Long before the days of extravagant halftime shows on Thanksgiving or television awards marking the MVP of a regular season game, the Detroit Lions have hosted football games on Thanksgiving afternoons. For the 70th time, the Lions will take the field today as part of the NFL’s Thanksgiving Classic.
The Thanksgiving game was originally a gimmick by original owner G.A. Richards to get fans to attend Lions games — a tradition begun by the now-defunct Detroit Heralds, Tigers, Panthers and Wolverines of the 1920s. While slow at first to catch on, the Lions Thanksgiving game was the only one to survive throughout the years until the Cowboys joined in during the 1966 season. In 2006, the Chiefs hosted the first evening game to complete a three-game slate of football.
Each team has not played every year since the special game’s inception. The Lions took a break from 1939-1944 for the war, while the Cowboys took 1975-77 off for the St. Louis Cardinals. In fact, many fans will also remember that Thanksgiving used to always mean Lions-Packers. These two teams squared off every year from 1951-1963 and have played a total of five times since the merger.
Detroit’s 35-33-1 all-time record will yet again be placed on the line this afternoon against the Packers at Ford Field. The Lions have not won a Thanksgiving day game in their last six tries.