After last year’s 0-16 season from the Detroit Lions, which included a 47-10 blowout loss to the Titans on Thanksgiving, complaints emerged regarding the team’s ongoing entitlement to an exclusive national audience on the fourth Thursday in November. (Yeah, we use that a lot as a different way of saying “Thanksgiving,” in order to avoid using the word “Thanksgiving” twice in close proximity. On Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving.)
At his annual press conference on the Friday before the Super Bowl, Commissioner Roger Goodell said that any discussion regarding a change to the afternoon games on Thanksgiving would occur later in the year.
Later in the year, however, Goodell said he doesn’t think the Lions are in danger of losing that one day per year when, no matter how bad they are, we all get an eyeful of Honolulu Blue.
More recently, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told us that the issue currently is dormant. “I have heard no discussion of changing Thanksgiving format,” Aiello told us via e-mail. “Any potential discussion of a format change would be one for the offseason.”
And, of course, we’ve all typically moved on to other issues by the time the offseason comes.
The argument most often advanced for the status quo comes from the reality that the Lions and the Cowboys were willing to host Thanksgiving games every year at a time when no one else was interested in accepting what was deemed to be a burden, not a benefit.
The other reality? The league has a captive audience on Thanksgiving afternoon.
When fictional NBC president Russell Dalrymple asked George Costanza why anyone would watch a show about nothing, Costanza’s response was immediate: “Because it’s on TV.”
And that theory applies with extra force when it comes to football games on Thanksgiving. It’s part of our routine. Families congregate, the televisions activate, and football games accelerate. (Yeah, it doesn’t fit. But I really wanted to end that sentence with another word ending in “-ate.”)
Why waste the good football games for the day when we’ll watch whatever football game is “on TV”?
Case in point: Because CBS and FOX each televise one of the afternoon games and because both Thanksgiving home teams are from the NFC, the CBS game requires a road team from the AFC.
This year, the Lions game airs on FOX, and the Cowboys game goes to CBS.
The Cowboys host two teams from the AFC West: the Chargers and the Raiders.
San Diego at Dallas would have been a great Thanksgiving game. But the captive audience is instead getting Oakland at Dallas, which is widely expected to be a blowout — Sunday’s win by the Raiders over the Bengals notwithstanding.
Though Chargers-Cowboys on December 13 has been, per a source with knowledge of the protected list, blocked by CBS from flexing into prime time, the game begins at 4:15 p.m. ET, and CBS will use it to carry a huge audience into 60 Minutes.
So get used to seeing the Lions and the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, no matter how good — or bad — either team is.
Then again, we all should be used to it by now. That’s the way it’s been for decades, and it likely will be for decades more.