Thanksgiving Isn’t the Same Without Football

Besides the mass killing of turkeys on Thanksgiving, there’s another tradition that Americans devour every last Thursday in November. Football.

Perhaps the reason for that is because both appeared at nearly the same time in American history. President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. While the first American football game was played on November 6, 1869 between Rutgers and Princeton. Since then, both have become two of the most iconic and important traditions in the U.S.

So, here’s a glimpse of football and Thanksgiving intersecting to make one awesome holiday.

The longest running Turkey Day Games or Turkey Bowl traditions can be found in high schools. There are plenty of schools that have been playing football on Thanksgiving for over a hundred years. In fact, in some regions these rivalries could be considered bigger than the NFL.

For example, there’s Norwich Free Academy and New London (formerly Bulkeley) in Connecticut who have been squaring off since 1875, however not every game has been played on Turkey Day. In all, Connecticut has 47 games played on this day.

The oldest continuous rivalry is between Boston Latin and Boston English, who have been battling since 1887. While the oldest rivalry between Catholic schools, Loyola Blakefield and Calvert Hall, is such a big deal that it’s played at M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens.

The Stateliner Game between Phillipsburg (NJ) and Easton (PA) has been going on since 1905. It’s such a pivotal game that Sports Illustrated called it one of the nation’s best rivalries in 1994. In fact, Turkey Day games are a huge deal in New Jersey overall. There’s close to 80 games, many of which have surpassed or close to the century-mark, and the state playoff schedule is based around Thanksgiving.

In Missouri, Webster Grooves and Kirkwood have held their annual Turkey Day Game since 1907. It’s the oldest football rivalry west of the Mississippi. The match-up is so popular that there’s a book on it called Turkey Day Game Continental.

In California, there’s the Big Bone Game between San Jose Academy and Abraham Lincoln High School, which has been taking place since 1945.

And trust us, there many other high school rivalries across the country, which include state championships and playoffs in New York, Missouri and Ohio.

As for colleges, there are a number of classics played on Thanksgiving weekend.

Some of these include Auburn vs. Alabama (Iron Bowl), Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State (Battle of the Golden Egg), Georgia vs. Georgia Tech (Clean, Old Fashioned Hate), Clemson vs. South Carolina (Palmetto Bowl), Florida vs. Florida State (Sunshine Showdown), Pitt vs. West Virginia (Backyard Brawl), Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State (Bedlam Series) and Texas vs. Texas A&M (Lone Star Showdown).

The game between Alabama State University and Tuskegee University has been played on Thanksgiving Day annually since 1924. It is also the oldest black college football classic, since the two colleges first played each other in 1901.

As for the NFL, there are two teams we always expect to see. However, there have been Thanksgiving Day games occurring since the 1920s when the league was just eleven teams. But, professional games had previously been held since 1902.

The Detroit Lions have been playing a Thanksgiving Day game since 1934, which was also the same year that the team moved from Portsmouth, Ohio (known as the Spartans then). The Lions first Turkey Day battle was against the World Champion Chicago Bears. The classic clash sold some 26,000 tickets.

The Dallas Cowboys have been partaking in the Turkey Day Game since 1966, but missed the 1975 and 1977 games. Their first Thanksgiving game was a victory over the Cleveland Browns.

In 2006, the NFL added a third game.

This year we have Dallas vs. Miami, a fantastic NFC North battle between Detroit and Green Bay, and the Harbaugh Bowl between Baltimore and San Francisco.

Leave a Comment