Lions won’t be giving up Thanksgiving hammerlock, and league doesn’t seem inclined to make them

Getty Images

In the years when the Lions are particularly bad by the time late November rolls around, a question often emerges.

Why are we subjected to the Lions as an annual home team, every Thanksgiving?

The NFL has said that the Lions (and Cowboys) keep their games because they were willing to host Thanksgiving games at a time when no one else wanted to do it. Surely, however, that doesn’t give both teams an infinity hammerlock on the games. Or does it?

In early 2019, Lions president Rod Wood made it clear that the team won’t surrender its spot as the host of a game on the fourth Thursday in November.

“I’m pretty confident that we’re going to have the 12:30 kickoff on Thanksgiving for as far in the future as we can ever see,” Wood said at the time. “And it’s something that we should be very proud of and I know it’s special to the fans, it’s special to the city and it puts Detroit on the map every [year] to kind of kick off the holiday season.”

Roughly 15 years ago, some owners pushed for the Detroit and Dallas Thanksgiving games to rotate. Instead, the NFL added a rotating night game as of 2006.

“We kind of invented that game,” Wood said in 2019. “It kind of put the national media on the map for the NFL. So I think in respect for that history and the games that we’ve played over the years on Thanksgiving, and we’ve had some great Thanksgiving Day games, notwithstanding the record of the team recently. That’s how Barry Sanders, I think, became a national icon, because everybody watched him on Thanksgiving. Same thing with Calvin Johnson. . . . So there’s been some great history on Thanksgiving Day.”

As Peter King notes in the attached video, there’s a strategic advantage that comes rom hosting the game every year. Indeed, at a time when nearly every team plays a Thursday game after a Sunday game, the Lions and Cowboys ALWAYS play their short-week game at home. There’s a definite edge that comes from that.

Not that it has helped the Lions. Or, in recent years, the Cowboys. Neither have made it to the NFC Championship since 1995. (The Lions and Washington have the longest NFC drought, dating back to 1991.)

Regardless, it’s not changing. So treat this game like that weird dish your aunt with the cats brings every year. It’s on the table. It can’t be ignored. But you can eat as little of it as you want. Or, if you prefer, none of it at all.

For most, however, watching the Lions play at home in the early game on Thanksgiving has become a key part of the broader Thanksgiving traditions. If it changed, we wouldn’t feel right. And for those of us on the wrong side of 30 (or 40 . . . or 50), traditions as simple as seeing the Lions play at home in the early game and the Cowboys at home in the second game bridges the decades, connects the generations, and conjures memories of parents or other loved ones who are no longer with us.

39 responses to “Lions won’t be giving up Thanksgiving hammerlock, and league doesn’t seem inclined to make them

  1. Hey, we got Barry Sanders for 10 years.

    And the Suh curbstomp. Pure class, that guy.

  2. The Lions should show the same type of gusto and commitment to producing a winning football team, as they do keeping a 12:30 pm Thanksgiving game.

  3. “We kind of invented that game,” Wood said in 2019. “It kind of put the national media on the map for the NFL.”

    Excuse me??? The Lions “inventing” (“suggested” would have been a less pompous and more accurate word choice, but I digress) the third Thanksgiving game in 2006 is what finally gave the national media access to the NFL?

    What is this lunatic talking about???

  4. Special for the fans to watch your team get bulldozed every year before the tryptophan sets in?

    That’s special??

  5. I’ll be rooting for the Lions to get that first evasive win. Campbell is a good dude and he deserves it. Besides, if they win we may get to see him cry tears of joy.

  6. The only value the Lions ever brought to Thanksgiving was the annual suspense of wondering if Suh would be ejected before I even got to my parents’ house.

  7. Sorry Detroit, your franchise has been too bad for too long. As punishment you should lose the Thanksgiving game. If they don’t take it away, at least move the Lions game to 4:30, since that’s when we start eating dinner.

  8. The game this year is SO bad, that I will probably not watch for the first time ever. That’s really sad and pathetic. Kind of illustrates that the time has indeed come for Detroit to give this game up. Sorry Lions fans, but I speak the truth.

  9. Perhaps the Dallas franchise could just play the Lions each year. Alternate home every other year and be done with this. No need to ruin other teams so these teams can get a Thanksgiving game.

  10. I was shocked to hear the Lions had made the NFC Championship in my life time. Sure I was not even Middle School yet and I am 43 now but I thought I would have known this.

    Do we even want a good game at this time on Thanksgiving? We put dinner on about the 3rd quarter so I am Ok with it being bad.

