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Jim Nantz talks memorable Thanksgiving games, '18 plans

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Jim Nantz knows the drill, having been on CBS' call for Thanksgiving Day games since 2004. However, his pregame activities for the Chicago Bears-Detroit Lions game will be anything but routine.

Nantz is serving as the Grand Marshal for the 92nd America's Thanksgiving Parade. Nantz and his family will ride through the parade route in Detroit Thursday morning.

"The plan is to be dropped off at Ford Field, run up a set a stairs and go do the game," Nantz said. "It's going to be really wild."

Nantz will be participating in a Thanksgiving tradition that dates back to 1934 when owner George Richards staged a game on the holiday in an attempt to get fans to attend a Lions game. More on Richards later.

The Dallas Cowboys, which host the Washington Redskins Thursday on FOX, joined that tradition in 1966, and with the exception of 1975 and 1977, they have been a Thanksgiving Day fixture. In 2006, a primetime game was added to the Thanksgiving festivities. NBC will have coverage of the Atlanta Falcons-New Orleans Saints game Thursday night.

As always, it will be a full plate of NFL football for fans. Nantz, though, says the Thanksgiving telecast has a much different feel compared to a normal regular-season game.

"It's a real feel-good day of giving thanks," Nantz said. "At least 10 or 12 times during the game you branch off into something that has more of a holiday feel. More than just football."

An interesting dynamic occurs on Thanksgiving Day. The games pull in some of the biggest ratings of the year, as football is a central part of the holiday. Yet Curt Menefee, host of FOX NFL Sunday, realizes a significant portion of the audience is consuming the pregame shows and games in an unconventional manner.

"I think the big picture is to be honest and realize that a lot of people have the TV on, but it's kind of background for them while they cook, cocktail, and share time with family," Menefee said. "You also know that the beauty of it is that people are watching together as a family. They want to enjoy it as a group experience and part of their memory-making with mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, kids, cousins, etc. The audience that is watching is comprised of a number of people who don't watch the NFL week in and week out."

Even though they are working, Menefee says there always is more of "a familial atmosphere" among the team at FOX NFL Sunday on Thanksgiving.

"One of the great things about the studio crew is that many of the people have been there for 20-25 years, and a lot since day one in 1994," Menefee said. "It's our chance to spend the holiday with our work-family, before going home to share the day with our real families."

For the vast majority of production crews at game sites, Thanksgiving is spent away from their families. Nantz says it is important to maintain that sense of family on the holiday. For games in Detroit, the CBS crew has a Tuesday night bowling tournament and a Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday.

"It's always special for us to come together," Nantz said.

Nantz has favorite personal memory of a Thanksgiving telecast. Like the long-ago Lions owner, his father-in-law's name also is George Richards. When he was engaged to his now wife, Courtney, he said to make sure her father was watching on Thanksgiving.

"We had it all set up," Nantz said. "In the second quarter, I said, 'So what am I thankful for? I'm thankful for George Richards. I am in love with his baby.' Pause, pause for dramatic effect. Then we showed a picture of the old Lions owner. I said, 'In 1934, he came up with the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving and I am so grateful to him for that.'"

Did George Richards, his father-in-law, think for a split second Nantz was talking about him on national television? "Completely," he said with a big laugh.

Collinsworth's life: Cris Collinsworth is the latest subject of A Football Life, Friday at 8 p.m. ET on NFL Network. The one-hour show produced by NFL Films features interviews with Collinsworth, NBC Sports broadcast partner Al Michaels, former NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol, former teammates such as Boomer Esiason and Anthony Munoz, family members and more.

"He outworks everybody else. He's about the best prepared human being I have ever known," said Ebersol on the film.

Lineup change: NBC's primetime team, Collinsworth and Michaels, will be off for Thanksgiving. Mike Tirico, Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison will call for the Falcons-Saints game.

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