Publish date:

Why do the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys play on Thanksgiving?

What's the story behind the Lions and Cowboys always playing on Thanksgiving?

Dallas and Detroit Lions will be in action on Thursday as part of the three NFL games on Thanksgiving Day. If you've ever watched football on Turkey Day, that won't surprise you. 

The Lions will open the day's action by facing the Bears at 12:30 p.m. ET. The Cowboys will face the Bills at 4:30 p.m. ET at AT&T Stadium. But why do the Lions and Cowboys play on Thanksgiving every year?

The Lions' tradition of playing on Thanksgiving derives in part from the 1930s success of the Detroit Tigers, who won the World Series in 1935. The Lions were unable to replicate the success of their fellow local sports teams and struggled to even draw 15,000 fans to some of the year's first few football games in 1934. Owner George A. Richards decided that the team could draw a bigger crowd by playing on Thanksgiving.

The game, which was broadcast across the country on the radio, garnered national attention, and the team sold out its 26,000 tickets. The Bears entered the game with a perfect record and the Lions had just one loss. The winner would emerge on top of the NFL's Western Division. The Bears came away with a 19–16 victory. 

SI Recommends

The Lions have played on Thanksgiving ever since, from the glory years of the 1950s to the hard times of the Matt Millen era. Last year, the Bears and Lions met on Thanksgiving and Chicago won 23-16.

The Cowboys started their Thanksgiving Day tradition in 1966. General manager Tex Schramm also used the game to generate national appeal for the team. 

The game was a hit among Texans as 80,259 fans packed the Cotton Bowl and set a new attendance record. The Cowboys beat the Browns 26–14. 

The Cowboys have played on Thanksgiving every year except two for the last half-century.