Thanksgiving Day Football

A Historical Overview

Starting when I played football in grade school (1981-84). On Thanksgiving, we played our annual Turkey Bowl game versus our neighborhood rival school. After the game, we would come home and get ready to watch football. The Detroit Lions who played in the Pontiac Silverdome, followed by the Dallas Cowboys playing at Cowboys Stadium. Mom had to time dinner around either halftime of the Lions game or the 15-minute window between the games. Having continued this tradition in my own home, I can tell you that is no easy feat.

In 2006, the NFL has decided to cash in our insatiable appetite for football by adding in a third game, better known in my house as the “dessert game”, in prime time.

So, with Thanksgiving a couple of days away, I thought it would be a good time to take a look back at the history of Thanksgiving Day football. I found a web site, and data from 1920 through last year’s games, loaded in to Qlik Sense and built and app. Here are some stats that you can throw around the dining room table this Thanksgiving.

Home vs Visitor wins

One would think that home teams would have a distinct advantage when it comes to Thanksgiving games. Most teams would have played the previous Sunday, they then must travel on a short holiday week while the home teams enjoy the comforts of being at home with their families and being able to sleep in their own beds. The numbers tell a different story. In all, 226 games have been played on Thanksgiving, with the home team winning 110 (~49%), the visiting team has won 103 (~46%) and 13 (~5%) games ended in a tie.

Thanksgiving Day Appearances

As I mentioned above, the two teams that have graced my television screen each Thanksgiving were the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys. So, it should be of no surprise that the Detroit Lions (77) and the Dallas Cowboys (49) are at the top the list. The Green Bay Packers (36) , Chicago Bears (32), and the Chicago Cardinals (16) round out the top 5.

Popular Match-ups

Of the Detroit Lions 77 games played on Thanksgiving, they have been paired up against the Green Bay Packers (21) and the Chicago Bears (16) a total of 37 times. In the battle of Chicago, the Chicago Cardinals played the Chicago Bears 10 times. The Dallas Cowboys have played the Washington Redskins 8 times and, in the battle of New York, The New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers met 6 times.

Wins vs Losses

In the chart below, the right side (red) represents the wins and the left side (blue) represents the losses for each team. The Dallas Cowboys (+12) lead the way in wins over losses. The Philadelphia Eagles (+5), New York Giants (+3), Miami Dolphins (+3), and Minnesota Vikings (+3) round out the top 5. The Detroit Lions, having played in 77 games, are an overall -1 in wins over losses with a record of 37-38-2.

Game Announcers

Hearing the voices of Pat Summerall and John Madden instantly bring me back Thanksgiving. John Madden spend the game talking about the Tur-duck-in that was assembled for the game MVPs and Summerall’s call of the game was as relaxing as sitting in your old rocking chair. Looking at the list of announcers who graced our television sets on Thanksgiving, Pat Summerall (36) and John Madden (21) are first and third respectfully. Squeezed in the middle of those two broadcasting giants is Phil Simms (22). Dick Enberg (20) and the duo of Joe Buck (15) and Troy Aikman (15) round out the top 5.

Here are some additional Thanksgiving Day football facts that you can use to impress your friends and relatives (Especially the one person in the group who thinks he/she is a stats machine):

  • 80 different professional teams have played on Thanksgiving
  • Average points scored per game is 37. Home team (19), Away team (18)
  • 8,272 points have been scored. Home team (4,332), Away team (4,040)
  • The Detroit Lions have both the most wins (37) and the most losses (38)
  • Pat Summerall announced a Thanksgiving Day game from 1965-2001 with only one exception in 1970.
  • CBS has broadcasted 62 Thanksgiving Day Games.

If you would like to play around in the app yourself, here is the link.

Happy Thanksgiving!! Remember to leave room for dessert!

Thanksgiving is right around the corner so take a look at football's greatest turkey day moments with Chuck Bannon:


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