When Did Thanksgiving Football Start?

November 08, 2021

When Did Thanksgiving Football Start?

If you’re anything like us, Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks… to the NFL for bringing America’s favorite sport to the dinner table, of course.

Football has gotten more and more high-tech, but it’s actually pretty old school.

It’s true. The very first Thanksgiving Day football game was played in 1869, changing the way we “give thanks” forever. Interested in learning more? We’ve got your back.

Read on as we take a trip back in time to see where Thanksgiving Day Football all began. 

Are you ready? Let’s kick this thing off! 

Let’s Chat About the Best Holiday: Thanksgiving 

Sure, Christmas is cool, and Halloween is, well… spooky, but when it comes to the best holiday of the year, Thanksgiving simply can’t be beat. Why? 

Well, for starters, you get to stuff your face with copious amounts of drool-worthy food like perfectly baked turkey, mashed potatoes covered and smothered in homemade gravy, and of course, pumpkin pie. Mmmm!

There’s a huge Thanksgiving Day parade, no pressure to buy gifts, and lots of doggos struttin’ their stuff at the American Kennel Club’s National Dog Show. 

You don’t have to don your ugly holiday sweater, you can get away with drinking wine all day, and you definitely won’t get judged for taking a post-turkey afternoon cat-nap. But most importantly, there’s no shortage of football games to watch. 

From the three NFL games scheduled on Turkey Day to the wide array of NCAA games played over the course of the weekend, sports fanatics have plenty of options when it comes to this beloved Thanksgiving tradition

Thanksgiving and Football: A Match Made In Heaven 

No matter what team you root for, watching football surrounded by good food and good company is a Turkey Day tradition. And while it may seem “totally millennial,” the truth is that this custom started just thirteen years after the one and only President Abe Lincoln named Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863.

The first teams taking to the gridiron happened way before NFL football began taking over every living room TV on Thanksgiving. And believe it or not, it was college football that did it first. Yup, the very first Thanksgiving Day football game took place in 1876 between Yale and Princeton.

From then on, other colleges wanted to join in on the fun and formed their own rivalries, too. And eventually, football and Turkey Day became so intertwined that by 1893, Thanksgiving was dubbed as the official holiday for watching football.

(It is also the official holiday on fighting with your extended family, but you are less likely to be injured in professional football matches). 

It didn’t take long for the professional football leagues to catch on, and around the turn of the century, they immediately hopped on the Thanksgiving Day football bandwagon. Many saved the big day for their title games or other prestigious matchups. But when the NFL was founded in 1920, it began hosting as many as six — yes, six — Turkey Day games each year.

Today, the NFL holds three Thanksgiving contests each November, two of which always feature the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions.

Hold Up — Why the Cowboys And Lions?    

Believe it or not, the Lions have been a Turkey Day fixture since 1934 when the once-owner George Richards set up a friendly holiday game as a way of creating hype for his fledging franchise.

He broadcasted the game on his radio show, and the team sold out all the seats in the stadium. The Lions, unfortunately, lost the matchup to the Chicago Bears, but the Thanksgiving tradition stuck. 

A similar story is true for the Cowboys. Except they won their matchup against the Cleveland Browns. Since then, games in Detroit and Dallas have become hallmarks of the holiday, which brings us to the football-watchin’, turkey-eatin’ tradition that many people know and love today. 

Two Games Are Nice, But Three Games Are Better 

The Lions and Cowboys hosted the only two Thanksgiving Day football games every year until something glorious happened in 2006 — the NFL Network decided to add a third game into the Turkey Day mix. 

Not pinned to a specific franchise, the new primetime game marked a new “Thanksgiving Tripleheader” tradition with different teams facing each other every year. This added more holiday exposure for the league and has bumped up the appearance for the rest of the NFL on Thanksgiving. 

So, who played in the first game of the Thanksgiving tripleheader in 2006, you ask? 

It was the Kansas City Chiefs who took on the Denver Broncos. Since then, the Colts, Eagles, Packers, Patriots, and more have hosted a Turkey Day showdown.  

Thanksgiving Day Football Fun Facts and Trivia 

Like any family gathering, Thanksgiving can bring out the best, the worst, and even the unexpected. So when you’re passing the gravy this Turkey Day, don’t wage war on your ex-favorite uncle, who is cheering for the wrong team. 

