How the Football Thanksgiving Tradition First Kicked Off

History

| LAST UPDATE 11/21/2022

By Amie Alfaro
Lions Bears NFL thanksgiving
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Nowadays, American football is synonymous with Thanksgiving. The two almost always go hand in hand. Where there is a turkey, there is a touchdown. Except, it wasn’t always this way. Let’s take a look back at how exactly football became part of the Thanksgiving tradition.

The game had been played on Thanksgiving Day for decades now, but it was mostly colleges and high school teams playing on the holiday. It wasn’t until 1934 that it became widely popular and part of the tradition. So, what happened? Sometime in March 1934, Lions owner George A. Richards was trying to figure out ways to boost ticket sales and get people to come to the football games in a city where the baseball team, the Detroit Tigers, was the fan favorite. So, Richards made a few calls, most notably to Chicago Bears owner and coach George Halas to persuade him to play against the Lions on Thanksgiving morning. He also called the NBC Radio Network to convince them to broadcast the game nationally across their 94 stations.

Detroit Lions Thanksgiving football
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Richards was onto something. The ticket sales for the game skyrocketed, and there were approximately 26,000 fans who attended the sold-out game at the University of Detroit Stadium. This was the largest crowd at the time to watch professional football in Detroit, according to History. The radio broadcast between the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears was also widely popular. People from all over the country were tuning in to see what happened between the 10-1 Lions and the 11-0 Bears. The Detroit Lions went on to defeat the Chicago Bears that Thanksgiving game, 14-2, which ultimately helped them win the Western Division title. Since that first game in 1934, the Detroit Lions have hosted a Thanksgiving game every year, excluding 1939-44 due to World War II. They continued to make history with the 1953 game against the Green Bay Packers. That Thanksgiving game was the first to be televised nationally by the Dumon Television Network, one of the first commercial TV networks in the United States.

The origins of football go back decades, as do the traditions of Thanksgiving. Will the Detroit Lions win this year? We’ll have to wait for Thanksgiving Day to see. Stay tuned.

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