NFL Thanksgiving Day Games History: Origin, Team Records, Traditions and more

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When you think of Thanksgiving today, football is on the short list of holiday staples. Watching the NFL is right there with being with family, carving the turkey, and slicing the pumpkin pie when it comes to traditions on this special holiday in November each year.

While it may seem like the NFL and Thanksgiving have always gone together, that’s not exactly the case. The NFL began in 1920, but the first Thanksgiving game didn’t occur until 14 years later.

Here’s everything you need to know about the history and origins of this holiday tradition:

When did the NFL start playing games on Thanksgiving?

The every-year tradition of playing football on Thanksgiving, NFL style, dates back to 1934 when the Detroit Spartans hosted the World Champion Chicago Bears.

What NFL teams always play on Thanksgiving?

The Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys traditionally always play on Thanksgiving. The Lions have been playing on the holiday dating back to 1934, while the Cowboys have been since 1966.

RELATED: How to watch the NFL on Thanksgiving this year

Why do the Detroit Lions always play on Thanksgiving?

According to ProFootballHOF.com, George A. Richards, who was a radio executive in Detroit, purchased the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans, moved them to the Motor City and set up a game on Thanksgiving in hopes of attracting fans in the team’s first season.

Why do the Dallas Cowboys always play on Thanksgiving?

According to NFL.com, in the 1960s, the NFL was looking for another team to commit to playing on Thanksgiving along with the Detroit Lions. While many teams weren’t interested, Dallas Cowboys GM Tex Schramm believed the publicity of playing on Thanksgiving would be good for his struggling team in 1966. Schramm’s decision paid off on the field and at the gate, which is why the tradition has continued and in part is why the Cowboys are known as “America’s Team.”

Has every NFL team played on Thanksgiving?

Every team has played on Thanksgiving except for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

What is every NFL team’s record on Thanksgiving?

Team Thanksgiving Record
Arizona Cardinals 6-15-2
Atlanta Falcons 1-3
Baltimore Ravens 2-0
Buffalo Bills 6-4-1
Carolina Panthers 1-0
Chicago Bears 20-15-2
Cincinnati Bengals 0-1
Cleveland Browns 3-3
Dallas Cowboys 32-22-1
Denver Broncos 4-7
Detroit Lions 37-44-2
Green Bay Packers 14-20-2
Houston Texans 2-0
Indianapolis Colts 2-1-1
Jacksonville Jaguars NA
Kansas City Chiefs 5-5
Las Vegas Raiders 4-4
Los Angeles Chargers 3-1-1
Los Angeles Rams 4-1
Miami Dolphins 5-2
Minnesota Vikings 7-2
New England Patriots 3-3
New Orleans Saints 3-1
New York Giants 7-6-3
New York Jets 4-4
Philadelphia Eagles 6-1
Pittsburgh Steelers 2-6
San Francisco 49ers 3-2-1
Seattle Seahawks 2-2
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 0-1
Tennessee Titans 5-2
Washington Commanders 4-8

2023 NFL Thanksgiving Schedule

  • Green Bay Packers vs Detroit Lions – 12:30pm ET on FOX
  • Washington Commanders vs Dallas Cowboys – 4:30pm ET on CBS
  • San Francisco 49ers vs Seattle Seahawks – 8:20pm on NBC and Peacock (coverage begins at 8pm ET with Football Night in America)

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