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

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

The Lions’ annual tradition of playing on the American holiday, which began in 1934, is nearly as old as the franchise itself. In fact, they’re the biggest reason why football and Thanksgiving are synonymous, even if the Lions haven’t enjoyed as much success on the holiday as other franchises.

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 Lions always play on Thanksgiving?

It all started on Thanksgiving Day in 1934, when owner George A. Richards decided to play on the holiday to attract more fans.

Richards was known for his marketing acumen, and his Thanksgiving plan was an immediate hit. The Lions at the time weren’t attracting much of a crowd because the Detroit Tigers were the city’s main sports attraction. But on that Thanksgiving, the Lions not only sold out the stadium, they also had to turn people away at the gates. 

The Lions lost to the Bears, but a new team tradition was born. 

Other teams had played on Thanksgiving before 1934, but the Lions were different because Richards owned a radio station that was a major affiliate of the NBC Blue Network. Richards negotiated an agreement with NBC to broadcast his Thanksgiving games on 94 stations across the country. 

Since 1978, the Lions and Cowboys have hosted a game on Thanksgiving every year. Detroit always plays the early game, followed by Dallas in the late afternoon and a rotating prime-time matchup added in 2006.

Who do the Lions play on Thanksgiving 2020?

The Lions play the Texans on Thanksgiving in 2020. It is a rematch of a 2012 game won by the Texans, 34-30, their first Thanksgiving game in franchise history. 

What channel is the Lions vs. Texans game on?

CBS will broadcast Lions vs. Texans this year. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. ET — the first game of the day, as per tradition.

Lions record on Thanksgiving

The Lions are 37-41-2 playing on Thanksgiving in franchise history.

1934Chicago BearsL, 19-16
1935Chicago BearsW, 14-2
1936Chicago BearsW, 13-7
1937Chicago BearsL, 13-0
1938Chicago BearsW, 14-7
1945Cleveland RamsL, 28-21
1946Boston YanksL, 34-10
1947Chicago BearsL, 34-14
1948Chicago CardsL, 28-14
1949Chicago BearsL, 28-7
1950New York YanksW, 49-14
1951Green Bay PackersW, 52-35
1952Green Bay PackersW, 48-24
1953Green Bay PackersW, 34-15
1954Green Bay PackersW, 28-24
1955Green Bay PackersW, 24-10
1956Green Bay PackersL, 24-20
1957Green Bay PackersW, 18-6
1958Green Bay PackersW, 24-14
1959Green Bay PackersL, 24-17
1960Green Bay PackersW, 23-10
1961Green Bay PackersL, 17-9
1962Green Bay PackersW, 26-14
1963Green Bay PackersT, 13-13
1964Chicago BearsL, 27-24
1965Baltimore ColtsT, 24-24
1966San Francisco 49ersL, 41-14
1967Los Angeles RamsL, 31-7
1968Philadelphia EaglesL, 12-0
1969Minnesota VikingsL, 27-0
1970Oakland RaidersW, 28-14
1971Kansas City ChiefsW, 32-21
1972New York JetsW, 37-20
1973Washington RedskinsL, 20-0
1974Denver BroncosL, 31-27
1975Los Angeles RamsL, 20-0
1976Buffalo BillsW, 27-14
1977Chicago BearsL, 31-14
1978Denver BroncosW, 17-14
1979Chicago BearsW, 20-0
1980Chicago BearsL, 23-17 (OT)
1981Kansas City ChiefsW, 27-10
1982New York GiantsL, 13-6
1983Pittsburgh SteelersW, 45-3
1984Green Bay PackersW, 31-28
1985New York JetsW, 31-20
1986Green Bay PackersL, 44-40
1987Kansas City ChiefsL, 27-20
1988Minnesota VikingsL, 23-0
1989Cleveland BrownsW, 13-10
1990Denver BroncosW, 40-27
1991Chicago BearsW, 16-6
1992Houston TexansL, 24-21
1993Chicago BearsL, 10-6
1994Buffalo BillsW, 35-21
1995Minnesota VikingsW, 44-38
1996Kansas City ChiefsL, 28-24
1997Chicago BearsW, 55-20
1998Pittsburgh SteelersW, 19-16 (OT)
1999Chicago BearsW, 21-17
2000New England PatriotsW, 34-9
2001Green Bay PackersL, 29-27
2002New England PatriotsL, 20-12
2003Green Bay PackersW, 22-14
2004Indianapolis ColtsL, 41-9
2005Atlanta FalconsL, 27-7
2006Miami DolphinsL, 27-10
2007Green Bay PackersL, 37-26
2008Tennessee TitansL, 47-10
2009Green Bay PackersL, 34-12
2010New England PatriotsL, 45-24
2011Green Bay PackersL, 27-15
2012Houston TexansL, 34-31 (OT)
2013Green Bay PackersW, 40-10
2014Chicago BearsW, 34-17
2015Philadelphia EaglesW, 45-14
2016Minnesota VikingsW, 16-13
2017Minnesota VikingsL, 30-23
2018Chicago BearsL, 23-16
2019Chicago BearsL, 24-20

Notable games: 

1962 — The Lions gave the Green Bay Packers their only loss that season. Green Bay finished 13-1 and won its second consecutive NFL championship.

1980 — The Lions and Bears were tied 17-17 at the end of regulation. It was the first Thanksgiving game to go into overtime, and when Bears running back Dave Williams returned the OT kickoff for a touchdown, it also became the shortest overtime at 13 seconds — a regular-season record that stands today. 

1986 — The Lions and Packers played the highest-scoring game in Thanksgiving history to date, 44-40, with Green Bay taking the W. 

2008 — The 10-1 Titans beat the 0-11 Lions 47-10, one of the biggest point differentials in Thanksgiving history. The Lions finished the season 0-16. 

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