CLOSE

Why Do The Lions & Cowboys Always Play On Thanksgiving?

You hear the same phrases every Thanksgiving. "Please pass the gravy." "Actually, can I have the gravy again? I missed a spot." And "Ugh, why do we have to watch the Lions play again this year?" Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. When this year's 2-8 squad squares off against the Green Bay Packers, you might find yourself wondering how the lowly Lions managed to get the plum gig of playing a nationally televised game every Turkey Day. So what's the origin of Detroit's most beloved football tradition this side of "Fire Millen!" chants? And what about the other Thanksgiving NFL stalwart, the Dallas Cowboys?

It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards' new squad was a solid team, they were clearly playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchisee, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards' WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and that's why the Lions still play on Thanksgiving.

How About the Dallas Cowboys?

The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no reassurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

807631-Dallas_Cowboys_Stadium-Dallas.jpgCowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

What's With the Night Game?

In 2006, because 6+ hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—the Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles have all hosted the Thanksgiving night game, and this year, the Denver Broncos welcome the New York Giants.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
quiz
Multi-Category Television Blitz
iStock
iStock
nextArticle.image_alt|e
Pop Chart Lab
arrow
Comics
The Origins of 36 Marvel Characters, Illustrated
Pop Chart Lab
Pop Chart Lab

No matter what their powers, every super hero has an origin story, from Spider-Man’s radioactive bite to Iron Man’s life-threatening chest shrapnel. In their latest poster, the designers at Pop Chart Lab have taken their infographic savvy to the Marvel Universe, charting the heroic origins of 36 different Marvel characters through miniature, minimalist comics.

Without using any words, they’ve managed to illustrate Bucky Barnes's plane explosion and subsequent transformation into the Winter Soldier, Jessica Jones’s car crash, the death of the Punisher’s family, and other classic stories from the major Marvel canon while paying tribute to the comic book form.

Explore the poster below, and see a zoomable version on Pop Chart Lab’s website.

A poster featuring 36 minimalist illustrations of superhero origin stories.
Pop Chart Lab

Keep your eyes open for future Marvel-Pop Chart crossovers. The Marvel Origins: A Sequential Compendium poster is “the first release of what we hope to be a marvelous partnership,” as Pop Chart Lab’s Galvin Chow puts it. Prints are available for pre-order starting at $37 and are scheduled to start shipping on March 8.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios