“The first time the Detroit Lions played football on Thanksgiving Day was in 1934, when they hosted the Chicago Bears at the University of Detroit stadium, in front of 26,000 fans. The NBC radio network broadcast the game on 94 stations across the country–the first national Thanksgiving football broadcast. Since that time, the Lions have played a game every Thanksgiving (except between 1939 and 1944); in 1956, fans watched the game on television for the first time.” — www.history.com
Now, I don’t know football all that well. So, I’ll write this article to the best of my ability. So, if there is anything you’d like to add or comment on, please do. Because football isn’t my sport. I only understand baseball a little but don’t know the history.
It is said that, “No other team in professional sports can claim to be as much a part of an American holiday as can the Detroit Lions with Thanksgiving.” The yearly holiday event is older than 24 current NFL franchises. November 26 of 2009 will mark the 70th edition of Detroit’s Thanksgiving Day tradition, played at Ford Field for the eighth time.
The game was thought up by of G.A. Richards, the first owner of the Detroit Lions. After purchasing the team in 1934 and moving them from Portsmouth, OH to Motor City.
The opponent in 1934 was the undefeated, defending Chicago Bears. The game would determine the champion of the Western Division. Richards had convinced the NBC Radio Network to carry the game coast-to-coast (94 stations) with the fact that an estimated 26,000 fans would be let into the Detroit Stadium while thousands more were turned away. The Bears won the inaugural game, 19-16, but a classic was born. Since 1934, 69 games have been played with the Lions holding a series record of 33-34-2 (.493). I will tell you right now I have no idea what that means.
Here is a look at some of the past Bears games on Thanksgiving (I took out the games where they lost, except for the first game and the 1956 games as they are historical and the 1945 game, but you can look them up on www.detroitlions.com/team/history/thanksgiving-day-in-motor-city.html) :
1934 – The Bears took a 19-16 win in the series opener. Chicago went on to post a 13-0 record, an NFL mark that stood until the 1972 Dolphins captured 17 straight wins.
1935 – The Lions took revenge from ’34 by beating the Bears, 14-2, to clinch the Western Division title. Detroit went on to beat New York, 26-7, for the club’s first NFL Championship.
1938 – Detroit beat the Bears 14-7 to end a streak of five straight Thanksgiving games vs. Chicago. The game also was the last holiday game until 1945 due to the outbreak of World War II.
1945 – Cleveland Rams QB Bob Waterfield passed for 329 yards including an NFL-record 303 yards to E Jim Benton in a 28-21 Detroit loss.
1950 – B Bob Hoernshemeyer rushed for 198 yards in a 49-14 win over the New York Yanks. Included in his big day was a 96-yard TD run, the longest in club history and the third longest ever recorded in the NFL. The Lions’ offense racked up 582 yards of total offense, the most in team history in Detroit’s first Thanksgiving Day win since 1938.
1951 – The highest scoring Thanksgiving Day game in history was the first of 13 straight Turkey Day appearances in Detroit by the Packers. QB Bobby Layne passed for four TD’s and B Jack Christiansen returned two punts for a TD (89 and 72-yarders) to spark Detroit to a 52-35 victory. B Bob Hoernschemeyer also chipped in with an 85-yard touchdown run.
1953 – Green Bay led 15-7 at halftime but QB Bobby Layne connected with E Cloyce Box on a 97-yard TD play (now the third- longest in club history) and the Lions won 34-15 on the way to their second straight NFL crown.
1954 – Detroit beat Green Bay, 28-24, extending its streak of consecutive wins over the Packers to 12. It was the second time in five days the Lions defeated Green Bay as the clubs met the previous Sunday with Detroit edging the Packers at Lambeau Field, 21-17. Detroit finished the season 9-2-1 but lost the World Championship to Cleveland, 56-10, in a rematch of the 1953 contest.
1956 – A late-game QB Tobin Rote TD pass erased the Lions’ title hopes in a 24-20 loss to the Packers. It was the first Thanksgiving Day game shown on national television, something now that is taken for granted.
1962 – The famed “grudge match” saw the Lions’ “Fearsome Foursome” (DE Darris McCord, DT Alex Karras, DT Roger Brown and DE Sam Williams) sacked Packers QB Bart Starr 11 times for 110 yards in a 26-14 Detroit destruction of Green Bay. The Packers were 10-0 coming into the game and the Lions’ win avenged a 9-7 last-second Green Bay win earlier in the season. It was the only loss of the season for the Packers, who went on to claim the World Championship.
