Why Do The Detroit Lions Always Play On Thanksgiving?

Of all the traditions we have for Thanksgiving, if there is a football game on the television, you can be sure that the Detroit Lions will be playing. For most of us, this is the only time we even take notice of the Lions. They are usually horrible.

So why are we forced to watch the Detroit Lions as we consume our Thanksgiving meals?

The Lions have played on Thanksgiving Day since 1934 when they lost to the Chicago Bears 19-16. The game was played before a record crowd of 26,000 at University of Detroit Stadium. The Bears clinched the NFL’s Western Division title with the win over the Lions. Detroit actually had a 16-7 lead at halftime before the Bears came back in the second half with two field goals then a fourth quarter interception by Joe Zeller returned the ball to the Lion’s four-yard line. Bronko Nagurski tossed the game-winning touchdown pass to Bill Hewitt.

In fact, they played the Bears in the first six Thanksgiving Day games.

George A. Richards, who was the Lions’ owner at the time is the one to blame. He decided to use the Thanksgiving Day game as a marketing idea to attract more fans. Richards also owned a radio station which was an affiliate of NBC. So, a little influence in the media markets developed what is today’s Thanksgiving tradition of watching the Detroit Lions. This is why most folks are enjoying a nice nap after their Thanksgiving meal.

The Lions haven’t been a dominate team on Turkey Day as they have a 37-41-2 record in the games. Their longest winning streak was six games from 1950-1955. The longest losing streak the series was from 2004-2012 losing nine straight games. The Lions did not play from 1939-1944 due to World War II.

The only team that the Lions have not yet played on Thanksgiving Day are the Jacksonville Jaguars. The most common teams the Lions have played are the Green Bay Packers (21 times) and Chicago Bears (18 times).

This year the Lions will play their 81st game on Thanksgiving Day against the Houston Texans. Both teams enter the game with losing records (4-6 and 3-7 respectively). The Texans have only played once before in 2012.

Other teams have played on Thanksgiving Day which do not involve the Detroit Lions. The Dallas Cowboys have traditionally played the game after the Lions. In overall Thanksgiving games, the New Orleans Saints (3-0), Baltimore Ravens (2-0), Carolina Panthers (1-0) and Houston Texans (1-0) are undefeated on Thanksgiving Day.

So once again the Lions will play on what will be the COVID edition of the Thanksgiving Day game. This year’s game will set the record for least number of fans attending as no fans will be allowed to attend due to Michigan’s emergency order prohibiting large gatherings due to recent spikes in COVID-19 cases.