Instead, consider dropping some football fun facts and trivia to keep things light at the dinner table. After all, this is the time to be thankful. When the day is said and done, then you can make fun of your loved ones for being delusional and rooting for the enemy. 

Which NFL Team Has Played the Most Turkey Day Games? 

 Hosting since 1934, the Detroit Lions have played the most Thanksgiving Day games of all the teams on the planet. In fact, they’ve never skipped a season except for when the world was engulfed in World War II from 1941 to 1944. 

The Jacksonville Jaguars Are the Only Team That Hasn’t Played Football on Thanksgiving 

Every single NFL team has played at least once in the Thanksgiving tripleheader, except for the Jaguars. Seeing as the franchise is relatively new, it makes sense, and we’re sure one of these Turkey Days, we’ll see the team make their debut.

Who Briefly Replaced the Cowboys? 

In 1975 and 1977, the Dallas Cowboys were replaced by the St. Louis Cardinals. However, due to their massive fan base, “America’s favorite football team” reclaimed their spot. 

Who Holds the Record For Most Touchdowns Scored In a Turkey Day Game?

That would be Ernie Nevers, who scored an incredible six touchdowns during a Thanksgiving game back in 1929. That must have been quite a story to one-up his relatives and buddies during holiday parties. 

The Minnesota Vikings Have the Best Winning Percentage 

The beloved Minnesota Vikings have the highest winning percentage per Turkey Day appearance. They are 5-1 in Thanksgiving games.

Has Any Team Won Both At Thanksgiving and the Super Bowl? 

Yes, 100%. The Dallas Cowboys have done it on three separate occasions. The Miami Dolphins also did it during their perfect 1972-1973 season.  

Where Can I Find The Coolest Turkey Day Football-Inspired Apparel?

At Famous IRL, of course! 

Whether you’re looking for a breezy tank, cozy tee, or warm hoodie, you can always count on us to have the best quality apparel that’s nothing short of clucking awesome. 

Ready To Gobble ‘Til You Wobble?

Now that you’re up to speed on our incredible Thanksgiving Day football history, it’s time to throw on the game, pick up a leg, and gobble ‘til you wobble!

Here at Famous IRL, we make apparel with character ‘cuz if you ask us — life is way too short to be boring. Premium quality and printed to order, our clothes will make you famous. 

This Thanksgiving, let the fam know what’s on your agenda with our iconic ‘Turkey, Football, Nap” tee. Stuff your face, watch the game, hit the hay — and repeat. Just don’t forget to unbutton your pants!

Check out our inventory of unique Turkey Day apparel today and strut your stuff tomorrow. 

Now, who’s ready for some pie?



The Pilgrims Would Not Have Liked Football...Especially On Thanksgiving | WBUR

Nevers again | Chicago Tribune

From Macy's to NFL, Thanksgiving traditions explained | USA Today

Sports Fans Spend Thanksgiving The Traditional Way: Watching Football | NPR

Leave a comment

Also in Blog

History of Halloween
Why Do We Celebrate Halloween? The History Behind the Spookiest Holiday

September 28, 2023

Explore the dark and fascinating origins behind the spookiest holiday of the year and discover why we love it so much today.
Read More
Reefer Madness
Reefer Madness: How This Propaganda Film Became a Cult Classic

September 26, 2023

Discover how the 1936 cult classic Reefer Madness started out as a propaganda film to demonize marijuana use and ended up becoming a revered comedy.
Read More
Little Shop of Horrors
12 Vintage Horror Films That You Need to Watch

September 25, 2023

Get ready for Halloween with our list of the 12 vintage horror movies you need to watch.
Read More
Size & Product Info

Mens/Unisex T-Shirt Sizing Chart


Women's T-Shirt Sizing Chart


Men/Unisex Raglan 3/4 Sleeve Sizing ChartUnisex Hoodie Sizing Chart


Women's Capped Neck Crew Sizing ChartWomen's Racerback Sizing ChartWomen's Scoopneck Sizing Chart


Women's Muscle Tank Sizing ChartWomen's Flowey Tank Sizing Chart


Unisex Tank Sizing Chart


Ugly Sweater Sizing Chart