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Football now as American as pumpkin pie

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

According to history, the pumpkin pie first was created in Colonial Plimoth, Massachusetts – where settlers hollowed out the shell of a pumpkin, filled it with milk, honey and spices and then baked it. It seems probable the recipe came from the local Wompanoag Indians, but no one is certain. Also no word if it was served a la mode.

Here is what I do know: Whoever this culinary genius was – whether European or Native American – he or she is without question the person whose contribution to Thanksgiving I am most thankful for.

Second place goes to G.A. Richards.

Back in 1934 Richards purchased a pro football team and moved it from Portsmouth, Ohio to Detroit. He called them the Lions. As the new team in town, the Lions struggled to draw. The largest crowd that first year was 15,000.

As a promotional gimmick Richards moved a scheduled game with the Chicago Bears to Thanksgiving Day. NBC Radio agreed to carry it live on 94 stations nationally. Twenty-six thousand fans jammed the place and the second-greatest Thanksgiving tradition of all time was born.

Football.

We know all about hearth and home, family and friends. The smell of grandma's stuffing and the way a perfectly cooked turkey looks golden as it comes out of the oven.

But imagine Thanksgiving without the Lions, then the Cowboys and then some nutcase college game (currently the Egg Bowl between Mississippi and Mississippi State) at night as you lay comatose while digesting the second piece of pumpkin pie you never had room for in the first place.

Go ahead, imagine.

Scares the hell out of you, doesn't it?

This is the beauty of Thanksgiving, and Richards gets the credit. There is no other American holiday in which watching sports on television – or attending the game – is actually part of the festivities.

In 99 percent of all non-Amish households this Thursday, if you are going to host a Thanksgiving dinner you must provide two essential items: a big table and a big TV.

Sports so entrenched in the culture that not even Martha Stewart could deny its importance.

The NBA tries to show basketball games on Christmas, but flip over to that and you'll get a lot of flak for not understanding the true meaning of the day. There is baseball on the Fourth of July, but it is not the same.

It is now an honest-to-goodness American tradition to see John Madden award those drumsticks. Players show more emotion in reaction to that honor than when they make a pro bowl.

Thursday's game against Green Bay will mark the 65th edition of Thanksgiving football for the Lions. The Packers, for many years, were the Lions' annual foe. Now the opponents rotate.

In 1966 Dallas owner Tex Schramm, realizing the Lions were onto something, decided also to schedule Cowboy games on Turkey Day. The 'Boys have played every year since – although never against the Lions.

The date is the envy of NFL franchises everywhere. In the 1990s there was a movement to break up the Dallas-Detroit monopoly and spread it around. The league wisely clung to its tradition.

The pros do not have the market cornered here either. Richards actually stole the idea from prep and college teams.

High schools around the country have played on Thanksgiving for more than a century. Some states work the date into their playoff schedules. In Massachusetts the tradition is to play your archrival on Thanksgiving morning. Wellesley vs. Natick is the oldest continuous rivalry in the nation. The two high schools first played in 1882.

From 1901 to 1994 Texas and Texas A&M played 60 times on Thanksgiving, but have since moved the game to later into the weekend. Since 1998 ESPN has broadcast 'The Battle of the Golden Egg' between Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

It is a fine choice because the rivalry between these two is so heated. I once was in a bar in Tupelo, Miss. and watched two brawls erupt over the game. Kickoff was five days away.

Now that's America.

And football.

And Thanksgiving.

The ingredients go together perfectly. Like vanilla ice cream and pumpkin pie.

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