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The NFL's Thanksgiving Classic: A guide to the 90-year-old football tradition
Millions of turkey-stuffed Americans are sure to gorge on Thursday's slate of three football games. How did the NFL's Turkey Day tradition begin?
 
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are widely expected to steamroll the middling New York Jets in the third of three Thanksgiving Classic football games on Thursday.
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are widely expected to steamroll the middling New York Jets in the third of three Thanksgiving Classic football games on Thursday.
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

For many Americans, Thanksgiving means three things: Family, food, and football. Every year, millions of Americans feast on turkey and stuffing and sink into their couches for a full slate of NFL games. But to the uninitiated, all the football fuss is somewhat flummoxing. Here's what you should know about the Thanksgiving Classic:

Which teams are playing this year?
First, the Houston Texans (9-1) will square off against the Detroit Lions (4-6) at 12:30 p.m. EST, when most Americans will still be waiting for their turkeys to cook. Next, the Washington Redskins (4-6) will take the field against the Dallas Cowboys (5-5) at 4:15 p.m. EST, right around the time most families on the East Coat will be sounding the dinner bell. The New England Patriots (7-3) will visit the New York Jets (4-6) at 8:20 p.m., when most Americans on the Eastern Seaboard will be ready to slip into a wine and tryptophan-induced food coma.

Are these particularly important, exciting games?
Not really. The powerhouse Texans are generally expected to steamroll the struggling Lions. The Redskins and Cowboys are division rivals, but this year, both are middling teams unlikely to score a playoff spot. And the Patriots, who appear poised to win their ninth division title in 10 years, are widely expected to trounce the underperforming Jets.

So why is the Thanksgiving Classic such a big deal?
In an age of Monday Night Football and regular midweek games, it may be hard to understand why football fans make such a big deal out of the Thanksgiving games. But for several decades after the NFL was founded, football was exclusively played on Sundays, with the sole exception of the Thanksgiving Classic games each year. The novelty of watching professional football in the middle of the week made the games a highly anticipated ritual for many football fans. Over the years, some teams have elected to pay homage to the historic tradition by wearing throwback uniforms.

Who started the tradition?
The NFL team most synonymous with Thanksgiving football is the Detroit Lions, who played their first Thanksgiving game in 1934 when radio executive George A. Richards — who had purchased the team as the Portsmouth Spartans and moved them to Detroit — scheduled a game on the holiday in an attempt to win newspaper publicity. The game sold out more than two weeks in advance, establishing a Motor City tradition that has continued each Thanksgiving, apart from a six-season hiatus from 1939 and 1944.

What about the Cowboys?
The Cowboys are equally well-known for their Thanksgiving games, which began in 1966 and have continued in an almost unbroken streak, with gap years in 1975 and 1977. The third Thanksgiving game wasn't added to the schedule until 2006, and the two participating teams have rotated each year.

Anything else I should know?
For a quick primer on the history of the Thanksgiving Classic, watch a video recapping the 10 most memorable moments in the NFL’s Thanksgiving Day history at NFL.com. Happy Thanksgiving!

Sources: ESPN.com (2) (3) (4), Professional Football Hall of Fame (2), NBC SportsNFL.com

 

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