NFL: The Lions and Thanksgiving are an American Tradition

Detroit Lions Sport News


  • The Lions host the Packers on Thanksgiving at Ford Field. It is the 84th time the Lions have played on Thanksgiving and will be the 22 nd time they have played the Packers.
  • Detroit has lost six straight games on Thanksgiving, but enters the game 8-2, their best record since 1962.
  • A look back at some of the most memorable Lion Thanksgiving Day games ever.

On Thanksgiving, there’s turkey on your plate, family in your living room and the Lions on your screen.

That’s the way it’s been since 1934 when the Lions started playing games on Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, America has seen some bad football from the Lions, who have a losing record on Turkey Day at 37-44 with two ties.

Michigan sportsbooks have plenty of markets to choose from when the Lions host the Packers on Thanksgiving at 12:30 p.m. Caesars and BetMGM each have the Lions as big favorites. Betting on – or against – the Lions is another American tradition.

How Did the Lions Start Playing on Thanksgiving? 

Before they were the Lions, the franchise was in Portsmouth, Ohio, but team owner George A Richards, who made his bank in radio, moved the team to Detroit and named them the Lions.

Detroit played at old University of Detroit Stadium, but the NFL was nothing compared to Major League Baseball and the Tigers were the talk of Detroit.

Richards saw an opening on Thanksgiving and set up a game to draw a big crowd. The defending world champion Chicago Bears came and it worked. An overflow crowd of 26,000 were on hand to see the Lions lose (natch) 19-16. Since then, the Lions have always played a home game on Thanksgiving.

The tradition evolved with the Dallas Cowboys hosting a game later in the afternoon, and 15 years ago the NFL (who never met an open TV window it didn’t like) added a primetime Thanksgiving Day game with rotating teams.

The Spirit of ‘62 

It’s ironic that the Lions are playing the Packers Thursday and are 8-2 for the first time since 1962 because the most memorable Lions win on Thanksgiving came in 1962 against the Packers.

This was when the Packers ruled the NFL. They outscored opponents 415-148 that year, but they got their tail kicked by the Lions that day, 26-14. The Lions sacked Packer legend Bart Starr 11 times. It may have been one of the Lions best ever teams, but they finished 11-3 that year and back then only the winning teams in each division moved on to the NFL Championship Game.

The Packers went 13-1 beat the New York Giants for the NFL title 16-7 that year. The Lions wouldn’t win more than 11 games again until 1992.

More Thanksgiving Memories. 

There have been some wild Thanksgiving moments over the years in Detroit. In 1998, we had the coin flip controversy. The Steelers and Lions were going to OT and Steelers star running back Jerome Bettis called heads, then tails as the coin was thrown. The ref said heads was the call. The Lions got the ball, kicked a field goal and won. Now, refs repeat the call before they throw the coin.

In 1980, there was another OT game in the Silverdome between the Bears and Lions and it remains tied for the fastest OT ever. Lions K Eddie Murray kicked off the ball to start OT, and back-up Bears running back Dave Williams took it back 95 yards for the win. It was over in 13 seconds.

The Lions hosted the Bills back in 1976, and Bills star OJ Simpson ran for 273 yards against the Lions defense, which is still the sixth most running yards in a single game in NFL history. The Lions won though 27-14. Simpson is remembered for many other things now.

Born and raised in Louisiana, Darren Cooper has a fond appreciation for bayous, Mardi Gras beads and the sports betting industry. Darren has worked for multiple print and online publications since 1998, primarily as a sports columnist in the Northeast. He’s covered a Super Bowl (it was a blowout), the World Series (same) and the NBA Draft (man, those guys are tall). For the last few years he’s dug deep into the sports gambling industry as it exploded across America, learning how the legal sausage is made and how while all the sportsbooks look the same, they all have different identities and styles. He’s learned to always bet within his means -- and take the under. When not in front of his computer creating, Darren spends time with his three boys. He runs, reads and is always looking for the next big thing to write about.