Thanksgiving was easily my favorite holiday to celebrate growing up. My family and I would pile into my mom’s Astro van, drive over 90 minutes deep into the heart of the Bay Area to meet up with my dad’s side of the family to celebrate in the afternoon. With more than 20 family members in just one household, some of my fondest memories aren’t whether I gained possession of one of the turkey legs, or how many buttons were ready to burst off the seams on my shirt.
It was always football.
After extending pleasantries with family members, I would join my brothers and dad in the family room to catch a glimpse of whoever was playing. One of my two Uncle Dougs would catch us up on the game, while my cousin Dave would pace around if the team he was rooting for was losing.
As each year passed, the routine remained the same. We got to see the likes of Barry Sanders run for over 160 yards against the Chicago Bears in 1997, the Green Bay Packers stomping the Detroit Lions in 2010 except for Ndamukong Suh who did his own fair share of stomping, and who can forget Mark Sanchez’s butt fumble? After watching football, we ate our hearts out. After eating, we often found ourselves heading to the local elementary playground to play any sport that we could. Football on both the professional and college level are ingrained into the DNA of this holiday.
Football has been played while turkey has been served since Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday in the 19th century. The very first game was Rutgers against Princeton in 1869. As time passed, the concept continued to evolve and made its way to the National Football League in 1934, with the Detroit Lions always playing on the holiday.
The opponents changed, and so did the uniforms. It is more often rare to see teams suit up in their regular uniforms, as we see jerseys either paying homage to the history of their organization with throwback uniforms, or recently wearing their new “color rush” uniforms that were introduced to every team back in 2016.
Thanksgiving games hit around the time of the season when we start to know which teams are contenders and which are pretenders. The significance of these holiday games depends on the matchup, of course, but they can cause ripple effects throughout the league.
For sports fanatics like myself, these games are a Thanksgiving staple. This Thanksgiving was a lot different due to the pandemic. We even had a last-minute COVID-19 surprise when one of the three games set for the holiday — Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore — was moved to Sunday, Nov. 29.
I was still in front of my television, yelling at the screen, pacing around like my cousin Dave and catching my wife up on the games as my Uncle Doug used to do. I doubt she had the slightest care. But I was thankful that one tradition remained somewhat the same this year.