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Three cheers

View from America Posted 20th November 2007 view comments

View from America: US-based British sports-writer Simon Veness offers his thoughts from Over There

It's as American as the Stars and Stripes and apple pie - and it kicks off on Thursday afternoon.

Like soccer on Boxing Day, football on Thanksgiving Day is as traditional as it gets and is an essential part of the huge national holiday over here.

The 1999 Detriot Lions enjoy some Thanksgiving tradition after beating the Bears

The 1999 Detriot Lions enjoy some Thanksgiving tradition after beating the Bears

While virtually every household will wolf down massive amounts of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberries, followed by huge helpings of pumpkin pie, almost every TV will be tuned in to the annual sports broadcast from Detroit.

This is then followed by a pilgrimage to Dallas and, since 2006, a third game, kicking off at 8.15pm US time. It all makes for an 11-hour football marathon of near-epic proportions; an armchair-busting fiesta of TV gluttony to match the dining table excess.

While virtually every household will wolf down massive amounts of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberries, followed by huge helpings of pumpkin pie, almost every TV will be tuned in to the annual sports broadcast from Detroit.

View from America
Quotes of the week

NFL Live - Thanksgiving Special
Green Bay @ Detriot
NY Jets @ Dallas
Atlanta @ Indianapolis
Thursday Nov 22
Click here for details

And those with a strong constitution can follow every minute of it on Sky Sports (live on SS1 from 5.30pm), kicking off with Detroit entertaining Green Bay. The temperature is forecast to be around freezing with snow showers outside Ford Field, but it will be at boiling point inside as the Lions battle to cool down the red-hot Packers.

Tradition

But why Detroit? Of all the NFL cities, what has the Motor City done to become the yearly epicenter of this sporting extravaganza (for what is, in many ways, a game second only to the Super Bowl itself for national football focus)?

Well, it's certainly not obvious as the media tend to gloss over the 'why' of this modern tradition but, after a bit of digging through the local records, I came up with the answer.

Go back to 1934, and the Lions were the newest team in a bubbling, thriving city that matched Chicago and New York for glitz and glamour. They had just been bought by GA Richards, who moved the club from Portsmouth, Ohio, to this up-and-coming metropolis.

Despite the fact they were enjoying a successful season, the new kids on the block were struggling to attract more than 15,000 fans each week. So, in a bid to up the ante and put his team firmly on the map, Richards did the unthinkable - he scheduled a game on the Thursday national holiday.

By a clever twist of fate, the visitors to the upstart Lions were the undefeated defending world champs from Chicago, the mighty Bears of George 'Papa Bear' Halas. With the Western Division title at stake and live coast-to-coast radio from NBC (almost unprecedented for the time), the scene was set for a memorable battle.

And, although Richards' men went down to a 19-16 defeat, a nation tuned in intently alongside its turkey and pumpkin pie - and an instant classic was born. Now, 73 years later, the single greatest tradition in the history of American professional team sports is essential viewing, even in households that wouldn't normally cross the road to watch a game. It is America's equivalent of the Queen's Speech, only with cheerleaders and Terry Bradshaw.

Then, in 1966, this national institution received another shot in the arm when then-NFL Commissioner, Pete Rozelle, wanted to showcase a second team for a Thanksgiving TV double-header and the Cowboys were picked as the perfect representatives.

Detroit and Dallas have been the hosts ever since (except for 1975 and '77 when the Cardinals replaced the Cowboys) and US sports fans now give Thanks for more than a slice or two of turkey - especially as the NFL opted to screen a third game last year.

The special requirements of these fixtures - giving teams just four days to recover, plan and prepare from the previous Sunday - also often provide plenty of unlikely drama as it is usually tougher for the visitors on such relatively short notice while Detroit and Dallas enjoy the benefits of home comforts.

The 1974 Cowboys-Redskins match-up made a hero of back-up Dallas quarterback Clint Longley; the '93 Cowboys-Dolphins 'Snow Bowl' ended with Leon Lett's disastrous last-minute gaffe (he handled a blocked Miami field goal, giving the visitors a second chance to win - which they promptly did); and the '98 Lion-Steelers game featured a blunder by the officials, who misheard Jerome Bettis' call of the overtime coin toss, and handed the ball to Detroit instead.

Home win

So, what can we expect of this year's Thanksgiving thoroughbreds? Well, on form, they could well be a trio of lop-sided defeats for Detroit, the New York Jets and Atlanta.

Green Bay look way too formidable a prospect for the Lions, who failed miserably to show any play-off potential at home to the Giants on Sunday; Tony Romo and Terrell Owens have clearly got the Cowboys firing on all cylinders and the Jets' upset of Pittsburgh seems a one-off fluke; and Indianapolis may not need much offence to topple these faltering Falcons.

But hold on. Examine the Thanksgiving form and a very different picture appears - the Lions win slightly more than half the time (53%, to be precise), while Green Bay's record is only 11 wins in 33 appearances (33%); Dallas win two thirds of their Turkey Day outings - but so do the Jets, so expect a close game there; and Atlanta have a perfect 100% record whenever they play on the fourth Thursday in November. Played 1, won 1.

Peyton Manning, you have been warned.

PS: Kevin - the Bills to beat the Patriots? What were you thinking?!

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