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Why do the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys play every Thanksgiving?

Find out when and how the Lions and the Cowboys started their Thanksgiving tradition in the NFL

Find out when and how the Lions and the Cowboys started their Thanksgiving tradition in the NFL

There is one team in the NFL that decided thanksgiving wasn’t just for eating turkey and giving thanks.

Back in 1934 on Thanksgiving Day, Detroit Lions owner George A. Richards came up with the idea to play Football on the holiday in order to draw more fans, and his tradition has continued ever since.

Richards was remembered for his marketing understanding, and his Thanksgiving plan was an instantaneous hit. The Lions at the time weren’t bringing much of a crowd because the Detroit Tigers were the city’s main sports attraction. But on that Thanksgiving, the Lions sold out the stadium and had to return people away at the gates.

The Lions lost to the Bears, but a new team tradition was born.

Other teams had played on Thanksgiving before 1934, but the Lions were distinctive because Richards held a radio station, a primary affiliate of the NBC Blue Network. Richards arranged an agreement with NBC to broadcast his Thanksgiving games on 94 stations across the country.

The Cowboys came late to the party

In 1966, the Cowboys also started the tradition of playing Thanksgiving football. The team’s general manager, Tex Schramm, wanted the Cowboys to play to get the team more publicity. Maybe it was luck or great marketing, but the Cowboys have certainly had their fair share of publicity since then.

80,259 fans attended the game in 1966, and since then the Cowboys have never looked back. They have played every Thanksgiving since and have even become known as ‘America’s football team.’

Since 1978, the Lions and Cowboys have hosted a game on Thanksgiving every year. Detroit regularly plays the early game, tailgated by Dallas in the late afternoon, and a rotating prime-time matchup was added in 2006.