The Detroit Lions playing on Thanksgiving is every bit the holiday tradition as the Macy's Day Parade, awkward dinner-time conversations and endless turkey leftovers. But the team's ineptitude has led to a growing call that Detroit should have the Thanksgiving game stripped from its schedule in favor of a better matchup for the television-viewing audience. With the Lions entering this year's game sporting an 0-11 record, the chorus will grow louder than ever. The NFL needs to ignore it. Detroit is the home of Thanksgiving football. Changing that would rob the league of one of it's best traditions.
Maybe it's my inner-Tevye, but tradition matters. There's something to be said for the fact that the Lions began the NFL Thanksgiving game in 1934. (The Cowboys didn't jump into the fray for another 32 years.) It started off as a promotional gimmick to draw interest to professional football which, at the time, lagged in popularity behind the college game. Since then, Thanksgiving football has been synonymous (for better or worse) with the Detroit Lions.
The game is still vastly popular in Detroit, selling out every year since 1992 in spite of the fact that the Lions have been pretty bad since then. They've had just seven winning seasons since 1973 and have only won one playoff win over that same stretch. (They are three games over .500 on Thanksgiving.) Even with all the football misery fans in Detroit have been subjected to, they still continue to support the Thanksgiving game. One gets the impression that Lions fans are very protective of this tradition and taking it away would cause a mini-revolt. Why alienate one loyal fan base just so you might get a better game?
And that's the reason the NFL would dump the Lions: to get a better match-up. But what are the odds that a match-up that looks good in April will be interesting come late-November? The Monday Night and Sunday Night schedules, which are supposed to feature marquee games, are littered with stinkers because teams under-perform from the previous year. It's impossible to gauge what will be a good game seven months out.
Let's say Detroit had been booted from Thanksgiving this year, maybe the NFL would have put on Colts-Browns instead; a contest which looked much better when the schedule was released. If the NFL could flex a game into the Thanksgiving spot, then maybe there'd be something to the argument of booting Detroit. But breaking a 74-year old tradition based on the hope that there might be a better game is senseless. Keep Thanksgiving football in Detroit, where it belongs.
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