It started as far back as any fan can remember. In 1902 the "National" Football League (no relation), an organization backed by Major League Baseball, would have a Thanksgiving weekend set of games. The Ohio League, some say the birthplace of present day NFL, played games involving the powerhouse Canton Bulldogs in 1905-06. The last year before the official start of the NFL the Buffalo Prospects and the Rochester Jeffersons played to a scoreless tie for the New York Pro Football League in 1919. In 1920 the NFL took shape and the Chicago Bears, Chicago Cardinals, Detroit Lions, and Green Bay Packers dominated the holiday games, save for a two year stretch (1939-40) when the Eagles and Steelers stole the show.
Televising the games first started in 1953. By 1956 CBS had taken control. Of course, the first game shown in color was on a Thanksgiving, 1965, when the Lions hosted the Colts. In 2006, the NFL added a third game through the NFL Network. The present schedule is for both conferences to alternate visiting Detroit and Dallas. The third game is randomly selected, though many feel the AFC should be allowed to permanently host at least one game. FOX and CBS, which have contracts with the NFL until 2013, broadcast the events based on the road team's conference.
Most teams will have opportunities to appear on Thanksgiving. Our own Minnesota Vikings have had six chances, and sport a league best 5-1 record. The Vikings' first appearance was in 1969, when they played at Detroit and won 27-0. They would also shut out the Lions in 1988 23-0. Minnesota has beaten Dallas three times (1987, 1998, 2000) in mostly high scoring games. The Vikings only loss on Thanksgiving was a 38-44 game vs. Detroit in 1995.
The one constant over the years has been that Detroit hosts the first game and that Dallas hosts the second. There has been many memorable games on Thansgiving Day. Maybe the greatest was the 1974 Cowboys game in which Roger Staubach went down and Clint Longley came in off the bench trailing 16-3 and led Dallas to victory. Or twenty years later, Jason Garrett (yes, the present day interim head coach) replaced Troy Aikman and led the Cowboys to a 42-31 win over Brett Favre and the Packers. In 1976, O.J. Simpson ran for 273 yards vs. the Lions, but the Bills still lost by two touchdowns. They were really bad. In 1980, David Williams of Chicago returned an overtime kickoff for a touchdown, the only time in the league's history. 1989 was special for the infamous "Bounty Bowl", when Eagles and Cowboys played amid stories that coaches had offered money for taking players out of the game. And finally, the 1998 blown coin toss call by the referees on Jerome Bettis' mistaken head-tails call, which had led to the rule change that players must call the toss now before it is flipped.
But as a fan since the 1960s ended, I have a beef or two on Turkey Day. My original complaint was the third game. Not that I did not love having eleven hours of football on family day (I did, wife not so much), but when the NFL Network first started, they were not in every household. It hurt to know that as I ate my third slice of ice cream-pumpkin pie (a family recipe - to die for) there was a game going on in the NFL that I was not able to watch. That was more torturous than watching the Lions get killed 47-10 by the Titans in 2008. This situation has since been remedied as my monopolistic cable-provider has come to terms with the NFL.
My next complaint is the Detroit Lions. They are really bad. All the time. I believe I read that they have averaged more than a twenty point loss in six straight Thanksgiving days. For a while it was OK, because it seemed like the day was reserved for making fun of Matt Millen and the Fords. But then the Lions finally let Millen go. Now they are just bad and not so funny. Detroit has young talent, and will be good someday, but frankly, they are a complete bore on television. It is so bad that I find myself cheering for them despite the fact they are my division rivals. Today they will face the Patriots, who recently defeated the Steelers and the Colts. I wonder how that will go?
I am more complacent watching the Cowboys in the 2nd game. I hate them almost as much as Green Bay and more than Chicago. I hated the Hail Mary play, their domination in the Super Bowl years, the Herschel Walker trade, Jimmy Johnson and most of all, Jerry Jones. It is no strange coincidence that the two greatest egomaniacs of owners (Jones and Mark Cuban of the NBA) hail from Texas. This year they host New Orleans, and I hope Drew Brees throws for 600 yards. Sadly, the game really doesn't matter as the Cowboys, like the Lions, are completely out of the playoff race.
The final game tonight will be the Bengals and the Jets. This could have been a great game if Cincinnati had decided to play like they could play when they play. But they chose not. Instead, the contest will be another in which there is a blowout or the Jets win ugly. The best thing to look forward to in this game is the Terrell Owens and Darrelle Revis match up, made larger by Owens' big mouth. I will watch, but I may chose dishes over the second half, as Carson Palmer struggles more than he does not.
So this is Thanksgiving. Another year older. Another year of the Lions and Cowboys. Given the 3-7 record of Minnesota, I say Ziggy should get in those winter meetings and ask to be a permanent host of the future Thanksgivings, when Minnesota builds that new stadium. Or, if we choose not to, then the Wilfs can push for the West Coast to have the late game via the Los Angeles Vikings.