Doug Benc / Getty Images
Colts QB Peyton Manning threw a career-high six touchdowns against the Lions on Thanksgiving Day in 2004.


Since the Akron Pros defeated the Canton Bulldogs 7-0 in 1920, the NFL has been playing on Thanksgiving Day.

The 1922 season featured the first matchup of current NFL teams as the Chicago Cardinals (now known as the Arizona Cardinals) knocked off the Chicago Bears, 6-0. Those two teams then matched up annually until 1934, coincidentally the same year that the Detroit Lions played in their first Thanksgiving game.

The Lions have played every year on Thanksgiving since 1945, and were joined by the Dallas Cowboys, who began playing on Thanksgiving in 1966.

From 1966-2005, Detroit and Dallas were the only NFL cities to play host to games on Thanksgiving (with the exceptions of St. Louis in 1975 and 1977). That changed when the NFL Network began broadcasting a Thanksgiving night game in 2006.

There have been many memorable NFL moments on Thanksgiving throughout the years, but here are 10 of the most significant since the modern alignment was introduced in 1966: Did we forget one? Let us know!

1969: Cowboys 24, 49ers 24

The Cowboys were one of the best teams in the league with QB Craig Morton under center and a two-pronged backfield of Calvin Hill and Walt Garrison leading the rushing attack. They were 8-2 going into Thanksgiving and were a heavy favorite against the 2-7-1 49ers. San Francisco proved surprisingly resilient, however, and went ahead when WR Gene Washington caught a 19-yard TD pass from John Brodie. A late Morton TD pass salvaged a tie for Dallas and it went on to finish the season 11-2-1 before losing to Cleveland in the playoffs.

1971: Cowboys 28, Los Angeles Rams 21

In a battle of two of the NFC's premier teams, the Cowboys got a fourth-quarter touchdown run from Duane Thomas to break a 21-21 tie and knock off the Rams. The win was Dallas' fourth-straight and it would go on to end the season with 10 consecutive victories, culminating with a Super Bowl VI win over Miami. The loss was costly for Los Angeles as it narrowly missed a playoff berth.

1974: Cowboys 24, Redskins 23

Just two weeks after having lost to rival Washington, Dallas got its revenge in dramatic fashion. Backup QB Clint Longley came in for an injured Roger Staubach and engineered a frantic comeback. He connected on a 50-yard TD pass to Drew Pearson with just 28 seconds remaining as the Cowboys salvaged a down season with one of the most exciting victories in Thanksgiving history. The loss did not doom the Redskins as they went on to win their final two games and the NFC East, before losing to Los Angeles in the playoffs.

1976: Lions 27, Bills 14

Buffalo's O.J. Simpson set a then-NFL record with 273 rushing yards, but it was not enough as Detroit's David Hill had two touchdown receptions to lead the Lions. Simpson's effort was undermined by the struggles of Bills quarterback Gary Marangi, who completed just 4 of 21 pass attempts for 29 yards and an interception. Simpson's big rushing total put him over 1,000 yards for the fifth and final time in his 11-year career. The rookie Hill would catch two touchdown passes in a game just once more in his 12-year career.

1980: Bears 23, Lions 17 (OT)

Down 17-3 entering the fourth quarter, Chicago begins a major comeback with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Vince Evans to Bob Fisher. A 4-yard touchdown run by Evans forced overtime and Dave Williams returned the kickoff 95 yards to give the Bears a dramatic victory. Williams' return touchdown is one of only two in NFL history that have occurred in overtime. The loss would come back to haunt the Lions in the standings as they would lose a tie-breaker to the Vikings and finish second in the NFC Central with a 9-7 record.

1986: Packers 44, Lions 40

In the highest scoring game ever to take place on Thanksgiving, Green Bay overcame a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit and won when Walter Stanley returned a punt 83 yards for a touchdown. Stanley had the best game of his otherwise undistinguished 8-year career, catching two touchdown passes and finishing with 124 receiving yards to go along with the winning punt return. The game did not matter much in the standings, as both teams were among the league's worst, but it provided memories nonetheless.

1987: Vikings 44, Cowboys 38 (OT)

The Vikings went up 38-24 in the fourth quarter when quarterback Danny White led the Cowboys on one last surge. He threw two touchdown passes to Mike Renfro in the final minutes to send the game into overtime. That is when Vikings running back Darrin Nelson scampered into the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown run to end the game. The victory ultimately allowed Minnesota to make the playoffs, where it pulled off two upsets before losing to Washington in the NFC Championship Game.

1993: Dolphins 16, Cowboys 14

It does not snow in Dallas very often, but to show how strange this game went, the field was actually covered in snow by the end. The Cowboys were 7-3, but coming off a damaging loss to the lowly Falcons, while the Dolphins were 8-2 and seemingly on their way to a playoff berth. The Cowboys appeared to have the game in hand after they blocked a late Dolphins field goal to preserve a 14-13 lead, but Leon Lett tried to pick up the ball and fumbled it back to Miami, allowing the Dolphins another FG try. This time Pete Stoyanovich nailed the 19-yarder to win the game. Ironically, the Cowboys would not lose a game the rest of the season en route to a Super Bowl XXVIII victory, while the Dolphins would not win another game the rest of the year, finishing 9-7 and missing the playoffs.

1998: Lions 19, Steelers 16 (OT)

This contest will always be remembered for a bizarre overtime coin toss. Jerome Bettis was audibly heard yelling tails, but official Phil Luckett said Bettis called heads and awarded the ball to the Lions when the coin landed on tails. Later, it was reported that Bettis started to say heads prior to staying tails and Luckett abided by NFL rules by going with Bettis' first call. Regardless of the confusion, Detroit took over the ball and went on to win on a 42-yard FG by Jason Hanson. The loss began a tailspin for the Steelers as they did not win a game the rest of the year, finishing 7-9.

2004: Colts 41, Lions 9

Peyton Manning made his first appearance on Thanksgiving Day a memorable one. He tossed a career-high six touchdown passes and helped the Colts improve to 8-3 with a rout of Detroit. Later that season, Manning would set the then-NFL record with 49 touchdown passes. Marvin Harrison tied a career-high with three touchdown receptions in the game. Since this 2004 matchup in Detroit, the Colts have played once more on Thanksgiving in 2007, when Indianapolis defeated Atlanta, 31-13, on the NFL Network.

 

2009 Thanksgiving games



Watch Thursday as the Packers, Cowboys, Giants and Broncos try to enhance their playoff position.

» Packers at Lions, 12:30 p.m., FOX

» Raiders at Cowboys, 4:15 p.m., CBS

» Giants at Broncos, 8 p.m., NFL Network

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