Thanksgiving and football: Two holiday traditions

One of the great all-time Thanksgiving traditions is, without a doubt, football. And it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the Detroit Lions or the Dallas Cowboys playing. If you’re not a football fan, the appeal of the pigskin on turkey day may be lost on you. But if you’re a diehard football fanatic, Thanksgiving is one of the most anticipated days of the season.

Once upon a time, football on Thanksgiving used to be popular at the high school and college level. And since 1920, professional football matchups have taken place. While there are still high school and college games throughout Thanksgiving weekend, the NFL has become synonymous with Thanksgiving and ranks right up there with turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy and pumpkin pie.

Two teams you can always count on playing on Thanksgiving are the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys. The Lions Thanksgiving tradition dates back to 1934 when the team took on the Chicago Bears with 26,000 in attendance. The Lions have played every Thanksgiving since then, except for 1939 through 1944.

The Cowboys (also known as “The team you love to hate”) began their Thanksgiving stint in 1966. With the exception of missing two years in 1975 and 1977, they have played year in, year out on the holiday.

Because two football games weren’t enough on Thanksgiving, the NFL added a third game in 2006, with a rotating team getting the honors to play. Here are the NFL matchups for 2011 on Thanksgiving:

The Green Bay Packers take on the Detroit Lions at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time on Fox. Then at 4:15, it’s the Dallas Cowboys’ turn as they play host to the Miami Dolphins. That game airs on CBS. And the final Thanksgiving football battle is between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens. Game time is at 8:20 p.m. and airs exclusively on the NFL Network.