  11. This is the worst nfl tradition in history. Listen to your customers and abolish having only the Lions & Cowboys annually playing on Thanksgiving each year. Both teams haven’t done nothing in the past decade to warrant playing on thanksgiving.

  12. The Lions should forfeit the Thanksgiving game if they do not have at least six wins the prior year. Nobody wants to see that trash every year. They need some sort of incentive to light a fire under their azz.

  13. The Lions are the perfect Thanksgiving team. I dont care at all if I miss part of all of the game, while also giving people an excuse to not talk to family, if necessary.

  14. Not even a Lions fan but Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without a Lions game on in the background.

  15. Unusual since the NFL league office isn’t much of a compassionate traditionalist. Just ask fans in St. Louis and San Diego.

    The Lions on Thanksgiving are a punishment. And the Bears too.

    It does make it very easy to leave the TV off when you are eating, though.

  16. My favorite Thanksgiving beatdown was when Manning and the Colts carved up the Lions. T

  17. If the league wants everyone to gamble gamble gamble on their games they need to improve the product dramatically

  18. Thanksgiving afternoon is the only Lions game most of the country is ever subjected to. From a competitive balance perspective, giving the same two teams the same late-season mini-bye year after year makes no sense at all. Also, this year we get the beauty of Chicago AND Detroit. Thanks, NFL!

  19. @ArrowHead

    They are listening to their customers, most Americans want the tradition to continue. They added another game for more variety.

    Hope this helps!

  20. lesepi says:
    November 23, 2021 at 1:39 pm
    Perhaps the Dallas franchise could just play the Lions each year. Alternate home every other year and be done with this. No need to ruin other teams so these teams can get a Thanksgiving game.
    I like your idea, but the schedule formula wouldnt allow it unless they were in the same division.

  21. The only good thing about the Lions playing on Thanksgiving is that it make more time to spend with family instead of in front of the TV.

  22. Or even to those of us on the wrong side of 60. No issue with leaving the Lions and Cowboys as is.

    Tradition is dying in the NFL. Let’s leave this one alone.

  23. as a Lions fan I’m obviously biased.

    taking the tradition aspect / history of them doing it when no one else wanted it out of it…

    the team is owned by a family that happens to share the name of a certain large car company who is major major advertiser / quasi business partner of the league. if you think for one second the NFL is going to mess with Ford Motor Company you have lost it.

  24. I’m okay with whoever plays, as long as Phil Luckett doesn’t show up for the coin toss. Heads! Tails! No, heads….

  25. I hope that this Thanksgiving tradition continues, notwithstanding the following: What lover of top-quality quarterback play isn’t awaiting the possible match-up of Andy Dalton versus Tim Boyle? Sure, some might prefer a howitzer orgy like Allen v Mahomes or Stafford v Rodgers, but I’m happy to feast on an early afternoon of ducks and lollipops.

  26. Detroit and Dallas should be on the Thanksgiving schedule every year. There isn’t a need to change this.

  27. I don’t really care at this point. I do wish they’d be more creative with the team selection for all 3 games. Historical rivalries are cool, but for a national game nobody cares about how good the Bears and Lions were in the 30’s.

  28. The first Thanksgiving game in 1934 was a result of the then-Lions owner’s desire for the NFL to become more well-known, and it worked. He established a tradition of annual games in Detroit that helped the NFL become more popular, so I don’t see why the tradition should end unless the Lions ownership wants their team to stop participating.

  29. The Lions should get the 12:30 game every Thanksgiving, as long as they change it to 12:30AM instead of PM

  30. I do need to add that it is a tradition to see a Lions kicker have a great day on Thanksgiving…Murray…Hanson..Prater…they’ve always had great day

  31. Wait – did that guy say that the Thanksgiving game made Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson famous? Ay carumba!

    For decades the Lions played freezing cold outdoor games on Thanksgiving. That counts for something. Tradition matters.

  32. As an alternative, Major League Soccer has playoff games on Thursday. I don’t expect MLS to hurt pro football ratings on Thanksgiving, but the turkeys that the NFL keeps trotting out on the holiday just might.

  33. You folks do know that Dallas has the the 3rd best record in the NFL right. I think maybe the whining about how they have done nothing is a little more hatred that factual.

  34. It’s Thanksgiving. Nobody is going anywhere. The TV’s will be turned to the football games. It’s a captive audience. Millions of viewers who don’t normally watch NFL games will see the games on Thanksgiving. You don’t need the high-profile teams to guarantee a large audience. It’s perfect. Many people are forced to be somewhere with extended family who they don’t really care too much for, or just don’t want to get into a discussion that maybe drifts into religion or politics. There’s nothing like alcohol and a football game to help keep peace in the family.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.