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Turkey Day & Pigskins

Turkey Day & Pigskins

Together like mashed potatoes & gravy.

Thanksgiving Day became a fixture on the late-November calendar about the same time that football was taking hold of the American sports imagination.  So it was probably inevitable that the two would become inextricably linked.

  • Reportedly, the first college football game held on Thanksgiving Day pit Yale against Princeton on November 30, 1876.  It was just 13 years after Abraham Lincoln had declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.  Yale won, 2-0.
  • Among historically African-American schools, Alabama State and Tuskegee have played on Thanksgiving since 1924.
  • The best college game on Thanksgiving was also perhaps the best college football game ... period.  Undefeated and No. 1 Nebraska faced undefeated and No. 2 Oklahoma in 1971.  They were not just the two best teams in the nation, they were also rivals in the old Big Eight Conference (in those days, conferences with numbers in the name actually had the number of teams identified in the number, a quaint practice that is no longer applicable in the modern world).  Paced by the classic punt return of Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers (see video above), Nebraska won the back-and-forth contest, 35-31, and went on the win the national championship.
  • In the NFL, the Detroit Lions have hosted a Thanksgiving game since 1934.  Various other teams had Turkey Day games, but only the Lions have continued the tradition.  They were joined in 1966 by the Dallas Cowboys.  In 2006, the NFL added a third game, played at night, with rotating home teams.
  • The first NFL game to be televised on Thanksgiving was in 1953 on the DuMont network, thus adding "falling asleep in front of the TV" to the list of holiday traditions.
  • The most memorable play on Turkey Day came in 1993, when Cowboys defender Leon Lett mistakenly tried to recover a blocked kick, but the ball squirted away and the Dolphins recovered, allowing Miami to get the game-winning field goal.  NFL.com has a retrospective of the play here.  Lett is now an assistant line coach for the Cowboys.