11-20-15-Lions + Thanksgiving since 1934

Friday, November 20, 2015

Among the longstanding traditions with which Troy residents will celebrate Thanksgiving, on November 26, 2015, is inviting the Detroit Lions into our homes for a game of Thanksgiving football. This year marks the 76th time that the Lions have played football on Thanksgiving Day. The series began in 1934, when George A. Richards purchased the team and moved the Lions to Detroit from Portsmouth, Ohio. Richards originated the Thanksgiving game in an effort to raise the profile of his team, which was overshadowed by the Tigers and the Red Wings, among sports fans in Detroit.

The Lions’ opponent, for the first Thanksgiving game, was the Chicago Bears, the undefeated, defending World Champions. Richards convinced the NBC Radio Network to give the game nation-wide coverage. Although the Lions’ largest pre-holiday crowd had been 15,000, the Thanksgiving game brought 26,000 fans to fill the University of Detroit Stadium, and thousands of others were unable to squeeze in.

The Bears won the game, 19-16, but a Lions’ tradition was established. Since 1934, the team has played 75 games, with a six-year hiatus during World War II, and the Lions’ series record is 35-38-2. Some games, including the following, were particularly memorable:

  • In 1956, in the first Thanksgiving game on national television, Detroit defeated the Green Bay Packers 52-35, in the highest scoring game in the series;
  • In 1989, Barry Sanders’s rookie year and the 50th Thanksgiving game, the Lions upset the favored Cleveland Browns, with 145 rushing and 44 passing yards from Sanders;
  • And in 1998, only the second overtime Thanksgiving game, Sanders became the second back in NFL history to reach 15,000 yards, and the Lions defeated the Steelers on a 42-yard field goal by Jason Hansen.

On Thanksgiving 2015, the Thanksgiving series, which this year features the Lions and the Philadelphia Eagles, will kick off at 12:30 p.m. The success of the game has led to additional Thanksgiving games at 4:30 (Carolina Panthers vs Dallas Cowboys) and 8:30 p.m. (Green Bay Packers vs Chicago Bears), an abundance for which we may, or may not, give thanks.



To commemorate the City of Troy’s 60th Anniversary in 2015, we will publish a different story each day that highlights a person, discovery, or event that occurred locally, regionally, nationally, or even globally between 1955 and 2015 and that helped shape our lives and our community. We will try to post stories on important anniversary dates, but we also realize that dates are less critical than content and context. We will include the facts related to controversial stories, allowing our readers to form their own opinions. We invite you to read and comment on the stories. Your suggestions for topics are also welcome and can be posted on our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/TroyHistoricVillage. You can also email stories or ideas to the 365 Story Editor at ed@thvmail.org.

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