NFL Thanksgiving Day Games & Traditions


Photo via Dave Reginek/Getty Images

Andrew Tunley, Staff Writer

As Thanksgiving approaches, the NFL will have their annual Thanksgiving Day games 101 years after the Canton Bulldogs and Akron Pros matched up on November 25, 1920. The Bears will take on the Lions at 12:30, the Cowboys host the Raiders at 4:30, and the Bills will travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints at 8:20. All three of these games will surely be exciting as ever, as they vary from teams fighting for a playoff spot to others looking to get their first win.

The NFL has played games on Thanksgiving day every year since 1920, excluding 1940-1944 due to World War II. The first ever game in 1920 had the Canton Bulldogs play the Akron Pros, when a sole touchdown brought the Pros the first ever Thanksgiving Day win. 101 years later, the NFL has had immense advancements in various aspects of the game, but the Thanksgiving Day games still remain as a cornerstone of NFL tradition. 

In 1989, on the 69th Anniversary of the first Thanksgiving day game, CBS Commentator John Madden awarded the first “Turkey Leg Award” for the game’s most valuable player. This award was a cooked turkey leg, and the MVP of the game would take a celebratory bite out of it. This tradition has continued on since, where various players celebrate Thanksgiving with a big bite of turkey on post-game interviews. 

Fox introduced a new award in 2002, which was a small figurine representing a turkey wearing a football helmet, named the “Galloping Gobbler”. After backlash from players, the award was replaced in 2007 with a bronze-colored statue of a turkey holding a football. It was discarded again in 2011 and replaced with a plaque, then completely retired in 2017, replaced by a football shaped trophy. 

This weekend marks the 400th Anniversary of the first Thanksgiving. Enjoy it with family, friends, and the warmth of your fireplace. Eat some turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie, and maybe sneak in some great NFL games.