Why Detroit Lions, Dallas Cowboys always play on Thanksgiving: What to know about football tradition

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The NFL on Thanksgiving Day has featured some memorable moments, from Clint Longley leading a Cowboys comeback in 1974 and a national TV showcase for the incomparable Barry Sanders to the infamous Butt Fumble in 2012 and Leon Lett’s blunder in 1993.

NFL games on Thanksgiving have been a tradition since the league’s inception in 1920 (there were six games that first season!).

This season will feature three games: the Detroit Lions hosting the Buffalo Bills (12:30 p.m. ET, CBS); the Dallas Cowboys hosting the New York Giants (4:30 p.m. ET, FOX); and the Minnesota Vikings hosting the New England Patriots (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC) to cap off the heaping helping of football action.

A third prime-time game was added in 2006, and includes teams other than the Lions and Cowboys, who each play their traditional Thanksgiving home games.

Why do the Lions always play on Thanksgiving?

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Fans wear Thanksgiving outfits during the game between the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears at Ford Field on Nov. 25, 2021.

Watching the Detroit Lions lose on Thanksgiving Day has become a holiday tradition unlike any other. The Lions have lost their last five Thanksgiving Day games, and sport a 37-43-2 all-time record on Turkey Day.

If you find yourself cursing the fact that the Lions always play on Thanksgiving, you can blame George A. Richards. In 1934, Richards purchased the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans for the sum of $8,000 and moved the team to Detroit, renaming the team the Lions (inspired by the local baseball team, the Tigers). 

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