For decades, watching football has been part of the American Thanksgiving tradition. And why not? The holiday comes deep into the football season and cooking a turkey involves a ton of waiting around! But one particular team has been central to that tradition, one that’s near and dear to our hearts but whose national prominence has been iffy at best. In fact, the Detroit Lions are the main reason that you watch football on TV on Thanksgiving. How is that possible? Let us explain!
The Detroit Lions Are Born, 1934
The 1934 season was the first in Detroit for the Lions, having previously been the Portsmouth Spartans. The team’s new owner, George A. Richards, needed a hook to get Detroiters into his stadium. He found one in playing on Thanksgiving. It was the team’s first sold out game, to the point that people were being turned away in droves. Now, in fairness, educational institutions and the NFL’s precursors had been playing games on Thanksgiving since the sport was invented in the 1870s. Heck, the Lions weren’t even the first pro team to play on the holiday. But Richards had a gimmick that they didn’t.
In addition to owning the Lions, George A. Richards also owned the radio station WJR. At that time, WJR was an affiliate of NBC’s Blue Network. Richards sold NBC the rights to air the game on the network, sending it to some ninety stations around the country. The Lions were the only football game broadcasting nationally that Thanksgiving, allowing families across the country to while away the pre-dinner hours listening to the Lions lose to the Chicago Bears. Enjoying football on Thanksgiving was nothing new, but enjoying it from the comfort of your couch was.
A Gimmick Becomes A Thanksgiving Tradition
The game was a resounding success despite the loss on the field: the stadium was packed and the network paid handsomely. Naturally, it was repeated the next year. And the year after that. In 1953, the DuMont Network became the first to televise the Lions Thanksgiving game, which the Lions won. The first NFL game to be broadcast in color was the 1965 Thanksgiving day game between the Lions and the Baltimore Colts, which ended in a tie.
In 1968, the Dallas Cowboys joined in on the fun with their own regular Thanksgiving home game. But make no mistake: this American broadcasting tradition started here in Detroit! And, despite some losing streaks in recent memory that led to some discussion of ending it, we have kept up that tradition for 89 years. It’s been a few years since the Lions won on Thanksgiving, but with the season they’ve been having so far…we’re hopeful for 2023.
Got Sports Cards?
Back to the Past loves a good sports collection! Trading cards, event programs, and other bits of memorabilia are the main sports collectibles we’re looking to handle, but we’ve handled a little bit of everything over the years. If you have a collection of sports collectibles, or any other kind of collectibles, that you’re looking to sell, give us a call! We can evaluate your collection, help you figure out how best to bring it to market, and then bring it to market for you. Just about the only thing you’ll need to handle is cashing the check when everything’s said and done.