Why do we play on Thanksgiving Day?

As America grinds to a halt on Thursday and celebrates the annual Thanksgiving Day holiday, the NFL has become as much a part of the tradition as turkey dinners and afternoon naps on a full stomach.

The NFL has played on Thanksgiving Day since the league was born in 1920, but it became an every-year tradition from 1934 when then-Detroit Lions owner George A. Richards set up a game against the Chicago Bears to boost flagging attendances.

The Lions traditionally play at home on Thanksgiving Day and will take part in their 82nd game on the holiday this week when they take on the Bears for the third time in the past four years. The Lions are 37-42-2 on Thanksgiving but need to snap a four-game losing streak.

In the 1960s, the NFL was looking for another team to commit to Thanksgiving Day games, but few were interested as the late afternoon slot could not guarantee television viewing figures as America settled down to its holiday dinner.

But Dallas Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm believed such publicity would be good for a team struggling under head coach Tom Landry. The Cowboys began playing on Thanksgiving Day in 1966 and enjoyed such success – on the field and at the gate - that they are still known today as 'America's Team.'

Success on Thanksgiving Day is going to be key for the Super Bowl-chasing Dallas Cowboys. Since 2015, the result on Turkey Day has directly indicated latter success. Wins on that day have resulted in a playoff appearance, while losses have seen Dallas miss the postseason.

In every season since 1978, the Lions have played in the early slot and the Cowboys in the late afternoon slot. A third game was added to the Thanksgiving Day slate in 2006 and can feature any other teams from around the league.

2021 Thanksgiving Day Games - All available LIVE on Sky Sports NFL/Sky Sports Main Event OR watch all three game LIVE on NFL Game Pass from 5:30pm for just 99p.

5.30pm Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions

  • This is becoming a familiar Thanksgiving Day matchup and will feature a pair of first-round quarterbacks at different stages of their careers. Justin Fields is just getting started in Chicago and has started to round into the exciting form we witnessed during his college career. On the other side, Detroit will be led by 2016 first overall pick Jared Goff, who has struggled at times during this season and who needs to pick it up down the stretch.

9.30pm Las Vegas Raiders at Dallas Cowboys

  • Two playoff contenders with exciting offenses will go head to head at AT&T Stadium in Texas. This late-afternoon-slot game also features two of the most storied NFL franchises in existence. The Raiders (3) and Cowboys (5) have combined to win eight Super Bowls. Watching Derek Carr and Dak Prescott face off in a quarterback battle is worth staying awake for after your Thanksgiving Day feast.

1.20am Buffalo Bills at New Orleans Saints

  • The Saints will put their undefeated Thanksgiving Day record (they have won all three of their games under head coach Sean Payton) on the line when they take on one of the leading contenders from the AFC in the Buffalo Bills. The atmosphere in the Superdome is sure to be rocking as the Saints' often-underrated defense looks to slow a Buffalo attack led by quarterback Josh Allen.

Look out for… cool Throwback uniforms on Thanksgiving Day. Since 2001, NFL teams have paid homage to the uniforms of yesteryear on Thanksgiving Day.

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