Why do the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions always play on Thanksgiving?

Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten fends off Detroit Lions linebacker Jarrad Davis during the Cowboys' win on Nov. 17.
(Rey Del Rio / Getty Images)

For as long as most of us can remember, the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions have played games on Thanksgiving Day. But why?

Let’s start with the Lions. They have played every Thanksgiving since 1934, with the exception of 1939-44, despite the fact they haven’t been a good team most of those years. The Lions played their first season in Detroit in 1934 (before that, they were the Portsmouth Spartans). They struggled their first year in Detroit, as most sports fans there loved baseball’s Detroit Tigers and didn’t come out in droves to watch the Lions. So Lions owner George A. Richards had an idea: Why not play on Thanksgiving?

Richards also owned radio station WJR, which was one of the biggest stations in the country at that time. Richards had a lot of clout in the broadcasting world, and convinced NBC to show the game nationwide. The NFL champion Chicago Bears came to town, and the Lions sold out the 26,000-seat University of Detroit field for the first time. Richards kept the tradition going the next two years, and the NFL kept scheduling them on Thanksgiving when they resumed playing on that date after World War II ended. Richards sold the team in 1940 and died in 1951, but the tradition he started continues today when the Lions play ... the Chicago Bears.

The Cowboys first played on Thanksgiving in 1966. They came into the league in 1960 and, as hard as it is to believe now, struggled to draw fans because they were pretty bad those first few years. General manager Tex Schramm basically begged the NFL to schedule them for a Thanksgiving game in 1966, thinking it might get them a popularity boost in Dallas and also nationwide since the game would be televised.


It worked. A Dallas-record 80,259 tickets were sold as the Cowboys defeated the Cleveland Browns, 26-14. Some Cowboys fans point to that game as the beginning of Dallas becoming “America’s team.” They have only missed playing on Thanksgiving in 1975 and 1977, when NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle opted for the St. Louis Cardinals instead.

The games with the Cardinals proved to be losers in the ratings, so Rozelle asked the Cowboys if they would play again in 1978.

“It was a dud in St. Louis,” Schramm told the Chicago Tribune in 1998. “Pete asked if we’d take it back. I said only if we get it permanently. It’s something you have to build as a tradition. He said, ‘It’s yours forever.’ ”

Dallas takes on the Buffalo Bills on Thursday.


Amazing grace

Nate Bain raced downcourt with time running out and scored on a layup Tuesday night to give Stephen F. Austin an amazing 85-83 overtime victory over Duke, ending the Blue Devils’ 150-game home winning streak against non-conference opponents.

Bain, a senior from the Bahamas, gave an on-court interview and held back tears when mentioning what a tough year it had been. The home his family lived in was destroyed by Hurricane Dorian this year.

“My family lost a whole lot this year,” an emotional Bain said. “I’m not going to cry on TV.”

But some great news was happening for Bain, though he didn’t know it at that time.

Officials at Stephen F. Austin had set up an NCAA-approved GoFundMe page for Bain back in September. Students at Stephen F. Austin started sharing that page on social media after the win, and as of early Wednesday afternoon, it had raised a little over $69,000, easily surpassing the $50,000 goal. Judging by some of the comments, a few of the donors were Duke fans.


So there’s something we can all be thankful for on this day.