Everything you need to know about the history, records, moments and more

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  • Todd Archer


    Todd Archer

    ESPN Staff Writer

      Todd Archer is an NFL newsman astatine ESPN and covers the Dallas Cowboys. Archer has covered the NFL since 1997 and Dallas since 2003. He joined ESPN successful 2010. You tin travel him connected Twitter astatine @toddarcher.
  • Eric Woodyard


    Eric Woodyard


      Eric Woodyard covers the Detroit Lions for ESPN. He joined ESPN successful September 2019 arsenic an NBA newsman dedicated to the Midwest portion earlier switching to his existent relation successful April 2021. The Flint, Mich. autochthonal is simply a postgraduate of Western Michigan University and has authored/co-authored 3 books: "Wasted, Ethan's Talent Search" and "All In: The Kelvin Torbert Story". He is simply a arrogant genitor of 1 son, Ethan. You tin travel him connected Twitter: @E_Woodyard

Nov 21, 2023, 07:00 AM ET

Thanksgiving Day to sports fans is arsenic overmuch astir shot arsenic it is astir the accepted turkey dinner. From precocious schoolhouse shot successful the greeting to watching the day crippled connected TV arsenic meal starts, this contented is arsenic aged arsenic time. Well, almost arsenic aged arsenic time.

The Detroit Lions person played astatine location connected Thanksgiving each twelvemonth since 1934 -- but erstwhile games were paused from 1939 to 1944 during World War II. The yearly vacation contented expanded to adhd a location crippled for the Dallas Cowboys successful the 1960s. These franchises -- and their fans -- lone cognize shot connected Thanksgiving. In 2006, the NFL added a 3rd crippled with nary circumstantial big squad to the prime-time window.

The 2023 Thanksgiving Day schedule:

So wherefore bash the Lions and Cowboys ever play astatine location connected Thanksgiving? What does the time look similar for the coaches, players, families and fans who enactment their vacation celebrations connected intermission to instrumentality part? And however galore thousands of pounds of nutrient is served astatine the stadium? We asked NFL Nation reporters Todd Archer and Eric Woodyard to explicate the history.

We person besides laid retired the Thanksgiving stats and numbers you should cognize and adjacent took a travel backmost successful clip to research the biggest and champion moments connected the turkey time stage. (Note: This nonfiction was primitively posted successful November 2021 and has been updated for 2023.)

Jump to:
Thanksgiving records | By the numbers
Best moments successful Thanksgiving history

How the Thanksgiving contented began

The Lions were archetypal up to big games each year: In 1934, Lions proprietor G.A. Richards scheduled a vacation matchup betwixt the Lions and the Bears. Earlier that twelvemonth Richards had purchased the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans shot squad and moved it to the Motor City, renaming it the Detroit Lions. The defending back-to-back satellite champion Bears bushed the Lions 19-16 successful beforehand of 26,000 astatine the University of Detroit Stadium connected Nov. 29, 1934.

Now, much than 8 decades later, Thanksgiving shot has go a staple successful Detroit, with the Lions going 37-44-2 successful the yearly vacation classic. -- Woodyard

Thirty-two years later, the Cowboys joined arsenic a location team: The Cowboys archetypal played connected Thanksgiving successful 1966, beating the Cleveland Browns 26-14 astatine the Cotton Bowl. General manager Tex Schramm wanted much nationalist publicity for the Cowboys -- this was earlier they were known arsenic America's Team -- and thought the vacation crippled made cleanable sense. The NFL was a spot worried, however, and guaranteed the Cowboys a definite magnitude of gross revenue. A assemblage of 80,259 showed up and a contented was born. The Cowboys person played connected each Thanksgiving Day since -- but successful 1975 and 1977.

Why didn't the Cowboys play connected Thanksgiving those 2 years? Prior to the 1975 season, then-commissioner Pete Rozelle wanted to spot if the St. Louis Cardinals could physique their popularity nether manager Don Coryell, whose teams were nicknamed the Cardiac Kids due to the fact that of their breathtaking finishes. So helium scheduled them to big Thanksgiving games successful 1975 and 1977. The Cardinals mislaid some games decidedly, and Rozelle went backmost to Schramm to inquire whether the Cowboys would instrumentality the Thanksgiving crippled back.

"It was a dud successful St. Louis," Schramm said successful 1988 to the Chicago Tribune. "Pete asked if we'd instrumentality it back. I said lone if we get it permanently. It's thing you person to physique arsenic a tradition. He said, 'It's yours forever.'" -- Archer

Thanksgiving records

Given however agelong the bid has lasted, it's not a astonishment that the Lions person the astir wins and losses connected Thanksgiving Day. But 2 different teams that predominant the vacation contented are the Bears and Packers.

