On Thanksgiving night, the Chicago Bears will play the role (the Packers hope) of the Washington Generals for the Brett Favre Jersey Retirement Celebration. Ninety years ago on Thanksgiving, the Bears were the main event for a Thanksgiving Day slate of games that helped give pro football early legitimacy.
As noted by the 2015 Official NFL Record & Fact Book, Harold “Red” Grange made his debut with the Bears on Thanksgiving in 1925, sparking what then was the largest crowd in pro football history — 36,000 — to show up for what turned out to be a scoreless tie between the Bears and the Chicago Cardinals at Wrigley Field.
At a time when college football had much greater credibility and popularity than the pro game, the arrival of Grange only days after the end of his college career gave the professional football a major boost.
Not long after that Thanksgiving, the Bears played eight games in 12 days, in St. Louis, Philadelphia, New York, Washington, Boston, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Chicago. And that Thanksgiving attendance record didn’t last long; after drawing 36,000 for the game against the Cardinals, the Bears and Halas attracted 73,000 to the Polo Grounds for a game against the Giants.
The game has changed dramatically since then, but Thanksgiving is the ideal time to reflect on the rich history of the NFL, which started playing Thanksgiving Day games in 1920 with a slate of six contests: the Akron Pros against the Canton Bulldogs, the Decatur Staleys (which became the Chicago Bears) against the Chicago Tigers, the Elyria Athletics against the Columbus Panhandles, the Dayton Triangles against the Detroit Heralds, the Chicago Boosters against the Hammond Pros, and the All-Tonawanda versus the Rochester Jeffersons.
Nearly a century later, it’ll be the Philadelphia Eagles at the Detroit Lions, the Carolina Panthers at the Dallas Cowboys, and Red Grange’s Bears at Brett Favre’s Packers on Thanksgiving 2015. Enjoy the day, appreciate the gifts you have, and get ready for three helpings of the greatest game in the world.