Thanksgiving and the Detroit Lions: A Tradition Since 1934 - Quicken Loans Zing Blog

Detroit Lions players in the late 1990s enjoying some post-game turkey. Image courtesy of Sports Illustrated.

When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of tradition. My family’s yearly ritual of having breakfast bright and early Thursday morning comes to mind. A mid-morning nap follows soon after, followed by a midday feast that puts all of us in a food coma for the rest of the day.

Oh, and there’s also football – Detroit Lions football. When it comes to Thanksgiving traditions, the Lions’ annual Turkey Day game has been a staple for football fans since 1934. Aside from a six-season gap from 1939 to 1944 due to World War II, the Lions haven’t missed a Thanksgiving Day showdown.

It all started back in 1934 during the Lions’ inaugural season. Looking for a way to attract fans to the new team, team owner George A.  Richards decided that hosting a game on a national holiday was a good place to start. Richards was right. Approximately 26,000 fans witnessed the defending world champions, the Chicago Bears, defeat the Lions 19-16 at the University of Detroit Stadium. It was estimated that another 25,000 fans would have attended if enough seats were available, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


The tradition continues this year, with the Green Bay Packers visiting Ford Field for a 12:30 p.m. kickoff. Not only will the game go down in the record books as the Lions’ 72nd Thanksgiving Day game, it also has major implications for the National Football Conference playoffs. The Lions currently sit atop the NFC North standings with a 6-5 record. Green Bay, at 5-5-1, isn’t far behind.

The Lions have posted a record of 33-38-2 on Thanksgiving, although they are winless since a 22-14 win over the Packers in 2003. Here are a few more fun facts about the Thanksgiving Day football tradition in Detroit:

  • A 14-2 victory over the Chicago Bears in 1935 earned the Lions their first victory on Thanksgiving Day.
  • A 52-35 win over the Packers in 1951 still stands as the highest-scoring game ever on the fourth Thursday of November.
  • Philadelphia shut out the Lions 12-0 in 1968, a mark that still stands as the lowest-scoring game on Thanksgiving.
  • Detroit closed out the final year of playing at Tiger Stadium with a 31-27 loss to Denver in 1974.
  • Barry Sanders rushed for 167 yards and three touchdowns during the Lions’ 55-20 win over Chicago in 1997. With that performance, Sanders passed Eric Dickerson for second on the league’s all-time rushing list.
  • The Thanksgiving Day clash has gone to overtime on three separate occasions (1980, 1998 and 2012), with the Lions losing two of the three games.
  • During a 19-16 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1998, Barry Sanders became the second running back in NFL history to reach 15,000 career rushing yards.

Now it’s time for my prediction. The Lions can’t possibly lose this game, right? They are fighting for their playoff lives against a team without its starting quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. Coming off two straight disappointing losses, I think the Lions will pull this one off by a score of 31-21.

What do you think? Is my prediction way off? Are you heading down to Ford Field for the game? Let us know in the comments below!


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