Detroit Lions: 37-44-2

Dallas Cowboys: 32-22-1

Chicago Bears: 20-15-2

Green Bay Packers: 14-20-2

What's it similar to play connected Thanksgiving?

Cowboys defender Zack Martin has grown accustomed to playing games connected "Monday Night Football" and "Sunday Night Football," but there's thing antithetic astir playing connected Thanksgiving.

Martin grew up successful Indianapolis and starred astatine Notre Dame earlier the Cowboys made him a first-round prime successful 2014, and helium would ever ticker the Lions play the aboriginal crippled and the Cowboys play aboriginal connected the holiday.

"It whitethorn beryllium antithetic to the extracurricular world, but for america I deliberation it's antithetic due to the fact that it's conscionable that contented that you cognize the Cowboys play connected Thanksgiving," Martin said. "I didn't turn up a Cowboys fan, but I ever knew they played connected Thanksgiving, truthful coming down here, being portion of that is beauteous cool."

After the game, the Martins volition devour astatine AT&T Stadium earlier returning location to relax. Their accepted Thanksgiving repast comes connected Friday.

"For me, [the champion portion of the game] is conscionable being capable to person my household and everyone down for Thanksgiving," Martin said. "Normally teams would miss that due to the fact that they're practicing during the week, but we get to play and past person immoderate clip with household and friends." -- Archer

Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is gearing up to play successful his 3rd NFL Thanksgiving crippled with the team, though to him the acquisition is not truthful antithetic due to the fact that helium would ever person astatine slightest a signifier connected the vacation successful precocious school.

Still, playing Thanksgiving successful the NFL is simply a large contented -- and 1 helium has embraced.

"We ever play connected Thanksgiving, but I deliberation it's benignant of bully due to the fact that if you person a crippled connected Sunday, you've got to signifier connected Thursdays, which benignant of runs until 5 o'clock, but if you person a game, we person a crippled astatine 12:30, we play and past aft that we're escaped and we tin bent retired with household the remainder of the day. You don't person to interest astir getting up the adjacent day, truthful I similar the tradition," St. Brown told ESPN.

"It's amusive and everyone's tuned successful connected Thanksgiving. Everyone is watching football. I retrieve arsenic a kid, watching Thanksgiving shot due to the fact that you're retired eating with friends and past you conscionable propulsion shot on." -- Woodyard

How bash players observe Thanksgiving?

Celebrations generally don't hap until the adjacent day, erstwhile Lions players tin observe with their families. Lomas Brown, erstwhile Lions Pro Bowl OT (1985-95), says helium "couldn't hold until aft the crippled was over, man."

"Because look, it wasn't conscionable that Thursday night, astatine slightest for me, I went connected an eating binge Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I would enactment connected value implicit the vacation due to the fact that a member would propulsion down due to the fact that you didn't person nary much work aft that crippled until adjacent week. So, it was astir similar different small unfastened week, and that's the mode we benignant of looked astatine it, too." -- Woodyard

For the Cowboys, astir players with families volition besides observe connected Friday. With a late-afternoon kickoff, astir of the clip players volition not get backmost to their homes until aboriginal successful the evening, acold excessively precocious for specified a dense meal. -- Archer

Teams springiness backmost to community

The Cowboys unfastened the Salvation Army's Red Kettle Campaign kickoff astatine halftime of each Thanksgiving game. Since 1997, astir $3 cardinal has been raised and aiding the Salvation Army is simply a long-standing precedence for Cowboys proprietor Jerry Jones. Jerry, on with his girl Charlotte, person led multiple initiatives year-round with the Salvation Army, from raising wealth with the 50/50 raffle astatine games to vacation initiatives that payment section communities.

In astir years, Cowboys players volition sojourn a Salvation Army structure successful Dallas oregon Fort Worth and provender aboriginal Thanksgiving Day meals to those successful need, though that signifier was enactment connected clasp successful 2020 and 2021 due to the fact that of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier being restarted successful 2022.

In the past, players often were joined by their wives and children. Former choky extremity Jason Witten had his 2 sons and 2 daughters participated successful handing retired meals during his vocation with the Cowboys.

"I conscionable effort to archer [my kids], 'Look, you're going to person an accidental to springiness backmost to radical that are little fortunate,'" Witten said a fewer years ago. "They bash it with a blessed heart. I deliberation they similar seeing those fans and being capable to manus retired that food." -- Archer

The Lions besides springiness back to the assemblage during Thanksgiving week, distributing 2,500 repast kits with full turkeys astatine six antithetic locations passim Metro Detroit.

Each kit contains astir 26 pounds of nutrient (turkey, vegetables, stuffing, potatoes, macaroni and cheese, gravy, etc.) and volition beryllium distributed to astir 56,000 people. Players and different volunteers helped assemble the kits. -- Woodyard

What are immoderate season-ticket holder traditions?

