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In the years when the Lions are particularly bad by the time late November rolls around, a question often emerges.
Why are we subjected to the Lions as an annual home team, every Thanksgiving?
The NFL has said that the Lions (and Cowboys) keep their games because they were willing to host Thanksgiving games at a time when no one else wanted to do it. Surely, however, that doesn’t give both teams an infinity hammerlock on the games. Or does it?
In early 2019, Lions president Rod Wood made it clear that the team won’t surrender its spot as the host of a game on the fourth Thursday in November.
“I’m pretty confident that we’re going to have the 12:30 kickoff on Thanksgiving for as far in the future as we can ever see,” Wood said at the time. “And it’s something that we should be very proud of and I know it’s special to the fans, it’s special to the city and it puts Detroit on the map every [year] to kind of kick off the holiday season.”
Roughly 15 years ago, some owners pushed for the Detroit and Dallas Thanksgiving games to rotate. Instead, the NFL added a rotating night game as of 2006.
“We kind of invented that game,” Wood said in 2019. “It kind of put the national media on the map for the NFL. So I think in respect for that history and the games that we’ve played over the years on Thanksgiving, and we’ve had some great Thanksgiving Day games, notwithstanding the record of the team recently. That’s how Barry Sanders, I think, became a national icon, because everybody watched him on Thanksgiving. Same thing with Calvin Johnson. . . . So there’s been some great history on Thanksgiving Day.”
As Peter King notes in the attached video, there’s a strategic advantage that comes rom hosting the game every year. Indeed, at a time when nearly every team plays a Thursday game after a Sunday game, the Lions and Cowboys ALWAYS play their short-week game at home. There’s a definite edge that comes from that.
Not that it has helped the Lions. Or, in recent years, the Cowboys. Neither have made it to the NFC Championship since 1995. (The Lions and Washington have the longest NFC drought, dating back to 1991.)
Regardless, it’s not changing. So treat this game like that weird dish your aunt with the cats brings every year. It’s on the table. It can’t be ignored. But you can eat as little of it as you want. Or, if you prefer, none of it at all.
For most, however, watching the Lions play at home in the early game on Thanksgiving has become a key part of the broader Thanksgiving traditions. If it changed, we wouldn’t feel right. And for those of us on the wrong side of 30 (or 40 . . . or 50), traditions as simple as seeing the Lions play at home in the early game and the Cowboys at home in the second game bridges the decades, connects the generations, and conjures memories of parents or other loved ones who are no longer with us.