Local Sports

The History of Lions Football on Thanksgiving

By Jason Berndt

Why do the Detroit Lions play on Thanksgiving every year? In short, the tradition began in 1934 when the Lions, under the ownership of George Richards, initiated the NFL’s Thanksgiving Day football broadcast on a national scale. Richards, who also owned radio stations affiliated with NBC, secured a deal for NBC to broadcast a radio transmission of the Lions versus Bears Thanksgiving Day game across the nation, marking the inception of this annual tradition.

Contrary to a common misconception, the Lions were not the first NFL team to play on Thanksgiving; the league had Thanksgiving Day games since its inaugural season in 1920. The Lions adopted the tradition in 1934 to boost fan attendance, successfully selling out their stadium and garnering overwhelming support from spectators. Richards, the team owner and owner of an NBC-affiliated radio station, further solidified the tradition by broadcasting the games on television across 94 stations.

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While the Lions did not invent Thanksgiving Day football, they distinguished themselves with a network deal that set them apart. The only hiatus from playing on Thanksgiving occurred from 1939 to 1944 during World War II. Throughout their history, the Lions have an all-time record of 37-44-2 on Thanksgiving, with their last game being a 28-25 loss to the Buffalo Bills last year. They are currently in the midst of a six-game losing streak on Turkey Day.

Reflecting on memorable moments, one unfortunate highlight is the 2008 game against the Tennessee Titans, where the winless Lions suffered a resounding 47-10 defeat. Chris Johnson and Lendale White both dominated, each rushing for over 100 yards and scoring two touchdowns. The positive aspect of the game was that the Lions’ defense successfully prevented the Titans from scoring any touchdowns in the second half. They did allow Rob Bironas to kick four field goals, but the route had already happened. On a brighter note, a standout positive memory is the 2013 victory over the Packers with a score of 40-10, a significant win regardless of Aaron Rodgers’ absence from the game. This triumph was particularly sweet for Lions fans, considering the rivalry with the Packers.

This year Detroit (8-2) will play the Green Bay Packers (4-6) in an NFC North showdown at 12:30 pm from Ford Field.

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