For many people, their thanksgiving is not complete without turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and… football! Football has become an integral part of Thanksgiving day, but where did this tradition come from? Read on to learn more about how Thanksgiving and football became the perfect match.

How Thanksgiving Football Started

Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863 and the first football games on Thanksgiving took place in 1869, so football has been integral to this holiday almost right from the start. This first Thanksgiving game was played in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the Germantown Club, and subsequent games were played between Princeton and Yale. The Intercollegiate Football Association officially made football a Thanksgiving fixture in 1882 when they decided to hold an annual collegiate championship game in New York City on Thanksgiving day. The two leading teams in the association would play, and now Thanksgiving weekend marks the end of the regular season for college football. Professional football teams have played on Thanksgiving since their start in the 1890s, and the New York Pro Football League and the Ohio League combined into the NFL in 1920 and the NFL has played on Thanksgiving ever since. The Detroit Lions have played home Thanksgiving games since 1934 as have the Dallas Cowboys since 1966. The Lions’ then-owner, George A. Richards set up the holiday game as a way to draw attention to his new franchise, and Richards used his radio station to broadcast to 94 stations nationwide. Although the Lions lost the match to the Chicago Bears, the tradition stuck and inspired the manager of the larger Dallas Cowboys to start playing a Thanksgiving game as well. Many people today think of pumpkin pie, turkey, and the Lions and the Cowboys as Thanksgiving fixtures. The NFL added a third game to this lineup in 2006, and a rotating host team would play on Thanksgiving night.

Turkey Bowl

Along with professional and college football games on Thanksgiving day, high schools often have games as well that are called a Turkey Bowl or Turkey Day Game. This is in honor of the main dish that graces most American’s Thanksgiving tables, and often these games are against a fierce rival or a culmination of league play that will result in a champion for the year. Turkey Bowl is now also used by informal groups who organize Thanksgiving day games and could include flag football, street football, or touch football. Although these Turkey Bowl games are informal, they often involve rivalries that can last for decades between families, coworkers, fraternities, and churches across the country. Even if you don’t participate in an organized game, if the weather is nice Thanksgiving is a great time to toss around the pigskin (and maybe burn off some of those calories)!

Throwback Uniforms

A fun tradition of Thanksgiving day games in recent years has been the introduction of wearing throwback uniforms. The NFL debuted their Throwbacks Collection in 1991, and in 1994 honoring the NFL’s 75th anniversary teams were allowed to wear old uniform styles. Not every part of the old uniforms were copied, especially ones that might pose a safety risk such as the obsolete leather helmets that were discontinued in the 1950s. Instead, decals and striping were removed from the current helmets to fit better with the older style of jerseys. The throwback jerseys also still displayed the player’s last name on the back, which has been part of the NFL official rules since 1970. The fonts used on the throwback jerseys were as close as possible to the originals, and some teams wore jerseys that existed before the large player number was displayed on the front, so they included a smaller number on the shoulder. Some of these jerseys were so popular that they became the full-time team uniforms. In 2013 the NFL imposed new rules that prohibited the use of alternate colored helmets, which has hampered having a truly throwback uniform for many teams. Teams can still use alternate decals, or no decals, but they must also use them on the regular helmets. Thanksgiving day games have become a time when teams, notably the Lions and Cowboys, showcase their throwback jerseys.

Thanksgiving Football Games 2017

Continuing the football tradition, this year there will be three NFL games played on Thanksgiving. The Detroit Lions will face off against the Minnesota Vikings at 12:30pm ET; this will be their second face off in the 2017 season. Then the Dallas Cowboys will take on the Los Angeles Chargers at 4:30pm ET—this is the first time the Chargers will have played on Thanksgiving since 1970. The third game makes NFL history, as the Washington Redskins host a game for the first time in their franchise history. They will play the New York Giants, and while the Redskins have played many a Thanksgiving match, they have not hosted. In addition to these professional games will be various college level and high school games, and countless neighborhoods will head outside to throw the football around.

So get ready for some turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberries, and a healthy dose of football. If you are one of the millions of Americans who equate Thanksgiving and football you won’t be disappointed this year! There is something special about gathering together, eating great food, and watching exciting games. Moneyball Sportswear wishes you a happy Thanksgiving, and if you are looking to make your own custom team throwback uniforms, request a free quote from us today!