles 14 Detroit Lions 45
Carolina Panthers 33 Dallas Cowboys 14
Chicago Bears 17 Green Bay Packers 13
Nov. 24, 2016 Minnesota Vikings 13 Detroit Lions 16
Washington Redskins 26 Dallas Cowboys 31
Pittsburgh Steelers 28 Indianapolis Colts 7
Nov. 23, 2017 TBA Detroit Lions
TBA Dallas Cowboys
TBA TBA

Thanksgiving Day standings

Of current NFL franchises. This includes AFL games; however, it does not include AAFC games.

Team Last Game Wins Losses Ties Win % Other names appeared under Baltimore Ravens 2013 2 0    1.000
Carolina Panthers 2015 1 0    1.000
Houston Texans 2012 1 0    1.000
New Orleans Saints 2010 1 0    1.000
Philadelphia Eagles 2015 6 1    .857
Los Angeles Rams 1975 3 1    .750 Cleveland Rams (1937–1945), does not include 1936 AFL's Cleveland Rams
Miami Dolphins 2011 5 2    .714
Minnesota Vikings 2016 5 2    .714
Tennessee Titans 2008 5 2    .714 Houston Oilers (1960–1996)

Tennessee Oilers (1997–1998)

Indianapolis Colts 2016 2 1 1 .625 Baltimore Colts (1953–1983)
San Diego Chargers 1969 2 1 1 .625 All games were in the AFL. Have never played an NFL Thanksgiving game since the merger.
Dallas Cowboys 2016 30 18 1 .622
New York Giants 2009 7 4 3 .607
New England Patriots 2012 3 2    .600
Chicago Bears 2015 17 15 2 .529 Decatur Staleys (1920)

Chicago Staleys (1921)

Kansas City Chiefs 2006 5 5    .500 Dallas Texans (1960–1962), does not include 1–0 record of unrelated NFL Dallas Texans.
New York Jets 2012 4 4    .500 New York Titans (1960–1962)
San Francisco 49ers 2014 2 2 1 .500 Does not include 1–0 record when team was a member of the AAFC.
Seattle Seahawks 2014 2 2    .500
Atlanta Falcons 2007 1 1    .500
Detroit Lions 2016 37 38 2 .494
Buffalo Bills 1994 3 4 1 .438 Does not include 1–0 record of unrelated AAFC team of same name.
Oakland Raiders 2013 3 4    .429
Green Bay Packers 2015 14 20 2 .417
Denver Broncos 2009 4 7    .364
Arizona Cardinals 2008 6 15 2 .304 Chicago Cardinals (1920–1959)

St. Louis Cardinals (1960–1987)
Phoenix Cardinals (1988–1993)

Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 2 6    .250
Washington Redskins 2016 2 7    .222
Cincinnati Bengals 2010 0 1    .000
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2006 0 1    .000
Cleveland Browns 1989 0 3    .000 Does not include 3–0 record when team was a member of the AAFC.

Broadcasting

DuMont was the first network to televise Thanksgiving games in 1953; CBS took over in 1956, and in 1965, the first ever color television broadcast of an NFL game was the Thanksgiving match between Detroit Lions and Baltimore Colts.

Starting in 2012, all 3 broadcast networks with NFL rights will carry one game apiece. The first two games are split between CBS and Fox. These games are rotated annually, with CBS getting the 12:30 p.m. (EST) "early" game, and Fox getting the 4:25 p.m. "late" game in even-numbered years, while Fox likewise gets the "early" game and CBS the "late" game in odd-numbered years. The third game, with a prime time 8:30 p.m. start, is carried by NBC. The NFL may involve the Flexible Scheduling rule in the future to reassign games if the night game has less importance than the Dallas or Detroit game.

Westwood One holds national radio broadcast rights to all three games, and the participating teams also air the games on their local flagship stations and regional radio networks.

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