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The NFL Has A Thanksgiving Problem: Tradition

The NFL’s Thanksgiving tradition continues, but should it?

For as long as I can remember, the NFL’s Thanksgiving tradition includes the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions. A few years ago, the league added a third game in their Thursday Night Football time slot. This tradition in the NFL has yielded many different results over the years.

There have been times when the Lions and the Cowboys have been competitive during the regular season and the Thanksgiving games were great. There have also been some blunders throughout history and the time has come for a change. Before I propose that change, let’s take a walk down memory lane and revisit a few of those memorable and not-so-memorable games.

Good: 1994 Dallas Cowboys 42, Green Bay Packers 31

Cowboys Thanksgiving Game
Photo: Joseph Patronite/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys ended the 1994 season atop the NFC East division with a final record of 12-4. One of the greatest achievements in reaching that record was the comeback victory against the Packers on Thanksgiving Day. Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman was unavailable for this game due to injury. Who was going to lead the Cowboys in this huge game against a talented Packers team? You guessed it: future Cowboys head coach and consummate clapper Jason Garrett.

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The Cowboys were down 17-3 in the first half and only managed a second field goal by halftime. America’s team had scored an abysmal six points in the first half and it wasn’t pretty. In the second half, the Cowboys erupted to outscore the Packers 36-14 and win by a final score of 42-31.

Packers’ wide receiver Sterling Sharpe had a hell of a day, catching all four of Brett Favre’s touchdowns and logging over 100 yards receiving. Cowboys’ running back Emmitt Smith led the team with over 130 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Jason Garrett may have been out-dueled by Favre, but he still threw for over 300 yards in addition to two scores. This was a comeback for the ages that will always be remembered.

The two teams met again in the Divisional Round of the NFC playoffs where Dallas demolished Green Bay 35-9.

Bad: 2012 New England Patriots 49, New York Jets 19 – The Butt Fumble Game

Jets Butt Fumble
Photo: Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY

The Thanksgiving tradition of having NFL football works its magic when we get the aforementioned game like Dallas and Green Bay. It seems like every other year we get a real stinker on the schedule. Enter the New England Patriots and the New York Jets.

The Patriots were coming off their loss to the Giants in the Super Bowl and the Jets had a record of 8-8 in the previous season. Even before the season began, no one expected this to be a phenomenal Thanksgiving Day matchup. This game was dictated solely by the ratings-chasers in the NFL. The driving force behind the decision was undoubtedly the team markets and the fans suffered through this indulgence — sort of.

This game was over by halftime. The Patriots scored 35 unanswered points in the second quarter alone. Tom Brady threw touchdowns to Wes Welker, Shane Vereen, and Julian Edelman. The other two scores came from the defense and special teams, including the infamous Mark Sanchez butt fumble.

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In the second half, the Jets managed a couple of scores and the Patriots increased their lead with one of Tom Brady’s legendary one-yard rushing touchdowns. This game was never even close. It shouldn’t have been scheduled for the highest of the primetime slots: Thursday Night Football on Thanksgiving. The only thing that salvaged this game was the cheeky highlight of that fumble. It had everyone talking around the water cooler following the long weekend on Monday morning.

Thanksgiving Day Football 2020

In 2020, we get the typical three games including Dallas and Detroit. This season Dallas has been a mess. They were crippled by the injury to Dak Prescott and then later Andy Dalton. The entire NFC East has been total garbage this season. Dallas has already been on primetime television three times before this game and still has two to go after it.

They face the Washington Football team in this Thanksgiving NFC East showdown. Washington has also been terrible this year with their own slough of troubles. It’s fair to say the entirety of the NFL fandom has seen enough of the NFC East this season.

The Detroit Lions Thanksgiving tradition of sitting at the bottom of the NFC North playing on this holiday continues as they face the Houston Texans. The Texans would be at the bottom of the AFC South if it weren’t for the Jaguars. As much as I love Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt, the Lions should beat them easily. The matchup has no intrigue here. Neither team is battling for their division. Neither team is going to make the playoffs either. This game was a stinker in the making, thanks to the Texans’ massively disappointing year.

The Thursday Night Football game is the most exciting. The Baltimore Ravens take on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both teams have been fun to watch and should be fighting for that AFC North crown until the end. I personally cannot wait for this game, but here is my issue:

By the time Thursday Night Football kicks off, who is actually still awake and not in a turkey coma?

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The 2020 Thanksgiving holiday will be different than years past, but let’s assume people are together for the holidays. Why should we football fans be forced to sit through two crappy games during the day? Do they expect us not to over-indulge in Thanksgiving food and stay awake for the one good game this year?

My Proposal: New Thanksgiving Tradition

In the spirit of treating the fans to a real show, I propose this to Roger Goodell and the NFL:

Leave the Thanksgiving Day Football games blank. Flex the Sunday games following Thanksgiving with the most intrigue into these spots. Please forego only thinking of the ratings. Give the fans who don’t get to watch every game on Sunday the chance to watch three incredibly interesting stories.

The Chiefs/Buccaneers or the Chargers/Bills games would be way more enticing than the early games this year. I would also love to see the Colts/Titans game, although they recently played on Thursday Night Football.

This proposal is nothing more than wishes because the chances of the NFL doing something like this are slim to none. Maybe one day the league will change the way they schedule Thanksgiving, but it won’t be any time soon. Hopefully someday the Thanksgiving tradition that is will become the Thanksgiving tradition that was.


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Husband and father, Chicago (mostly) sports fan, total gym rat and geek enthusiast. I write for OnTapSportsNet and talk fantasy football on the Fantasy Hour On Tap. Gaming, movies, TV shows, books, and bodybuilding/strongman are some of my other passions. A good-tasting white ale goes well with any sporting event. #Crackum

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