Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward knows the drill.
Thursday when his team takes the field in Dallas to play the Cowboys, it’ll be a tremendous opportunity. Every football fan near a television will be watching. There will be no Red Zone channel or other games to distract attention.
Thanksgiving football is an event — with consequences.
“It gives you the opportunity to really suck or really be good, and everybody notices,” Hayward said with a chuckle. “So if you’re really good, a lot of good things will come out of it, but if you suck, don’t get on Twitter.”
According to TV ratings, 35.1 million people tuned in to watch the Cowboys host Washington a year ago. There’s little question that Thursday’s game will be the biggest stage the Los Angeles Chargers have stepped onto.
“I had an opportunity to play on Thanksgiving Day,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “Playing two Super Bowls in Denver, and playing on Thanksgiving Day in Dallas — it may be the second-largest game in the league other than playing in the Super Bowl. So it really is an honor to play in that game.”
It’s a blessing for the Chargers as well, a team desperate to share their new brand with the country as they fight for attention in their market in Los Angeles.
By scheduling them for the marquee Thanksgiving game, the NFL schedule magicians blessed the Chargers with a chance to introduce themselves as one of Los Angeles’ teams to an audience forced to choose between the game and Uncle Jim’s unpopular opinions about politics.
It’s no coincidence the team will wear its powder-blue uniforms — one of the most popular in the NFL — for the showcase game.
“These are the games that we look forward to in the league,” rookie receiver Mike Williams said. “It’s on Thanksgiving, and everybody’s watching.”
For a team that plays in the league’s smallest stadium, Thursday will be a chance to show a massive audience its capabilities while giving Chargers’ players a chance to live out boyhood dreams.
The team has not played in a Thanksgiving game since 1969 — a win over the Houston Oilers — and hasn’t made a trip to the Super Bowl since 1995.
“Obviously growing up in a football family, we were certainly watching on Thanksgiving,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “But I think even the families that aren’t really into football are watching. It goes with it, especially that mid-afternoon game. It’s awesome. You’ve always known forever the Cowboys and the Lions are playing afternoon games. So to get that opportunity, it’s definitely awesome.”
While most of the Chargers players and coaches have spoken about Thursday’s game with reverence, defensive end Chris McCain brushed it off.
“Just another day of work,” he said.
McCain said there’s no time for nostalgia — at least not with the stakes this high.
Despite starting 0-4, the Chargers are still in fairly decent position to make a run at the final spot in the AFC playoffs. They’re surrounded in a pool of mediocrity, a game back of the Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills and tied with the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders.
Of those teams, the Chargers might have the most talent, with game-changers such as Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa, Keenan Allen and Hayward all having terrific seasons.
It’s why Thursday’s game won’t be a “big” one just because it’s being played on Thanksgiving against “America’s Team” in a grandiose stadium in Dallas.
“Outside of playoff games, I don’t know that there’s any bigger stage or game than Thanksgiving,” Rivers said. “The Cowboys are obviously, that emblem and logo. And the Cowboys are as well-known as any team in all of football on any level obviously. Going to their place and playing on Thanksgiving … it’s certainly a big-time game more so because of what’s riding on it for our season.
“Throw in the fact it’s Thanksgiving, and it’s even better.”