It’s only natural to talk of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie when thinking about Thanksgiving Day. But it’s also nearly impossible to forget about one of the oldest traditions of the holiday — football. Americans have been watching the sport on Thanksgiving for nearly as long as Thanksgiving has been a national holiday.
The tradition of tossing around the old pigskin on Thanksgiving made it to the professional ranks soon after the birth of the NFL. Both the players and fans have a great appreciation for what it means to take part in a longstanding tradition.
Here are five age-old games that are played on or around Thanksgiving Day that you should be sure to check out this year:
The Sunshine Showdown
Both the Florida Gators and their cross-state rival, the Florida State Seminoles, have enjoyed outstanding seasons over the past few decades. This usually means one or both of these teams are nationally ranked by this point in the year, adding to the heated atmosphere. Either way, the rivalry itself is enough to guarantee a thrilling game.
The Jeweled Shillelagh
Notre Dame versus the University of Southern California has been a fierce rivalry since the two programs first played each other in the 1920s. So much so that it turned into a Thanksgiving tradition a few decades later. Both the Fighting Irish and the Trojans have been dynasties in college football, so you can be sure that the game won’t leave any fans disappointed. If the game is played in Los Angeles, weather isn’t really a factor. But if the Irish are hosting in northwest Indiana, there’s a chance the snow could add an extra challenge for both teams.
It doesn’t get any better than this for Big Ten fans — the Michigan Wolverines versus the Ohio State Buckeyes. These two teams, among the most storied programs in college football history, each have multiple national championships and Heisman winners. Whether they play the game at “The Big House” or “The Horseshoe,” there will never be an empty seat, despite these being two of the largest stadiums in the country. Plus, you know that any football game that has earned the nickname “The Game” has got to be good.
The Detroit Lions
This tradition started as a result of the Lions trying to compete with the city’s baseball team, the Detroit Tigers. In those days, the baseball team had already established itself as a fan favorite. The Lions were still trying to earn the respect of the city of Detroit after the franchise moved there from Ohio, so the Lions’ owner tried to put his team in the spotlight on a day that all Americans are gathered with friends and family around the television: Thanksgiving. The Detroit Lions hosted the Chicago Bears in the first Thanksgiving matchup in the NFL’s history and have held a game on Turkey Day ever since.
The Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys, considered “America’s Team,” began hosting a game on Thanksgiving shortly after the Lions. They didn’t start playing as the home team on this national holiday until the 1960s, but many people consider this almost as much as (if not more than) a tradition than the Thanksgiving game in Detroit.