Thanksgiving Day is a day for gratitude and watching football. The Dallas Cowboys, to some degree, have assured the two go hand in hand.
The Cowboys did not start the NFL tradition of playing on Thanksgiving Day. The NFL has played Thanksgiving Day football almost every year since its inception. The Detroit Lions were the first team to make playing on Thanksgiving Day a permanent fixture on their schedule.
In many respects, the Cowboys have become more synonymous with playing on Thanksgiving Day than the Lions.
According to DetroitLions.com, the Lions hosted their first Thanksgiving Day game at the request of its owner, G.A. Richards, in 1934.
He scheduled the then-world champion Chicago Bears and convinced NBC radio to broadcast the game coast-to-coast. The Lions drew twice their normal crowd.
The Lions play their 73rd Thanksgiving Day game on November 22 against the Houston Texans. The Cowboys play their 45th Thanksgiving Day game the same day against the Washington Redskins.
The beginning of a tradition
In many respects, the Cowboys have become more synonymous with playing on Thanksgiving Day than the Lions, probably due to the Cowboys’ national reputation as “America’s Team” and their five Super Bowl championships.
So how did the Cowboys’ tradition on Thanksgiving Day come to be? Well, we owe thanks to former Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm.
In 1966, the locals still weren’t sold on the Cowboys. In their first six years, the Cowboys had not recorded a winning season.
During the offseason, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle looked for a volunteer to play a second game on Thanksgiving Day. According to sportsillustrated.com, Schramm was the only NFL general manager or owner willing to give it a shot.
The Cowboys were the only team that volunteered to play on Thanksgiving Day in 1966.
The Cowboys were still having trouble filling the cavernous Cotton Bowl and Schramm — a man many considered a marketing genius — must have thought the platform of playing on a day when no one worked and there was just one game on the schedule might help.
It did, locally and nationally. Not only did the Cowboys win the game over the Cleveland Browns, Dallas drew its biggest crowd to date at the Cotton Bowl with 80,259 fans.
Viewers around the country got a look at a Cowboys team that was on the verge of challenging the Green Bay Packers for the NFL title. The Cowboys reached the NFL title game two months later, losing to Green Bay. But it was the start of their ascent to the top of the NFL.
The timing couldn’t have been better. The combination of Cowboys success and national television helped make the them a Thanksgiving Day tradition.
Schramm’s foresight paid big dividends in the worldwide popularity of the Cowboys, who always occupy that 3:15 pm local slot on Thanksgiving Day.
Food for thought before the game:
- Dallas is 28-15-1 on Thanksgiving Day.
- Dallas is 5-0 on Thanksgiving Day with Tony Romo as the starting quarterback.
- Dallas did not host a Thanksgiving Day game in 1975 and 1977. The Cowboys ceded those hosting duties to the St. Louis Cardinals. The game returned permanently to Dallas in 1978.
- Dallas has played their 2012 Thanksgiving Day opponent, the Washington Redskins, six times on Thanksgiving Day. The Cowboys have won all six meetings.
- Of Dallas’ 15 Thanksgiving Day losses, nine have come to three teams — Minnesota, Miami and Tennessee. Two of Tennessee’s three victories came when the team was the Houston Oilers.