Thanksgiving Day Football Memories

The Thanksgiving holiday, as with any other holiday, has its share of traditions. Those observed at my house include spending time with family, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television, eating foods like turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, and cranberries, and taking a fairly sizable nap in the afternoon. But for me, there are few Thanksgiving  traditions that stack up to the football games that always take place in the afternoon and evening. My thoughts of Thanksgiving Day when I was a kid immediately take me to my Grandmother’s house in Chicago, where we would have a large feast around noon, and then retire to the living room to watch football all afternoon. For me, Thanksgiving and football go hand in hand. So I thought I’d share a couple of my favorite Thanksgiving football memories.

Packers vs. Lions

Nothing says Thanksgiving Day like the Green Bay Packers taking on the Detroit Lions in the Motor City. This year the Packers and Lions will face each other on Turkey Day for the 20th time, with the Lions holding a 11-7-1 lead in the holiday series. The game between these two that sticks in my mind is the 1986 game, which turned out to be the highest scoring Thanksgiving Day game in history. The Packers won that game 44-40 on a late game 83 yard punt return for touchdown by Walter Stanley who had three touchdowns on the day. Stanley was never heard from again, but the high scoring game, and exciting finish still stick in my mind and make it one of my earliest Thanksgiving Day football memories.

The Leon Lett Game

A former Emporia State University defensive tackle, and ten year veteran of the Dallas Cowboys, Leon Lett was actually an above average professional football player. You’d never know it, however, because he’s mainly remembered for doing two of the most idiotic things ever seen on a football field. One of those things occurred during Super Bowl XXVII when he recovered a fumble late in the game, and while showboating toward the end zone had the ball stripped from behind by the Buffalo Bills’ Don Beebe. The other occurred on Thanksgiving Day in 1993 when the Cowboys were facing the Miami Dolphins on a snowy Texas Stadium field. Trailing 14-13 with 15 seconds left in the game, the Dolphins had a 41 yard field goal blocked, seemingly ending the game. What no one counted on, however, was Leon Lett inexplicably running after the ball post block and sliding on the slick field toward the football, apparently trying to recover it. Instead, big number seventy eight muffed it, and it was recovered by the Dolphins who, with a few seconds left on the clock, kicked the game winning field goal as time expired. I can still remember sitting in my Grandmother’s living room watching this happen in disbelief. I also remember the look of triumph and excitement on the face of Jimmie Johnson, the Cowboys’ coach, and then his look of shock when he realized what had happened. My memory of this game is probably aided by the fact that I hate the Cowboys, but I guess the last laugh was on me and all other Cowboy haters as they went on to win the rest of their games that year, including the Super Bowl.


Anyone who has watched Thanksgiving Day football over the past few decades know that before his retirement, John Madden was always a fixture as the color commentator on CBS, and later Fox. Madden introduced the idea of awarding turkey legs to the most valuable player or players of the game, which eventually evolved into turducken legs. In case you don’t know, turducken is a dish consisting of a chicken stuffed inside a duck, which is then stuffed inside a turkey. Basically, it is a huge bird with an endless supply of meat. After the game, the players of the game would stand on the field, with headsets on, talking to Madden about what happened during the game. When the conversation was over, they were presented with a turducken that usually had about twenty legs, which they would then proceed to eat on the spot. Why this was so enthralling I will never know. But I do know that every year I stayed glued to the post game show to see the players eat their turducken legs. Since Madden stopped doing the Thanksgiving Day games in 2002, Fox and CBS have come up with other MVP awards, including the “Galloping Gobbler” and “Iron Man Award”. But, in my opinion, these lame imitations will never compare to the awarding of the turducken legs.

What are some of your Thanksgiving football memories?

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I'm the Red Carpet Librarian and work to bring lifelong support services to the Topeka and Shawnee County area through outreach and programming. I also am a sports enthusiast, work closely with the library's sports collection, and provide programming to engage the community's sports fans.

One thought on “Thanksgiving Day Football Memories

  1. A couple of games come to mind. The Clint Longley game in the 70’s Dallas and the Redskins. Chiefs vs Bronco game in 1969 only because I talked my Dad into taking us to the game. And just about any game in the years 1999 to 2008. But you have to ask me why.

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