As I write this the American tradition that is Thanksgiving weekend is winding down. I have to say I am very thankful for all I have been blessed with. I have a loving family, great friends and a love for sports. The Good Lord blessed me with the ability to write about it too! That being said, what a time to be a sports fan!
A tradition arose in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day in 1934 when the hometown Lions took the field against the Chicago Bears. It was a gimmick introduced by new Lions owner G.A. Richards to draw fans for the newly relocated franchise. The Bears were the NFL defending champions that year and they won the game 19-16 in front of the largest crowd of the season. 26,000 fans showed up at University of Detroit Stadium, thousands more were turned away. The contest determined the NFL’s Western Division Champion for 1934. The Lions and Bears would face each other every Thanksgiving up until 1938. Due to World War II there were no games between the teams from 1939-1944. The Lions would pick up the tradition in 1945, but without the Bears. Their first post war opponent was the then Cleveland Rams. Football has been played in Detroit on Turkey Day ever since.
With the advent of television in the 1950’s the NFL has been a living room staple alongside the turkey and trimmings on the dining room table. The first football game to be televised was on November 22, 1956 when the Packers defeated the Lions 24-20.
This year we had three games on Thanksgiving all with playoff implications. The aforementioned Lions would win on a game ending field goal to take sole possession of first place in the the NFC North. The Minnesota Vikings strange season continued with a loss in Detroit. After a 5-0 start the Vikings have now slipped into second place with a record of 6-5.
The middle contest was a renewal of one of the NFL’s storied rivalries. The Dallas Cowboys, who have hosted the second game on the Thanksgiving schedule since 1966 (except 1975 and 1977 when the late afternoon game was hosted by the then St. Louis football Cardinals) played their arch-rivals from our Nations Capital. The Cowboys 31-26 victory over the Redskins was their 10th straight.
In 2006 the NFL added a third contest on Thanksgiving in conjunction with scheduling games on Thursday night throughout the season. The Pittsburgh Steelers victory over the Indianapolis Colts catapulted them into first place in the AFC North (at the time of this writing they were tied by the Baltimore Ravens with their win earlier today).
With the development of Black Friday, and the four-day holiday weekend the sports world would grow too. Friday and Saturday has long been a staple of college football rivalries. Over the years matchups such as Alabama vs. Auburn, Florida vs. Florida State, Georgia vs. Georgia Tech and Notre Dame vs. USC came about.
The oldest rivalry played annually on Saturday after Thanksgiving is Michigan vs. Ohio State. This year’s game didn’t disappoint. In an epic double overtime thriller Ohio State defeated Michigan 30-27.
Not to be outdone, the National Hockey League has made a tradition of holding afternoon games on Black Friday. The tradition originated in Boston over the years with the Bruins hosting an afternoon game on the day after Thanksgiving. This year the executives at NBC along with Gary Bettman’s wonderful scheduling committee broke with the New England tradition. The New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers played on national television to kick off a full NHL schedule on Friday. By the way the Bruins played a night game and lost to the Calgary Flames 5-1. I’m thinking the hockey gods weren’t smiling on the break with New England’s afternoon hockey tradition.
As this great American break winds down and we resume business in workplaces other than retail tomorrow there will be plenty to discuss around the water cooler. Sports will always have a place alongside the food, family and the insane amount of holiday shopping that takes place in the United States on November’s final weekend.