Memorable NFL Thanksgiving Moments
Several things go together in this World. Spaghetti and meatballs, peanut butter and jelly, Jack and Diane, Mario and Luigi, Yin and Yang, and, most importantly, Thanksgiving and NFL football.
Since as far back we can remember, professional football has been played on Thanksgiving Day. In 1892, Lehigh faced the Pittsburgh athletic club followed by a matchup between the Allegheny athletic club and Cleveland athletic club to become the first time in football history two teams faced each other in competitive play on Thanksgiving day.
As far as the NFL is concerned, they have always played football on Thanksgiving Day dating back to their inaugural season in 1920 when they scheduled a full six games to be played that day starting with the Decatur Staleys facing the Chicago Tigers. That was the only time the NFL featured six games on Thanksgiving Day. During 1926 they did it again and the AFL also had two games but since the two leagues weren’t joined those AFL games do not count towards the record for most NFL games during one Thanksgiving Day.
Over the past nearly 100 years, we have seen our share of excitement while sitting around the dining room table with friends and family devouring turkey and drinking scotch. From the amazing comebacks to the snowy fields of Dallas, we have compiled a list of the most memorable moments of the NFL on Thanksgiving Day. Enjoy.
13) Lawrence Taylor Goes the Distance
Date: November 25, 1982
Game: New York Giants (13) at Detroit Lions (6)
Lawrence Taylor had many highlights throughout his amazing career but this is one of the most amazing for several reasons. First of all, LT did not play the first half because he injured his knee the previous Sunday. He convinced the coaching staff to put him out there and he ended up winning the game on a 97 yard interception return for a touchdown, on a bad knee.
12) Sterling Sharpe’s Final T-Day Game
Date: November 24, 1994
Game: Green Bay Packers (31) at Dallas Cowboys (42)
Sterling Sharpe showed up for his 1994 Thanksgiving Day performance already having 56 receptions, 631 receiving yards, and 7 touchdowns. But he came to play on this day and did everything he could to help the Packers beat the Cowboys but it just was not enough. He caught 9 passes for 122 yards and 4 touchdowns, an NFL Thanksgiving Day record.
11) Bears come back to beat Lions in OT
Date: November 27, 1980
Game: Chicago Bears (23) at Detroit Lions (17)
In 1979, Detroit upset the Bears on Thanksgiving Day. It was one of two wins they had that season. So when they took a 17-3 lead heading into the 4th quarter, the Bears started to see double. But the Lions have never been lucky and they ended up giving up 20 points to watch a sure fire victory vanish. The final play was in Overtime when Dave Williams took the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown marking the shortest OT in NFL history. Poor Lions.
10) Saints and Cowboys Epic Game
Date: November 25, 2010
Game: New Orleans Saints (30) at Dallas Cowboys (27)
This game makes the list because of one moment, a fumble by Roy Williams following a beautiful 47 yard pass that took him down to the Saints 11 yard line. It was the icing on the cake for a terrific comeback where the Cowboys outscored the Saints 24-3 to take the lead 27-23 with only 3:31 to go in the game. But the strip by Malcolm Jenkins was a thing of beauty and Drew Brees took advantage of his chances and lead the Saints into the end zone to eventually win the game.
9) Peyton Throws 6 TDs
Date: November 25, 2004
Game: Indianapolis Colts (41) at Detroit Lions (9)
Remember when Peyton Manning would regularly throw 4 or 5 touchdowns a week? It wasn’t too long ago he completely destroyed the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day going 23-28 for 236 yards and 6 touchdowns. Marvin Harrison caught 12 of those passes for 127 yards and 3 of the six touchdowns.
8) Jim Benton Dominates in the Air
Date: November 22, 1945
Game: Cleveland Rams (28) at Detroit Lions (21)
Jim Benton is a virtually unknown NFL legend that once caught 10 passes for 303 yards including a 70 yard touchdown catch. It is a Thanksgiving Day record that has stood the test of time.
