A Look Back at the Lions' Thanksgiving Tradition

© Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Logan Lamorandier

Since 1934, the Detroit Lions have played on Thanksgiving. Over the years, it's become one of the longest and the greatest sports traditions in the country -- especially for locals. Thanksgiving has become synonymous with Lions football.

Since its inception, Detroit has played a total of 79 games with a 37-40-2 record in the annual holiday classic. The only seasons in which the Lions didn't play was from 1939 to 1944, due to World War II.

Detroit has played 24 different teams on Thanksgiving with the most common opponent being the division rival Green Bay Packers. The second most is none other than their 2019 foe, the Chicago Bears.

Actually, this is the second year in a row in which the Chicago Bears travel to Detroit for the holiday contest. Coincidentally, the first team that the Lions ever hosted on Thanksgiving was the Bears. In the inaugural game, the Lions lost a close one 19-16.

In more recent history, the Lions have been very hot and cold. They have lost their last two, but won the previous four before that, and had a nine-game losing streak from 2004-12.

Let's take a trip down memory lane and refresh the last decade of how the Lions have fared on Turkey Day.


A year removed from the first 0-16 season in NFL history, this outing was the smallest attended Thanksgiving game since 1988 for the Lions. With new jerseys, a first-year head coach, and rookie Matthew Stafford's prime time debut, it was a day to forget. Stafford threw four interceptions -- including a pick-six to Michigan man Charles Woodson-- just a week after his iconic Cleveland Browns comeback.

Results: Detroit Lions 12 -- Green Bay Packers 34


Another future Hall-of-Famer from the University of Michigan, Tom Brady, had his way with the Lions. Throwing for four touchdowns and a perfect passer rating, Brady and company scored at will. Oddly enough, even with the Lions missing Stafford, Detroit kept it respectable for a large majority of the game. New England scored the go-ahead touchdown in the early fourth quarter and never looked back. The Patriots ended up outscoring the Lions 35-7 in the second half.

Results: Detroit Lions 24 -- New England Patriots 45


The Packers came into Ford Field undefeated in 2011 and they left... undefeated. Most notably, this was the game in which Ndamukong Suh "stomped" on a Packers offensive lineman. He was ejected, but the Lions never realistically had a chance anyway. The notorious Lions killer, Charles Woodson, came away with another interception after outmuscling Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew for the ball. After the interception, the Packers went up 24-0 before the Lions scored any points. It was an ugly game for the Lions and it dropped their promising season to 7-4 record at the time.

Results: Detroit Lions 15 -- Green Bay Packers 27


Yet again, another controversial refereeing mistake in the Lions long history of being on the wrong side of calls. Lions head coach Jim Schwartz emotionally threw a challenge flag on a non-reviewable scoring play. Texans running back and future Lion, Justin Forsett, was obviously down by contact, but the referees decided not to blow the whistle. The play resulted in an 81-yard touchdown run that never should have been. It would have been automatically reviewed and overturned if not for Schwartz throwing the flag. At the time, throwing a challenge flag on a non-reviewable play resulted in the play standing as called on the field. To make things worse, just a couple weeks later, Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy did the same thing as Schwartz and the referees let it slide and reviewed the play anyway. The NFL changed the ruling after the season concluded to not penalized coaches for throwing a challenge flag on plays that were automatically reviewable. But I digress, back to the Thanksgiving match, the Lions squandered their lead and lost in overtime.

Results: Detroit Lions 31 -- Houston Texans 34


An Aaron Rodgers-less Packers didn't stand a chance. For the first time in nine years, the Lions were able to pull out a win on Thanksgiving -- their last win also coming against the Packers. It wasn't just a victory, it was domination. The Lions offense outgained the Packers 561 yards to 126 while Detroit scored the game's last 37 points after trailing 10-3 in the second quarter. The win propelled the Lions to a 7-5 record to only see the team lose the remaining four games and miss out on a division title and playoff birth.

Results: Detroit Lions 40 -- Green Bay Packers 10


The Lions had one of the worst statistical scoring offenses in the league going into the 2014 Thanksgiving game. That didn't stop them from putting up 34 points against the division-rival Bears and starting a four-game win streak to propel the Lions to an 11-win season. Stafford had one of his best performances of the year after putting up 390 yards with Calvin Johnson being on the receiving end of two touchdowns. The Bears and QB Jay Cutler started off with an early 14-3 lead, but it was all Lions after that.

Results: Detroit Lions 34 -- Chicago Bears 17


In a blowout, the Lions dominated the Mark Sanchez-led Eagles. Stafford hurled five touchdowns -- three to wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Just a few weeks removed from head coach Jim Caldwell moving on from offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and Martha Ford firing president Tom Lewand along with GM Martin Mayhew, it was a statement game for the Lions on national television. Unfortunately, the win was too little too late as both teams sat at 4-7 after the holiday showdown. Even with the season down the drain, the game was plenty of fun to watch for Lions fans sitting around the Thanksgiving table.

Results: Detroit Lions 45 -- Philadelphia Eagles 14


With first place in the NFC North at stake, the Lions lived up to their "cardiac cats" moniker. All season, the Lions had to pull out come-from-behind victories, and the Thanksgiving game was no exception. Matt Prater kicked a game-winning 40-yard field goal as time expired after Darius "Big Play" Slay picked off Sam Bradford with 30 seconds left in regulation. Detroit had trailed in every game on the season yet advanced to 7-4 after their thrilling victory. It was the Lions sixth win in their last seven games played which put them solely in first place for the division at the time. Unfortunately, we all know how the season ended.

Results: Detroit Lions 16 -- Minnesota Vikings 13


In a Thanksgiving rematch, the Lions weren't as fortunate this go-around. For the first time in four years, the Lions came away winless on their big day. Case Keenum and a strong Vikings defense were too much for Detroit. Ironman Matthew Stafford didn't have his best game but he was also obviously limited with an ankle injury. The Lions scrapped their way back into the game late in the fourth quarter to only have hobbled Stafford throw a game-sealing interception on fourth down.

Results: Detroit Lions 23 -- Minnesota Vikings 30


The Bears went into the 2018 Thanksgiving matchup without their starting quarterback -- it didn't matter. Backup Chase Daniel and the elite Bears defense out-performed the reeling Matt Patricia-led Lions team. With the Lions needing to push the ball downfield late in the game, Stafford ended up throwing two late interceptions. It was an ugly game overall. Even grandmas delicious pumpkin pie couldn't take the bad tastes out of Lions fans' mouths. The loss firmly placed the Lions as the last team in the division and they were never able to recover. From the looks of it, it could be the same scenario this season as well.

Results: Detroit Lions 16 --Chicago Bears 23

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