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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Football on Thanksgiving a Rooted Holiday Tradition

Football on Thanksgiving a Rooted Holiday Tradition
(Appeared on 11/25)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – A big old bird, a side of stuffing and a generous helping of football. This combination has defined Thanksgiving Day for many Americans over the past ninety years.

While records show pro football being played on Thanksgiving as early as 1902, it has been a regular occurrence since the National Football League’s inception in 1920. The first owner of the Detroit Lions, G.A. Richards, started the tradition as a gimmick to get people to go to Lions football games. In those days, the likes of such teams as the Canton Bulldogs, Dayton Triangles and Detroit Heralds were the combatants.

Since 1945, the Lions have played on Thanksgiving every year while the Dallas Cowboys have played every year since 1978. Since 2006, three games are played on Turkey Day. The first two are hosted by the Lions and Cowboys, with one team from each conference playing either team on a rotating basis, while a third game, which is played in the evening, has no fixed opponents. 

This year, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots (8-2) will play Calvin Johnson and the Lions (2-8) at Detroit in the 12:30 game on CBS, with the Pats continuing their quest to win their division. The New Orleans Saints (7-3) face the Cowboys (3-7) in Dallas at 4:15, airing on FOX. In the night game, the Cincinnati Bengals (2-8) will challenge the red-hot New York Jets (8-2) in New York at 8, carried by the NFL Network.

The DuMont Television Network, one of the world’s pioneer commercial TV networks, was the first network to televise Thanksgiving games, in 1953. CBS took over in 1956, and in 1965, the first color television broadcast of an NFL game occurred, between the Lions and Baltimore Colts.

There have been a number of notable Thanksgiving Day games over the years. In a 1974 Cowboys-Redskins game, unknown Cowboys backup quarterback Clint Longley came in for Roger Staubach with the team down 16-3 to lead them to victory. In 1994, third-string Cowboys QB Jason Garrett subbed for Troy Aikman and took down Brett Favre and the Packers 42-31. In a 1976 game between the Lions and Buffalo Bills, running back O.J. Simpson set the league record for most rushing yards in a single game with 273. In 1980, Chicago Bear David Williams returned the opening kickoff in OT for a touchdown against the Lions, the only time that has happened in a Thanksgiving Day game.

More recently, in 2008, Cowboys QB Tony Romo led his team to a 34-9 win over the Seattle Seahawks, throwing for 331 yards and three TDs.

Preceding all the pro-football action on Thanksgiving Day, Fairfield will enjoy its own local battle when its two high school boys varsity teams face each other. With kickoff scheduled for 10a.m., Fairfield Warde’s Mustangs will go head-to-head with Fairfield Ludlowe’s Falcons at Warde, 755 Melville Avenue.

In the last two years, the Falcons, with third-year coach Matt McCloskey at the helm, have topped Warde head coach Duncan Della Volpe’s Mustangs on Thanksgiving and are looking to make it three in a row. In 2008, Ludlowe edged a 10-8 win; in 2009, they widened the score to 24-14. This year, however, Ludlowe has only one recorded win while Warde has four.

Ludlowe Athletic Director Dave Schulz is just looking for a good match Thanksgiving Day. “This is a high school football game with a great tradition. It’s great for the community and the teams will be putting a little pride on the line, for bragging rights. I hope the best team wins, they have fun and it’s a great event. This isn’t Jets-Giants, but it will be a fun atmosphere and good competition.”

As to how he expects the pro teams to fare that day, Schulz said, “Unfortunately, the Cowboys and Lions are not great this year. None of the match-ups are marquee. I guess if you’re a fan of the featured teams, it’ll be fun to watch, but the high school games may be more exciting.”

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