Thanksgiving Football

WikiImages (CC0), Pixabay

Fun and games are always an inevitable part of entertainment for the young and the old alike. People in America celebrate this festival of charitable giving through their avid participation in the game of football that brings in waves of sheer joy and pleasure in the hearts of multitudes of fanatic football fans who are driven mad by football mania during this festive season. Over the years, football has become synonymous with this joyous festival of Thanksgiving.

Many interesting traditions permeate deep into the festival of Thanksgiving such as the game of football compliments this festival of merrymaking. Professional football was the last of the contemporary trends of celebrating the spirit of Thanksgiving. In 1874, eleven years after Lincoln’s proclamation, the first intercollegiate football game was played. Two year later the Intercollegiate Football Association was formed in the northeast, which instituted a championship game principally to amuse the people on Thanksgiving Day. Every year, strong competitors like Princeton and Yale would vie with each other to bag the most coveted winner’s trophy. Players, students and fans would wear their school colors as a mark of representation with banners flying high from carriages, hotels and business establishments of New York City. On Thanksgiving Day church services would wind up early to accommodate the fans, with the game kicking off the season of festivity for the social elite in New York. It had gained such popularity that soon by mid-1890s, 1,20,000 athletes from colleges, clubs and high schools partook in 5,000 Thanksgiving Day football games across the nation.

The custom of watching a match of football on Thanksgiving Day has evolved during the early decades of twentieth century. As football paved its way into the heart of the people winning hearts of millions, giving it a huge popularity as early as 1920s and 1930s and earning itself the much prestigious position that it enjoys at present, many people began to visit the football stadium to watch the same. Renowned teams playing for the world famous football league of America eventually established the tradition of playing nationally televised games on Thanksgiving afternoon. Besides the conventional competition organized by the nationally recognized football league in America, many high schools and colleges also organize “Turkey Day” football games over Thanksgiving weekend, often between regional or historic rival. However, Thanksgiving football played in schools and colleges of America, has now more or less faded into oblivion in most sections of the country with it being kept alive only in two franchise cities of this globally recognized football league of America, namely Detroit and Dallas, where Thanksgiving football is very much a way of life.

Thanksgiving football more often than not is associated with the team of Lions and a tradition that has been popular since 1934 in the city of Detroit. The game has been the idea of G.A. Richards, the first owner of the team with ferocious lion like quality players comprising the team. In fact four generations of Detroiters have been a proud part of the American celebration of Thanksgiving. Some 71 years later, fans residing in the state of Michigan have transformed a local event into an annual holiday event, giving it the shape of single greatest tradition in the history of American professional team sports. In fact no other team in professional sports can claim to be so much a part of an American holiday as that team with ferocious lion like players’ team with Thanksgiving. This team has hosted a game every Thanksgiving Day since 1934, with the exception of 1939-1944 due to World War II. The Dallas have also hosted football matches every Thanksgiving Day since 1966.

We thus find that it all saw its genesis in 1934 when a local radio executive, G.A. Richards, had purchased the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans and moved the team to Detroit, the Motor City. The Lions being nouveau arrive in town had taken a backseat to the Baseball Tigers in the sport pages. Richards had practical reasons for scheduling the game on Thanksgiving Day as he was also wise enough to figure out that the best way to give publicity to the team would be opting for the Thanksgiving Day contest for attracting the Motor City fans during the teams’ first season. The fierce clash between the Lions and the invincible World Champion, meaning the robust Bears of Chicago proved to be an all time classic. The Lions were exceptionally good with eight wins backing them, leading them to their entry alongside the Bears with a 10-1 record. But Chicago had even a better record holding a commanding position with 11 straight wins. The match then reached an interesting phase where a win in the sole fateful game would ensure whether the Lions will get the first-place tie with the Bears. Two weeks in advance of that fateful match, 26,000 tickets were sold out for the “Turkey Day” clash in the University of Detroit Stadium. Richards was not disheartened over the last two losses rather pretty content the way his team performed in its very first year. His faith and confidence in the team was well rewarded when Lions won the 1935 America’s popular football league Championship. The final match was scheduled on Thanksgiving Day when the Lions defeated the Bears 14-2 to bag the west Championship trophy. Radio with its huge publicity potential was used as a bait to capture the audience. Richards along with the nationally recognized broadcasting radio company, set up a 94-station network to broadcast the Lions-Bears showdown. Since then the league conventionally schedules two nationally televised games on Thanksgiving, usually featuring the famous football players of Dallas, one of the most successful and popular franchises in the sport and the players of Detroit, one of the least successful.

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