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Here’s why the Cowboys always play on Thanksgiving, explained

If it seems like the Dallas Cowboys always play on Thanksgiving, well, that’s because they do.

The Cowboys’ annual tradition of playing on the American holiday, which began in 1966, originated as something of a publicity stunt for America’s Team. Following the Lions’ lead from decades earlier, the concept became an immediate success and the Cowboys have been a Turkey Day fixture ever since, with a few exceptions.

Here’s a brief history lesson, plus a full list of past games and how to watch the 2020 version while stuffing your face with turkey and pie.

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Why do the Cowboys always play on Thanksgiving?

The Cowboys’ tradition of playing on Thanksgiving started when then-general manager Tex Schramm signed up for the holiday game in 1966.

Schramm sought more national publicity and saw Thanksgiving as a way to boost national attention from football fans in and out of Dallas. The NFL was worried about attendance for the game because the Cowboys had been struggling under head coach Tom Landry. Just in case no one showed up, the NFL guaranteed the Cowboys a certain gate revenue. 

It turned out the NFL had nothing to worry about. The Cowboys broke their franchise attendance record as 80,259 fans watched the team beat the Browns at the Cotton Bowl. 

The Cowboys have played on Thanksgiving every year since except two. In 1975 and 1977, the NFL awarded Thanksgiving games to the St. Louis Cardinals instead in an attempt to boost that franchise’s national exposure. The Cowboys had been constant Super Bowl contenders, so the NFL wanted to give another team the chance to be broadcast on a national level. The Cardinals lost both games and the Cowboys reclaimed the tradition in 1978, sharing the day with the Lions.

Detroit has first dibs with the early kickoff every year ar 12:30 p.m. ET, so it’s custom for the Cowboys to play in the late-afternoon game that follows.

In 2006, the NFL decided to add a third game in prime time, because why stop at just two holiday games?

Who do the Cowboys play on Thanksgiving in 2020?

The Cowboys draw the Washington Football Team this year. It’s the 10th time in history these two franchises play head-to-head on Thanksgiving. Dallas won the most recent matchup in 2018, 31-23. In fact, the Cowboys are 8-1 all time against Washington on Thanksgiving. The only loss came in 2012.

Washington is 3-8 all time in Thanksgiving games.

What channel is the Cowboys vs. Washington game on?

Fox will broadcast Cowboys vs. Washington this year. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. ET — the second game of the day, as per tradition.

Cowboys’ all-time record on Thanksgiving

The Cowboys are 31-20-1 playing on Thanksgiving in franchise history. 

YearOpponentResult
1966Cleveland BrownsW, 26-14
1967St. Louis CardinalsW, 46-21
1968Washington RedskinsW, 29-20
1969San Francisco 49ersT, 24-24
1970Green Bay PackersW, 16-3
1971Los Angeles RamsW, 28-21
1972San Francisco 49ersL, 31-10
1973Miami DolphinsL, 14-7
1974Washington RedskinsW, 24-23
1976St. Louis CardinalsW, 19-14
1978Washington RedskinsW, 37-10
1979Houston OilersL, 30-24
1980Seattle SeahawksW, 51-7
1981Chicago BearsW, 10-9
1982Cleveland BrownsW, 31-14
1983St. Louis CardinalsW, 35-17
1984New England PatriotsW, 20-17
1985St. Louis CardinalsW, 35-17
1986Seattle SeahawksW, 31-14
1987Minnesota VikingsL, 44-38 (OT)
1988Houston OilersL, 25-17
1989Philadelphia EaglesL, 27-0
1990Washington RedskinsW, 27-17
1991Pittsburgh SteelersW, 20-10
1992New York GiantsW, 30-3
1993Miami DolphinsL, 16-14
1994Green Bay PackersW, 42-31
1995Kansas City ChiefsW, 24-12
1996Washington RedskinsW, 21-10
1997Tennessee TitansL, 27-14
1998Minnesota VikingsL, 46-36
1999Miami DolphinsW, 20-0
2000Minnesota VikingsL, 27-15
2001Denver BroncosL, 26-24
2002Washington RedskinsW, 27-20
2003Miami DolphinsL, 40-21
2004Chicago BearsW, 21-7
2005Denver BroncosL, 24-21 (OT)
2006Tampa Bay BuccaneersW, 38-10
2007New York JetsW, 34-3
2008Seattle SeahawksW, 34-9
2009Oakland RaidersW, 24-7
2010New Orleans SaintsL, 30-27
2011Miami DolphinsW, 20-19
2012Washington RedskinsL, 38-31
2013Oakland RaidersW, 31-24
2014Philadelphia EaglesL, 33-10
2015Carolina PanthersL, 33-14
2016Washington RedskinsW, 31-26
2017Los Angeles ChargersL, 28-6
2018Washington RedskinsW, 31-23
2019Buffalo BillsL, 26-15

Notable games:

1989 — The Eagles beat the Cowboys 27-0, but the story of the game was that allegations had come out that the Eagles had placed a bounty on the Cowboys’ kicker.

1993 — In a rare snowy game in Texas, the Cowboys had a 14-13 lead over the Dolphins with just seconds remaining. Dolphins kicker Pete Stoyanovich attempted a game-winning 40-yard field goal that was blocked by the Cowboys’ Jimmie Jones. Once the ball stopped moving, the play would be ruled dead and the Cowboys would get the ball back, ready to line up in victory formation. But Cowboys lineman Leon Lett botched the play, and he fell as he tried to grab the ball, knocking it forward and giving the Dolphins the opportunity to recover it on the 2-yard line. The Dolphins kicked a chip shot field goal and won the game 16-14.

1994 — Troy Aikman was injured, and third-string quarterback Jason Garrett (now the Cowboys’ head coach) had to start for Dallas against the Green Bay Packers. The Cowboys won in a 42–31 shootout against Packers quarterback Brett Favre.




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