Thanksgiving Football In 2024 A History Of Facts, Stats, And Memorable Moments6 min read

Thanksgiving Football In 2024 A History Of Facts, Stats, And Memorable Moments<span class="wtr-time-wrap after-title"><span class="wtr-time-number">6</span> min read</span>
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American football and Thanksgiving go together like turkey and gravy. Since the first Thanksgiving football game between Princeton and Yale in 1876, the sport has become deeply intertwined with the holiday traditions of family, food, and fellowship.

As we look ahead to Thanksgiving 2024, here is a compilation of fascinating facts, figures, records, and insights into the history of football on Turkey Day over the years.


●   The first documented Thanksgiving football game occurred in 1876 between Yale and Princeton colleges. The inaugural NFL Thanksgiving game followed in 1934 between the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears.

●   The Detroit Lions have played in and won the most Thanksgiving games overall (83 appearances, 37 wins). They are the team that started the NFL’s holiday tradition back in 1934.

●   To date, the Jacksonville Jaguars remain the only NFL team to have never played in a Thanksgiving game. As one of the younger teams, founded in 1995, they have yet to be part of the tradition.

●   On Thanksgiving 1993, the Dolphins vs. Cowboys game set records for the coldest conditions ever seen, with temperatures plummeting to between 23-35°F. It became an instant slippery classic!

●   Since 1989, the player deemed MVP of the Thanksgiving games has been awarded with a roasted turkey leg, a tradition introduced by legendary coach and commentator John Madden.

●   The Dallas Cowboys hold the best all-time Thanksgiving record across NFL teams, standing at 33 wins, 22 losses, and 1 tie, as of August 2024.

The Genesis of Thanksgiving Football

While professional football leagues are a relatively modern development, the tradition of playing football games on Thanksgiving dates back almost 150 years.

Thanksgiving Football In 2024 A History Of Facts, Stats, And Memorable Moments

First Thanksgiving Game – Yale vs Princeton, November 1876

The inaugural game pitting Yale against Princeton took place on November 23, 1876 at Hoboken’s Elysian Fields in New Jersey. Close to 1,000 hardy spectators braved the cold rain and muddy conditions to watch Princeton defeat Yale.

This inaugural game set off a series of Thanksgiving football matchups between colleges played on neutral sites, helping popularize the fledgling sport. It became an annual tradition for Princeton and Yale for decades.

Thanksgiving Games Come to the NFL

Building on the popularity of the college games, NFL teams also started embracing Thanksgiving action.

The First Official NFL Thanksgiving Game – 1934

In 1934, the first officially recognized NFL Thanksgiving game saw the Chicago Bears take on the Detroit Lions, the newest team in the league back then.

This inaugural match proved a huge success, solidifying the future of NFL action on Thanksgiving. The Detroit Lions have since played in every Thanksgiving game since barring a few exceptions during World War 2.

Tradition Expands – Cowboys Join the Thanksiving Party

For over 30 years, the Lions hosted the only NFL Thanksgiving game. But increased interest saw this format change, with the Dallas Cowboys throwing their hat into the ring.

Cowboys First Thanksgiving Game – 1966

The organization scheduled its first Thanksgiving Day game in 1966, seeking to boost its visibility and popularity. Their high-scoring matchup against the Cleveland Browns broke franchise attendance records.

The team has only missed out on hosting duties twice since then in 1975 and 1977. Today, the Cowboys and Lions both host Thanksgiving games annually.

Third Thanksgiving Game Added – 2006

Thanksgiving Football In 2024 A History Of Facts, Stats, And Memorable Moments

In 2006, the NFL introduced a third Thanksgiving game to the schedule, featuring different teams that vary each year. This was to incorporate more of the league into its cherished Turkey Day traditions.

Thanksgiving Records, Stats, and Fun Facts

Beyond the key milestones, there have been many intriguing stats, broken records, and fun facts emerging from almost 150 years of Thanksgiving NFL action.

Most Thanksgiving Day Appearances

●   Detroit Lions83 appearances

●   Dallas Cowboys – 55 appearances

●   Chicago Bears – 37 appearances

●   Green Bay Packers – 36 appearances

To put it in perspective, the Lions have played 45 more Thanksgiving games than the next best team! Their dominance in this niche is clear.

Only Team Yet to Feature

Out of all current NFL franchises, only the Jacksonville Jaguars have yet to grace a Thanksgiving game since founding in 1995.

As one of the younger teams in a limited prime-time spot, they have missed out on being part of the Turkey Day custom so far.

Top Thanksgiving Passer – Matthew Stafford

Former Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford holds the record for most career Thanksgiving passing yards at over 3,000. He also shares the lead for most Thanksgiving passing touchdowns at 18.

Coldest Thanksgiving Game on Record

On Thanksgiving 1993, the Dolphins vs. Cowboys match played out in an incredible snowstorm with record cold conditions from 23-35°F. This instantly became known as the “Leon LettBlizzard Bowl”, named after the Cowboys player who slid and fumbled on the treacherously icy field!

Highest Scoring Thanksgiving Game

The 2018 college matchup between Texas A&M and LSU ended 74-72 after a record-tying 7 overtimes! This set records for both the highest scoring Thanksgiving and overall NCAA game yet seen.

Thanksgiving Football In 2024 A History Of Facts, Stats, And Memorable Moments

Turkey Leg Trophy Tradition

Since 1989, the player deemed MVP of the Thanksgiving games has been awarded with a roasted turkey leg, a fun tradition introduced by legendary coach and commentator John Madden. This tasty trophy has become an iconic part of Thanksgiving NFL fare!

Best Thanksgiving Winning Percentage

The Dallas Cowboys hold the highest Thanksgiving winning percentage out of teams with 10+ appearances. Their record stands at 33 wins, 22 losses, and 1 tie as of August 2024 – a win rate of 59.1%.

College Thanksgiving Traditions

Beyond the professionals, college football teams have cherished long-held Turkey Day traditions over the years too, despite a break in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Most Historic Rivals – Alabama State vs Tuskegee

The decades-long Turkey Day Classic pitting Alabama State against Tuskegee from 1924-2012 stands as the most recurring match in college Thanksgiving history. The teams have met a record 88 times and plan to restart the tradition in 2021!

Highest Attendance – Yale vs Princeton 1889

The 1889 game between early gridiron powerhouses Yale and Princeton drew a mammoth crowd of 25,000 spectators. This underscores the tremendous early popularity of college football in the late 1800s.

Why Do Teams Play on Thanksgiving?

For NFL teams, Thanksgiving games represent invaluable opportunities to boost their profiles and viewership ratings. The holiday fixtures traditionally draw large audiences tuning in after feasting. The extra attention brings money and new fans.

According to NFL calculations, the initial 1934 Thanksgiving matchup helped the Detroit Lions draw 20,000+ more additional attendees within a year. This triggered the team owners to realize the marketing and financial potential of these annual holiday showdowns.

Thanksgiving Football In 2024 A History Of Facts, Stats, And Memorable Moments

Over the decades, the Thanksgiving showdowns have provided memorable moments while increasing the sport’s exposure and revenue along the way. They look set to remain a cherished tradition for players and viewers alike for decades to come.

I hope you enjoyed this big-picture overview documenting key moments, records, and colorful stories around football on Thanksgiving over the years. Let me know if you need any clarification or have additional questions!