1970 – The Lions scored 14 fourth quarter points on the way to knocking off the high-flying Oakland Raiders, 28-14. RB Mel Farr rushed 21 times for 121 yards propelling Detroit from a 14-0 deficit. It was the Lions’ first Thanksgiving Day win since 1962.
1976 – Bills RB O.J. Simpson rushed for a then-NFL-record 273 yards but the Lions defeated Buffalo, 27-14. (There’s something I didn’t know about the famed O.J.)
1978 – DT Doug English went on a rampage by sacking Denver QB Craig Morton four times in a 17-14 Detroit win over the defending AFC Champions.
1983 – RB Billy Sims scored two TD’s and rushed for 106 yards as the Lions stunned the heavily favored Pittsburgh Steelers, 45-3. The Lions’ defense also did their part by picking off five Steelers’ passes. It was Detroit’s first win over Pittsburgh since 1962.
1984 – The Lions came from behind to trim the Packers, 31-28, in Green Bay’s first Turkey Day appearance since 1963.
1985 – The Lions bombed the playoff-bound New York Jets, 31-20, as QB Eric Hipple passed for four touchdowns, including three to WR Leonard Thompson. The Lions’ defense overshadowed the New York Sack Exchange by sacking Jets QB Ken O’Brien seven times.
1989 – The 50th Thanksgiving Day game revealed an inspired Lions effort in a 13-10 upset victory over the heavily favored Cleveland Browns. Rookie RB Barry Sanders rushed for 145 yards and caught two passes for 44 yards in the Detroit victory.
1990 – The Lions posted their second straight Thanksgiving win as RB Barry Sanders ran for 147 yards and scored twice in a 40-27 thumping of Denver. QB Bob Gagliano threw three touchdown passes for Detroit as the Lions piled up 421 total yards.
1991 – The Lions turned back the Bears 16-6 in Detroit’s third consecutive Thanksgiving victory. The Lions’ cause was aided by six Chicago turnovers — four interceptions and two fumbles. K Eddie Murray booted three field goals, from 21, 50 and 37 yards and QB Erik Kramer connected with WR Robert Clark on a nine-yard touchdown pass to provide the Lions’ scoring.
1994 – Detroit easily controlled the four-time AFC Champion, Buffalo Bills, 35-21, with reserve QB Dave Krieg at the helm for the injured QB Scott Mitchell. The Lions set the tone on the second play of the game as Krieg used the flea-flicker to connect with a streaking Herman Moore (seven receptions for a then-career-high 169 yards) on a 51-yard touchdown strike. DT Kelvin Pritchett sacked Bills QB Jim Kelly three times and Lions S Willie Clay intercepted the first two passes of his career, returning the second 28 yards for a touchdown.
1995 – A record-breaking offensive explosion paved the way for a 44-38 win over Minnesota. The Lions’ gobbled up 534 yards of total offense and QB Scott Mitchell (30-45 for 410 yards and four TDs) set records for most passing yards in a game and most completions and attempts in a season. And for the first time in club history, three players eclipsed the 100-yard mark in receiving yards — WR Brett Perriman with 12 receptions for 153 yards and two touchdowns, WR Johnnie Morton with seven catches for 102 yards and a touchdown, and WR Herman Moore with eight grabs for 127 yards and a score.
1997 – The Lions used 38 second half points to cruise to a 55-20 win over Chicago. The 55 points are the most ever scored by a Lions team in regular season play, and are the most points ever allowed by a Bears club. Also, RB Barry Sanders’ 167 yards rushing (and three TDs) allowed him to pass Eric Dickerson into second-place on the league’s all-time rushing list.
1998 – It marked only the second time in 59 games that the Thanksgiving Day contest went into overtime. The Lions, on a 42-yard Jason Hanson kick, defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 19-16 in front of a sold out Silverdome audience. Though RB Barry Sanders was held to only 20 yards rushing, he became only the second back in NFL history to reach 15,000 career-rushing yards during the contest.
2000 – Detroit won its third-straight game under new Head Coach Gary Moeller (replaced Bobby Ross Nov. 6, 2000), as the Lions dominated the New England Patriots 34-9. The win was solidified when CB Bryant Westbrook intercepted a Drew Bledsoe pass and returned for a Silverdome-tying record 101 yards (also second longest in team history) with 4:13 left to play in the fourth quarter.
2003 – The Lions’ defense forced a season-high five turnovers and limited the Packers league-leading rushing attack to just 52 yards en-route to a 22-14 holiday victory. CB Dré Bly intercepted Green Bay QB Brett Favre twice and forced a WR Javon Walker fumble, earning FOX’s inaugural ‘Galloping Gobbler’ award for his efforts. Detroit K Jason Hanson contributed with five field goals, including three in the fourth quarter.