The League

Michael Oriard

Michael Oriard

An English professor at Oregon State University and the author of several books on football, including Brand NFL Making and Selling America's Favorite Sport and The End of Autumn Reflections on My Life in Football

Hardly an advantage


Some traditions seem more traditional than others. Each year, I know that the Cowboys and Lions will be playing on Thanksgiving, but I don't care. In my family we have our own Thanksgiving traditions, and they don't include an NFL game.

That said, the question, "Why should Detroit and Dallas get to play home games every year on Turkey Day while other teams have to take turns?" threw me for a loop. The "get" is what got me. When I played for the Kansas City Chiefs, we played Detroit on Thanksgiving in 1971, and it felt more like interference with a family Thanksgiving than a privilege. I didn't have kids but was newly married, and my wife and I had to postpone a start to our own Thanksgiving traditions for a year. (Despite some mild controversy, we also "got" to play on Christmas Day that year, a playoff with Miami. The game turned out to be memorable -- double overtime, still the longest NFL game ever played -- but for the players with young children, Santa Claus spent Christmas Eve and Christmas morning at the local motel where we were required to stay before home games.)

For coaches then and now, playing on Thanksgiving also means three days of preparation instead of six. That problem presumably affects both teams equally, though some teams are easier to prepare for than others. I'm guessing that NFL coaches in general are not crazy about playing on Thanksgiving.

I don't recall how Detroit came to be an NFL regular on Thanksgiving, but I have read that the Cowboys' general manager, Tex Schramm, volunteered his club at a time when other teams preferred to stick to their regular schedules, as part of his strategy for turning the franchise into what became "America's Team." Whether the Cowboys and Lions still "get" to play on Thanksgiving or are stuck with playing, they at least get to drive home afterwards to their families. The visitors must put up with a greater disruption of their holiday, though at least they have to do it only every other decade or so.

Presumably for some NFL fans, watching the Cowboys or Lions on TV on Thanksgiving is part of their holiday tradition, though I doubt that home field matters outside of Texas and Michigan. I wonder if season ticket holders in Dallas and Detroit are actually wild about spending their own Thanksgiving at the stadium, and I suspect that ticket holders elsewhere are grateful that someone else is providing the NFL's traditional football games.

I may be missing some subtle benefit, but this seems to be a case where most folks are happy the way things are. Change the tradition? Sure, if other clubs and their fans out there are actually clamoring to play host. As I say, as traditions go, this one doesn't mean much to me.

By Michael Oriard  |  November 25, 2009; 12:30 PM ET  | Category:  Dallas Cowboys , Detriot Lions , NFL Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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