85 years on, and NFL is still the big draw at Thanksgiving

It is Thanksgiving this week and while, in the UK, this holiday is meaningless, to those of us who follow the NFL it means a Thursday night of hogging the TV, and watching three games back-to-back, two of which always involve the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys.

Carolina Panthers kicker Joey Slye, left, reacts after missing a field goal late in the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Saints. Picture: Butch Dill/AP
Carolina Panthers kicker Joey Slye, left, reacts after missing a field goal late in the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Saints. Picture: Butch Dill/AP

The Lions have played their now-traditional Thanksgiving day game since 1934, when then-owner George A Richards took his fledgling team and hit on the idea of a game that he could syndicate across his 94 radio stations. The ploy worked, no doubt helped by the one-loss Lions hosting defending champions Chicago Bears in a winner-takes-all game.

Over 30 years later the Cowboys began their tradition with a home game against the Cleveland Browns in 1966. The move was deemed a risky one, so the league even guaranteed a certain amount of compensation if no tickets were sold. They needn’t have worried as that day the Cowboys managed to get a little over 80,000 people into the Cotton Bowl.

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Forty years later the NFL added a third game to round out a full nine hours-plus of football for families to gather around and argue over.

But the holiday itself is more than just “Turkey and Football” and in a day and age with increased division, increased distance caused by electronics, the day of Thanksgiving is about tradition, family and friends. An American friend of mine talks about how every year at half-time in the first game his father and he would head to the garden and play catch, well into his 30s.

The idea that this midweek holiday would bring a country to a standstill just before the Christmas break seems almost impossible in the consumer-driven society that we live. Still, even Americans find time to close up shop and enjoy a family meal.

We have Boxing Day football here, which tends to be the Christmas 
tradition in the UK. But what Thanksgiving gives is a shared viewing experience that last year saw each game garner at least 25 million viewers.

But more than TV, more than football, Thanksgiving is a time to bring everyone together. We often forget in these turbulent times that, while we stand on opposite sides of the field, in many aspects sitting at the same table, even supporting different teams, can help us mend those divides.

Around the league at the weekend the New England Patriots continued to rely heavily on the defence as, dare I say it, Tom Brady’s numbers are not what they once were. Still, the 
Patriots’ 13-9 win over Dallas means its 17 straight seasons where they have won at least ten games.

The Bills kept the pressure on the Pats with a solid if unspectacular 20-3 win over Denver in a blustery Buffalo. San Francisco 49ers look like strong Super Bowl candidates after humbling the Green Bay Packers 37-8. The Niners held Aaron Rodgers to just one completion in the first half as they jumped to a 23-0 lead.

Seattle travelled into 
Philadelphia, and through a stout defensive performance managed to eke out a 17-9 win. The win puts Seattle firmly in the wildcard seat, but with a week-17 game against the 49ers, they could still take the top spot in the NFC.

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New Orleans held on to beat the Carolina Panthers in a game that Panthers kicker Joey Slye will do his best to forget. Slye missed two extra points in the game before missing a chance at a gaming-winning field goal. To make matters worse, the Saints then moved down the field, and Will Lutz put his own field goal through the posts to secure a 34-31 win for New Orleans.

Houston Texans are following last year’s model of “turn it around in the second half” as they picked up another vital win. Their 20-17 victory over 
Indianapolis gives them 
separation at the top of the AFC South.

Washington picked up their second win of the season but not before making their fans suffer. The DC-based team led 13-3 before giving up the lead and falling 16-13 behind. Two late drives and a final field goal gave them a much needed 19-16 win over a disappointing Detroit Lions.