7) Lions Sack the Packer Out of Starr
Date: November 22, 1962
Game: Green Bay Packers (14) at Detroit Lions (26)
The Green Bay Packers had one loss in 1962, the same year they won the NFL Championship over the New York Giants, and it was to the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day. In one of the greatest games in NFL history, the then 8-2 Lions were trying to avoid their second loss of the season to the Packers, who were 10-0. Although the NFL didn’t officially track Sacks in 1962, the Lions sacked Bart Starr 11 times and completely dominated them. At one point they were up 26-0 in the 4th quarter before a fumble was recovered for a touchdown.
6) Barry Sanders Moves Up the List
Date:November 27, 1997
Game: Chicago Bears (20) at Detroit Lions (55)
Although he retired in 1998, Barry Sanders left the game long before he should have and we were reminded of just how great he was during his amazing performance on Thanksgiving in 1997. He finished the game with 167 yards rushing, and 3 touchdowns. But the most significant moment was when he passed Eric Dickerson on the NFL’s All-Time career rushing leaders list. At the time it moved him into second all-time behind Walter Payton.
5) Cowboys Come Back Under Longley
Date: November 28, 1974
Game: Washington Redskins (23) at Dallas Cowboys (24)
Clint Longley was nothing more than a backup QB for the legendary Roger Staubach. However, during the Thanksgiving Day game, Staubach got knocked out the game with an injury and Clint Longley’s name was called. The virtually unknown career backup did not just hand the ball off to Robert Newhouse and hope something good would happen, he did it himself. With the Cowboys trailing 16-3, Longley played the second half and finished with 203 yards passing and 2 passing touchdowns. The last touchdown was the best as it was a Hail Mary pass to Drew Pearson to come from behind and get the upset victory.
4) “I said tails!”
Date: November 26, 1998
Game: Pittsburgh Steelers (16) at Detroit Lions (19)
Everyone remembers the moment Phil Luckett got confused and did not understand what Jerome Bettis said when the coin was tossed in Overtime. Detroit ended up winning the game shortly after with a field goal. The significance of this game is that it led to the eventual change in the OT rule for scoring first. Although it took a few seasons before the rule officially changed, this was a reference point that was used to explain why the receiving team should have to score a touchdown and not a field goal to win the game.
3) Lett it Snow, Lett it Go, Lett it Snow
Date: November 25, 1993
Game: Miami Dolphins (16) at Dallas Cowboys (14)
Leon Lett was one of the most feared defensive lineman in the NFL mainly because it did not matter how many lineman you used, he was going to get through them. However, his career will forever be known for two blunders, both in 1993. The first one was during Super Bowl XXVII when Don Beebe infamously knocked the ball from a showboating Leon Lett’s hands just inches before he was going to score a touchdown.
The second occurred on Thanksgiving Day in 1993 when the Dolphins were attempting to kick a game winning field goal. The kick was blocked and the ball began to roll towards the end zone. The key to the blunder is that it was snowing, pretty heavily, for the first time during a Cowboys Thanksgiving Day game. Leon Lett tried to grab the ball, slipped on the snow, and ended up touching it allowing Miami to recover and kick another field goal to win the game.
2) Randy Moss Introduces Himself to World
Date: November 26, 1998
Game: Minnesota Vikings (46) at Dallas Cowboys (36)
Randy Moss was already shining in his rookie season before heading to Dallas for an Offensive showdown against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. Randy came into the game with 44 catches, 851 yards, and 8 TDs on the season before putting up video game like numbers during this game. He only had 3 receptions but he made the most of each of them with 163 yards and 3 touchdowns and averaged 54.33 yards per catch.
1) O.J. Simpson Can’t Be Stopped
Date: November 25th, 1976
Game: Buffalo Bills (14) – Detroit Lions (27)
O.J. Simpson deserved a rest following his Thanksgiving Day performance in Detroit in 1976. In arguably the greatest performance by a member of a losing team, O.J. rushed 29 times for 273 yards and 2 touchdowns. He was the only one that showed up that day, besides his offensive line, and accounted for 85% of the Bills total yards and scored all their touchdowns. He nearly out performed the Lions offense too as they finished with 304 total yards.There might not ever be a better performance from an NFL running back in a loss again.