By Dan Shaughnessy
November 23, 2009

You can make fun of the Lions if you want. Why not? Everybody does.

It's like picking on the fat kid in gym class or laughing when somebody falls face first into a puddle.

Knock yourselves out. Enjoy the yucks. The Lions were 0-16 last year and are 2-8 this year.

Just don't take away my Lions on Thanksgiving.

The Lions are Thanksgiving. They are as much a part of the holiday as turkey, stuffing, apple pie and Uncle Don falling asleep on the couch after dessert.

Nobody gets credit for this, nobody gets blame. But the Lions on Thanksgiving are an American institution, like Guy Lombardo and Dick Clark on New Year's Eve. The Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president(1934).

Everywhere in America, you know it is Thanksgiving when kids sprinkle cinnamon on fried dough hot out of the oven ... when you crinkle newspaper to put under the kindling in the fireplace ... when you cross the room to answer the doorbell ... all while the silver helmets of the Detroit Lions dance across your flatscreen.

There's comfort in the sight of the Lions on the tube. From Greg Landry to Earl Morrall to Joey Harrington to Matthew Stafford. It's just not Turkey Day unless the Lions are on television.

Who cares if the Lions haven't had a winning season since 2000? Does it really matter that they're probably going to lose at home again to the Green Bay Packers on Thursday? No. What matters is holiday tradition.

Punxsutawney Phil looks for his shadow on Groundhog Day. The Chicago River is dyed green on St. Patrick's Day. The Boston Pops play the 1812 Overture on the Esplanade on the Fourth of July. And the Lions play on TV on Thanksgiving.

So what if they lose? The Detroit Lions are not flipping you the bird. They are reminding you that this is the day to carve the bird.

Patriots defensive back Leigh Bodden is a six-year NFL veteran who played with the winless Lions in 2008. Last week in an appearance on WEEI sports radio in Boston -- before his three interceptions of Mark Sanchez -- Bodden explained what it was like to be a Lion in the winter of '08. He talked about Detroit's embarrassing 47-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans last Thanksgiving.

"When I was a kid, every Thanksgiving I watched the game and I wanted to play on Thanksgiving,'' said Bodden. "So last year I was so excited. Even though we were 0-and-whatever, I was excited to play on Thanksgiving. I was thinking 'this is the first time the fans will get to watch us, maybe things will get turned around.' And then we fumbled in the second play of the game. We gave them the ball on like the 30 yard line and they scored. It was bad, man. I played my heart out. I had a great game, but it goes unnoticed because we got blown out.

"Hopefully it's not that bad this year. They are better. They've won [two games]. They have some good players. But I'll probably watch the later game.''

Ironically, even though the Lions-Packers game will be beamed to households across America, the good folks of Detroit may not get to see the game played at Ford Field in downtown Motown. Three of Detroit's first five home game this year -- including Sunday vs. the moribund Browns -- were blacked out because of weak ticket sales.

"Last year they were giving away tickets to the Thanksgiving game to get it to be aired,'' said Bodden. "You have a team like that, it's hard. And I felt bad for the fans that give their money and energy. We had a couple of good home games, but when you lose, you lose.''

Piling on the Lions is a parlor game across NFL America. On Sunday, CBS commentator Shannon Sharpe said he'd asked NFL commissioner Roger Goodell if he could show the Baltimore-Indianapolis game on the Jumbotron at the Detroit-Cleveland game.

Big joke. Turned out the Lions-Browns joust was the game of the weekend. Stafford completed 26 of 43 passes for 422 yards and won it at the buzzer, 38-37.

Take that, Lions bashers.

Ten years ago there was a push to rotate the Thanksgiving home games, but Detroit's brass successfully fought off the notion at a meeting of NFL owners. At last year's Super Bowl, Goodell assured us that Detroit was safe for 2009, but indicated he was open to changing the tradition in the near future.

I say no. Never. Give me my Lions with my stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy. How else will I really know it's Thanksgiving?

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