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Football and Thanksgiving has become such a dynamic duo that it is beginning to rival peanut butter and jelly. There have been professional football games on Thanksgiving dating back all the way to 1920, and there were surely games being played well before then. Back then, those games featured teams such as the Akron Pros, Chicago Tigers, and the Dayton Triangles.
This year, the National Football League will feature three games. The Green Bay Packers will visit the Detroit Lions, the Oakland Raiders will visit the Dallas Cowboys, and the Denver Broncos will host the New York Giants.
The NFL used to only play two games on Thanksgiving, dating back to the AFL/NFL merger, with the Lions and Cowboys each hosting a game. Not missing a chance to make a little more money, the NFL added a third game in 2006 during prime time. That proved to be a good decision, however, because it gave everyone a chance to catch at least one game on Thanksgiving.
It has become quite the tradition in the NFL to host Thanksgiving football games. With that tradition came another one: the turkey leg going to the most valuable player. This award started in 1989 when, unsurprisingly, John Madden gave Reggie White the Turkey Leg Award. Each year we would sit and watch to see who will win that award and take a big ol’ bite of turkey right after winning their game.
When the NFL switched to three games, the MVP award changed, but still holds a special meaning. Each year, the best player of each Thanksgiving game wins some sort of award. Fox gives out the Galloping Gobbler Award, CBS awards the All-Iron Award, and the NFL Network gives out the Pudding Pie Award. Outside of the Super Bowl, these are the only games of the season where us fans actually care about the Player of the Game (besides the Super Bowl).
The NCAA has also gone in on Thanksgiving Day football as well. This year the #3 team in the nation, Texas, will travel to Texas A&M to play a continuation of the Lone Star Showdown. Texas and Texas A&M have been playing their annual rivalry game around Thanksgiving almost every year. This year it just so happens to be on Thanksgiving night. It will be broadcast on ESPN and give fans a chance to see football outside of the NFL on Thursday night.
As much as the NFL has cornered the market for nationally televised games on Thanksgiving, all across Massachusetts much more important games are being played. Growing up in Massachusetts, I knew of the history of the “Turkey Day Game.” For those not from the area, each Thanksgiving, rival high schools across the state wake up early in the morning and battle out a quick game of football before mom even starts thinking about cooking the stuffing.
Back in my old hometown of Hudson, we would play our rival Marlboro High School. It was always an intense game, because no matter what either teams’ record was, you knew the game was going to be a close one. I was fortunate enough to see my Division 3 high school defeat our Division 1 rival twice before I graduated, and having bragging rights for a year was always a good thing.
Some Turkey Day rivalries are young. The Hudson/Marlboro rivalry is one that has now lasted over 100 years, and it is not the only Massachusetts rivalry that has lasted that long. However, these rivalries are much more than a football game. Each year students, parents, grandparents, faculty, and alumni gather together to not only celebrate the school, but to celebrate a holiday that we’ve all grown to love.
Football brings people together on Thanksgiving. In the morning everyone goes to the high school games, and then after dinner it’s time to watch a little football. I know every year after my family eats a delicious meal (thanks to my mother), the men all gather around the television and unwind with some beers and some football.
So for all of us here at Sports of Boston, we hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving this year, complete with as much turkey, stuffing, and pie you could possibly eat.
And football. You don’t ever want to forget about football on Thanksgiving.