Football and Thanksgiving go together like turkey and stuffing with the NFL’s Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys acting as the nation’s yearly hosts for Turkey Day football fare.
The Lions host the Green Bay Packers at 12:30 p.m. EST while the Cowboys take on the Oakland Raiders at 1:15 PST on the CBS Network.
The Lions have been a part of Thanksgiving Day football tradition since 1934 when owner George A. Richards set up a game with the Chicago Bears in the hopes of boosting attendance. The game quickly became a fixture with the Lions usually hosting the Green Bay Packers in the annually Turkey Day contest. Detroit and Green Bay have met 18 times on Thanksgiving Day, including 13 years in a row between 1951 and 1963. No two teams have met more often on the last Thursday in November than the Lions and the Packers.
Dallas, meanwhile, has played on every Thanksgiving Day since 1966 (except 1975 and 1977) and boasts a 26-14-1 record during that span.
Thanksgiving Day football has produced some of the more memorable games in NFL history. Red Grange made his debut on Thanksgiving Day in 1925; CBS was the first network to televise a Turkey Day Classic in 1956; and O.J. Simpson set an NFL record with 273 yards rushing against the Lions on Thanksgiving Day in 1976.
The Cowboys have had some memorable moments on Thanksgiving Day, including the unlikely comeback win over the Washington Redskins by unheralded backup quarterback Clint Longley in 1974, and the Leon Lett fumble in the snow that allowed the Miami Dolphins to win in the last seconds of the game in 1993.
However, while the NFL and Thanksgiving have produced many memories over the years, it can’t compare to the rivalries and traditions, some over 100 years old, which exist in high school football.
The oldest high school rivalry in the country has played its annual contest on Thanksgiving Day for the majority of its 135-year history. Norwich Free Academy and New London (formally Bulkeley) of Connecticut have played since 1875, with Norwich Free Academy holding a 74-61-11 edge. Not all of the games have been played on Thanksgiving, however, as the Turkey Day tradition didn’t begin until around the 1920s. Norwich Free Academy enters this year’s game at 4-5 while New London is 9-0 and ranked No. 3 in the state by MaxPreps.
The matchup between these two schools is one of 47 Thanksgiving Day games in Connecticut, which features longstanding rivalries like Ansonia vs. Naugatuck (110 years) and Shelton vs. Derby (106 years).
The longest-standing Thanksgiving Day contest features two of the nation’s oldest schools – Boston Latin and Boston English. Boston Latin is the oldest school in the country, established in 1635. Boston English was established in 1821, and the two schools have played football on Thanksgiving Day every year since 1887.
Boston Latin has simply dominated the event since the 1950s, winning 40 of the last 43 contests and holding a 73-36-13 overall advantage. In 2007 and 2008, Boston Latin went 0-10 in the regular season, but the Wolfpack still managed to salvage the season with wins over Boston English on Thanksgiving Day.
The longest-standing Thanksgiving Day rivalry between two Catholic prep schools pits Calvert Hall and Loyola Blakefield in a tradition that has spanned nearly 90 years. Loyola has the overall edge at 48-33-8 including last year’s game when Loyola won 35-0 and completed an 11-0 season. This year, both teams are out of the Maryland state playoffs and have not played for two weeks. They will suit up Thanksgiving Day morning and play at M&T Bank Stadium, which is the home of the Baltimore Ravens.
The annual Thanksgiving Day contest between Phillipsburg and Easton has an entire Web site devoted to its annual clash, which was dubbed by Sports Illustrated as one of the nation’s best rivalries back in 1994.
The Stateliner Game pits two teams that reside on opposite banks of the Delaware River. Easton is located in Pennsylvania while Phillipsburg is in New Jersey. The two teams have played since 1905 and have played on Thanksgiving Day every year since 1916.
The rivalry gained considerable attention this year when Gatorade sponsored a "replay" game between the two schools, pitting the members of the 1993 teams that tied 7-7. Played on April 25, Phillipsburg won the Replay Game 27-12, but Easton has won the last three games and leads the overall series 57-40-5.
Easton, the second-winningest program in the state of Pennsylvania with 754 wins, is 11-1 on the season entering this year’s Stateliner game and is scheduled to play Parkland on Nov. 28 – just two days after the matchup with Phillipsburg. Phillipsburg, which is the winningest high school football program in New Jersey history with 610 wins, is also in the playoffs and will play Ridge in the North 2 Group 4 championship game on Dec. 5.
Turkey Day games are such a tradition in New Jersey that the state playoffs are scheduled around the Thanksgiving weekend. No playoff games are held during the week, and a total of 78 games are scheduled for Thanksgiving Day, highlighted by the Stateliner Game.
In Missouri, the state championship games will be held on Friday and Saturday, but an even more historic matchup takes place on Thursday when Webster Groves and Kirkwood meet at noon in the 102nd Turkey Day Game.
The two small neighboring towns west of St. Louis have played for over a century in a game steeped in tradition. How many high school football rivalries have a book written about it? The Turkey Day Game does. Called "Turkey Day Game Centennial" by Shawn Greene, the 216-page book chronicles over 100 years of Turkey Day tradition. The winner of the Turkey Day Game receives the Frisco Bell while the loser receivers the Little Brown Jug. Other events surrounding the game include a Friendship Dance, pep rallies and bonfires. The contest is considered the longest-standing Thanksgiving Day game played west of the Mississippi River. Kirkwood leads the overall series 49-38-5.
This year’s Turkey Day contest won’t be a varsity game, however, as Webster Groves (12-0) has reached the state championship game and will play Fort Osage in the Show Me Bowl championship at the Edward Jones Dome. The frosh-soph teams will compete instead of the varsity, which has become a Turkey Day tradition whenever one of the two varsity squads has advanced to the state finals.
On the West Coast, there is a pair of traditional Thanksgiving Day gridiron battles. In the San Jose Big Bone Game, San Jose Academy squares off against appropriately named Abraham Lincoln High School, since it was Lincoln who ordered by proclamation in 1863 that the United States observe Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday.
The Big Bone game got its start in 1945 as a regular Thanksgiving Day contest. The game gets its name for the prize the two teams vie for – a cow femur mounted on a wooden block that lists the results of all past Big Bone games.
Lincoln and San Jose Academy play in the 66th Big Bone game on Thursday at San Jose City College. The two teams have turned down invitations to the postseason in order to participate in the Big Bone Game. In 2005, Lincoln was 8-0-1 and won the Santa Teresa League, but forfeited a spot in the playoff in order to face San Jose Academy. The Lions won that year 56-20.
Playoffs weren’t much of a concern for either team this year. San Jose Academy is 4-5 on the season while Lincoln has slumped to 0-9 after winning at least six games in each of its last five seasons. The scenario is a near-reversal of last year when San Jose Academy entered the contest at 0-9 and Lincoln was 5-4. The Lions won that game 57-0 and has won 11 straight Big Bone games.
In San Francisco, the annual clash for the City Championship is on the line in the San Francisco Turkey Bowl. While not a traditional battle between the same two teams, the Turkey Bowl pits the top two teams in the Academic Athletic Association for city bragging rights. The game has been played every year since 1924 and is held at venerable Kezar Stadium. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Lincoln High School has won the last four Turkey Bowl Games and is scheduled to take on Galileo in this year’s matchup.