When did the Thanksgiving Day NFL tradition start? Lions, Bears, Cowboys history and games


Every year, on Thanksgiving Day, three NFL match-ups take place filled with big action and division rivalries, and this year is no different.

First, the Chicago Bears head to Ford Field to take on the Detroit Lions in Michigan (12:30 p.m. ET) followed by a matchup between the Las Vegas Raiders and the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium (4:30 p.m. ET). Then at 8:20 p.m., the Buffalo Bills will battle it out with the New Orleans Saints in a special Thanksgiving edition of Sunday Night Football on NBC. Live coverage of that game begins at 7:00 p.m. ET with Football Night in America and will also be available via live stream on Peacock.

But if you’ve ever wondered when the NFL Thanksgiving Day tradition started then you’ve come to the right place. See below to find out answers to all of your questions.

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When did the Thanksgiving Day NFL tradition start?

The Thanksgiving Day NFL tradition started in 1934 when the Detroit Lions hosted the Chicago Bears at the University of Detroit Stadium. George A. Richards, a local radio executive who had recently purchased and relocated the team at the time, came up with the idea in an effort to improve ticket sales and help the Lions get more attention. There was a sellout crowd of roughly 26,000 fans and from then on a tradition was born. With the exception of 1939 to 1944, the Detroit Lions have played annually on Thanksgiving.

In 1966, the Dallas Cowboys entered the chat as the NFL added a second Thanksgiving game to the slate. Aside from 1975 and 1977, when the NFL attempted to add the St. Louis Cardinals into the mix based on popularity, the Cowboys have hosted every year on Thanksgiving Day. In 2006, the league added a third Thanksgiving game to the program.

Bills and Saints Thanksgiving History:

While Sunday’s game marks the first time that Bills and Saints are meeting on Thanksgiving Day, both teams have a notable Turkey Day history. Thursday’s game will mark the tenth Thanksgiving appearance for the Bills and the fourth for the Saints.

The Buffalo Bills are 4-4-1 all-time on Thanksgiving, having played all nine appearances on the road. In 2019, their most recent Thanksgiving game, the Bills beat the Cowboys in Dallas 26-15 in a game that served as a coming-out party for QB Josh Allen on the national stage.

The New Orleans Saints have an all-time Thanksgiving record of 3-0 and also played their most recent Thanksgiving Day game in 2019 when they defeated the Atlanta Falcons 26-18.

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Which teams haven’t played on Thanksgiving Day?

The Jacksonville Jaguars are the only NFL team to have never played on Thanksgiving.

Which NFL teams have never won a game on Thanksgiving Day?

The Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (and of course, neither have the Jacksonville Jaguars).

Which NFL teams are undefeated on Thanksgiving Day?

The Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, New Orleans Saints, and Carolina Panthers.

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2021 Thanksgiving Day NFL Schedule:

*All times are listed as ET

How to watch the Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions:

  • Where: Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan
  • When: Thursday, November 25
  • Start Time: 12:30 p.m.
  • TV Channel: FOX

How to watch the Las Vegas Raiders at Dallas Cowboys:

  • Where: AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas
  • When: Thursday, November 25
  • Start Time: 4:30 p.m.
  • TV Channel: CBS

How to watch the Buffalo Bills at New Orleans Saints:

  • Where: Caeser’s Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana
  • When: Thursday, November 25
  • Start Time: 8:20 p.m. ET kickoff; live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET with Football Night In America
  • TV Channel: NBC
  • Stream liveWatch live on Peacock or with the NBC Sports App

             RELATED: 2021 NFL schedule – Dates, times, TV channels for every game in all 18 weeks

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