NFL Thanksgiving games: 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 81st game on the holiday this week when they take on the Houston Texans, who will play on the annual holiday for just the second time. The Lions have a won-lost record of 37-41-2 on Thanksgiving and have played every year but for an interruption during World War II.

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.'

A third game was added to the Thanksgiving Day slate in 2006 and can feature any other teams from around the league. There will not be a third game in 2020 as the Baltimore -Pittsburgh game was moved to Sunday November 29 after a Covid-19 outbreak at the Ravens' facility.

2020 Thanksgiving Day Games - All available LIVE on Sky Sports Action and NFL Game Pass from 5:30pm for just 99p

5.30pm Houston Texans at Detroit Lions

While both teams are off the pace in their respective conference's playoff races, they can be extremely entertaining to watch due to the outstanding play of their quarterbacks. Houston's Deshaun Watson is the second-highest-rated quarterback in NFL history, while Detroit's Matthew Stafford has averaged more than 300 yards passing in his nine Thanksgiving Day appearances.

9.30pm Washington Football Team at Dallas Cowboys

Each of these teams has just three wins to their name this season yet this is a massive game in the NFC playoff race. Honestly, it really is! All four teams in the NFC East division have three wins as we head into Week 12 of the season. This is also a game filled with two comeback stories – Washington quarterback Alex Smith is back starting in the NFL after suffering a broken leg that required 17 operations and almost cost him his life in 2018, while Dallas passer Andy Dalton – subbing for the injured Dak Prescott – is resurrecting his career after being cast aside by the Cincinnati Bengals.

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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