There is simply a tailgating group of much than 100 die-hard Lions fans who stitchery agleam and aboriginal astatine 9 a.m., typically successful the parking batch of Detroit's Eastern Market. Usually, they navigator astir 4 turkeys and each signs up to bring a broadside dish. The dishes are named based connected the squad the Lions are facing -- for example, Bears Stew and Mac-And-Not-Packer-Cheese.

Megan Stefanski, a lifelong Lions instrumentality and longtime season-ticket holder, helps signifier the festivities. She makes a five-hour thrust from Goetzville, Michigan -- located successful the Upper Peninsula -- to Detroit.

Mark "Pilgrim" Mullins has been a season-ticket holder since 1991 and dresses up yearly arsenic a pilgrim for each Thanksgiving Day crippled with his daughter, Mandie, accompanying him besides successful costume.

"We're known successful Detroit arsenic the pilgrims," helium said successful 2021. "Matter of fact, I've got souvenirs from each my friends this twelvemonth due to the fact that it's my 30th day of really dressing arsenic the pilgrim." Each year, helium has added to his costume, since the Pontiac Silverdome days and present astatine Ford Field. He besides attends the tailgates with Stefanski.

"That was the full extremity was conscionable to formal similar a pilgrim, beryllium festive and get connected TV," Mullins said. "So, the adjacent twelvemonth comes astir and each of the radical successful my conception were like, 'Hey, large guy, you're gonna beryllium the pilgrim again?' And I'm like, 'Well, I conjecture I should.'" -- Woodyard

And however astir possibly the astir famous Cowboys season-ticket (or suite) holder, Roger Staubach?

The Hall of Fame quarterback, amended known arsenic Captain America, holds an yearly Turkey Bowl crippled astatine AT&T Stadium connected the time earlier Thanksgiving.

How overmuch sway does Staubach have? As helium entered The Star past November, Cowboys manager Mike McCarthy had to drawback his enactment successful a mode arsenic helium saw the quarterback.

"That's Roger Staubach," McCarthy, a Pittsburgh native, said, turning his attraction backmost to the media. "Man, I'm shook. Just reasoning astir the aged Super Bowls, Steelers and the Cowboys ...'' -- Archer

Team dinners

The nighttime earlier Thanksgiving is not needfully a squad turkey meal for the Cowboys, but turkey and each the fixings are disposable for the players if they want. But a batch of the players instrumentality with their accepted night-before-game repast of either a steak, chicken, food oregon pasta. Given however astir radical consciousness aft wolfing down their turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing, it's astir apt omniscient the players don't gorge themselves similar that. -- Archer

The Lions don't person 1 large squad Thanksgiving dinner, arsenic immoderate mightiness think. Some guys would understandably alternatively devour astatine location with family. Traditional Thanksgiving fare is typically served to players astatine the time earlier the game. -- Woodyard

What does Cowboys proprietor Jerry Jones devour for Thanksgiving?

The Joneses are similar astir of their players. They person a afloat Thanksgiving repast connected the Friday aft the Cowboys crippled astatine Jerry's location successful Highland Park. It's a accepted Thanksgiving repast with dishes whose recipes person been passed down done the years from the mothers of Jerry and Gene Jones.

At the apical of the database are the household recipes for duck, dressing and saccharine potatoes. -- Archer

Thanksgiving dinners astatine the stadium

For each the Cowboys' suite holders, arsenic good arsenic those with entree to the nine areas and the property container astatine AT&T Stadium successful Arlington, Texas, a accepted Thanksgiving Day repast is served. -- Archer

Here is the breakdown of the nutrient that was served successful 2023, according to Legends Hospitality:

  • 16,320 pounds of Cowboys Mac N Cheese

  • 5,410 pounds of ham

  • 212 gallons of dense whipping cream

  • 252 gallons of cranberry sauce

  • 2,680 pounds of Yukon golden potatoes

  • 13,515 pounds of turkey

  • 5,130 pounds of cornbread for dressing

  • 310 gallons of gravy

  • 425 pounds of pecans for pies

  • 830 pounds of caller greenish beans for bowls and manus pies

  • 970 pounds of pumpkin for pies

  • 2,340 pounds of saccharine potatoes

  • 260 pounds of greens for salads and sides

At Ford Field successful Detroit, the stadium's culinary hospitality squad volition get the time started astatine 3 a.m. ET to guarantee everything is acceptable to spell up of the 12:30 p.m. kickoff. For fans successful the stadium, erstwhile years featured turkey legs, loaded saccharine potatoes and bourbon-spiked cider disposable to purchase. And much extended Thanksgiving meals are served to suite members. -- Woodyard

Here's a breakdown of nutrient by the pound, according to Levy Restaurants successful 2023:

  • 4,100 pounds of turkey

  • 1,800 turkey legs

  • 3,200 pounds of mashed potatoes

  • 110 gallons of gravy

  • 2,200 pounds of stuffing

  • 55 gallons of cranberry sauce

  • 720 pounds of greenish beans

  • 500 pounds of maize connected the cob

  • 3,700 slices of pie

  • 4,000 bloody marys

Thanksgiving by the numbers

1: Number of teams to ne'er play connected Thanksgiving Day: Jacksonville Jaguars

4: Winless teams connected Thanksgiving: Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Jaguars

6: Most passing touchdowns successful a azygous Thanksgiving game, held by Bob Griese (1977) and Peyton Manning (2004).

6: Thanksgiving Day shutouts since the merger successful 1970. There has not been a shutout since the Cowboys unopen retired the Miami Dolphins successful 1999.

8.5: Most vocation sacks connected Thanksgiving, held by erstwhile Lions DE Ezekiel Ansah.

11: Most vocation Thanksgiving receiving touchdowns, held by erstwhile Lions WR Calvin Johnson.

18: Most vocation touchdown passes connected Thanksgiving, held by erstwhile Cowboys QB Tony Romo and erstwhile Lions QB Matthew Stafford.

895: Most vocation receiving yards connected Thanksgiving, held by erstwhile Cowboys TE Jason Witten.

1,178: Most vocation rushing yards connected Thanksgiving, held by erstwhile Cowboys RB Emmitt Smith. Smith besides has the astir vocation rushing touchdowns connected Thanksgiving with 13.

3,000: Most vocation passing yards connected Thanksgiving, held by Stafford successful 10 vocation Thanksgiving games.

Thanksgiving's champion moments


Backup QB Clint Longley took implicit for a concussed Roger Staubach with the Cowboys trailing Washington 16-3. Longley rallied Dallas by capping disconnected the comeback with a 50-yard touchdown walk to Drew Pearson with 28 seconds near to borderline Washington 24-23.


The Bears rallied from 17-3 down to decision the Lions 23-17 successful overtime down Dave Williams' 95-yard kickoff return. It was the archetypal overtime crippled connected turkey time (the OT play was instituted successful 1974).

— NFL Throwback (@nflthrowback) November 11, 2018


New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor returned a 97-yard pick-six successful a 13-6 triumph implicit the Lions.

He collapsed the pouch each day.

Then, successful the 4th quarter, helium scored the game's lone touchdown.

It's hard for a antiaircraft subordinate to permission arsenic large of an imprint connected a crippled arsenic Lawrence Taylor did successful this Thanksgiving clash with the Lions.

(Nov. 25, 1982) @Giants @LT_56 pic.twitter.com/G3Jswhynxm

— NFL Throwback (@nflthrowback) November 23, 2018


Cowboys antiaircraft tackle Leon Lett inexplicably tried to retrieve a blocked game-winning tract extremity attempt. The shot was booted guardant by Lett and recovered by the Dolphins astatine the 2-yard line. Miami connected connected its adjacent tract extremity effort and won 16-14.


Barry Sanders and the Lions crushed the Bears 55-20, with Sanders rushing for 167 yards and 3 touchdowns.

On this time 22 years ago, @BarrySanders rushed for 167 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Bears connected Thanksgiving! 🦃 (Nov. 27, 1997)#CHIvsDET: Thanksgiving Day astatine 12:30pm ET connected FOX pic.twitter.com/dMa0jYGPm3

— NFL Legacy (@NFLLegacy) November 27, 2019


Vikings rookie Randy Moss had lone 3 catches, but each 3 went for 50-plus-yard touchdowns successful a 46-36 triumph implicit the Cowboys. Three catches. Three TDs. 163 yards.

Three catches. Three TDs. 163 yards.

The Cowboys passed connected @RandyMoss successful the draft.

So erstwhile helium took the tract successful Dallas connected Thanksgiving of his rookie year, helium ripped them up. (Nov. 26, 1998) @Vikings pic.twitter.com/3chjj0l8tp

— NFL Throwback (@nflthrowback) November 22, 2018


In Indianapolis' 41-9 triumph implicit the Lions, Colts QB Peyton Manning threw six touchdowns, tied for the astir connected Thanksgiving Day with Bob Griese (1977).

— NFL Throwback (@nflthrowback) July 30, 2021


Tom Brady finished with a cleanable passer rating. Brady completed 21 of 27 passes for 341 yards and 4 touchdowns successful the Patriots' 45-24 rout of the Lions. The Patriots really trailed 24-17 midway done the 3rd 4th earlier Brady threw 3 touchdown passes -- of 79 and 22 yards to Deion Branch, and 16 yards to Wes Welker -- successful a span of 13 minutes, 30 seconds.


A play nary 1 volition forget. Jets QB Mark Sanchez fumbled the shot aft moving into a teammate successful New York's 49-19 nonaccomplishment to the Patriots. Also known arsenic the "Butt Fumble."