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Top 5 NFL Thanksgiving games of all time

Lions fans pose in front of Ford Field prior to their 2019 Thanksgiving contest  (Photo:Getty)
Lions fans pose in front of Ford Field prior to their 2019 Thanksgiving contest (Photo:Getty)
ANALYST

Thanksgiving Day, the annual Thursday of food, family, and football lingers this week, as the NFL is set to present a trio of games that will have seismic implications on several fronts: the dreary opening matchup between the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions (12:30 PM ET, Fox) will likely shake up the 2022 draft board while subsequent interconference games between Dallas and Las Vegas (4:30 PM ET, CBS) and Buffalo and New Orleans (8:20 PM ET, NBC) could disrupt the slowly forming playoff brackets.

If history is any indication, we're in for one heck of a Thursday.

Who has starred in the NFL's finest Thanksgiving games?

Tiger Stadium, seen prior to a 1999 baseball game, played host to some of Detroit's earliest Thanksgiving games (Photo:Getty)
Tiger Stadium, seen prior to a 1999 baseball game, played host to some of Detroit's earliest Thanksgiving games (Photo:Getty)

1962 - Falling Starr

The Detroit Lions have ruined their fans' Thanksgivings annually since 1934, but have risen to provide occasional brilliance. In 1962, rivals Green Bay Packers were flirting with NFL perfection, entering a holiday showdown at Tiger Stadium with a 10-0 record. Shockingly, the Lions were on the right side of a "Thanksgiving Day Massacre," sacking future Super Bowl MVP Bart Starr 11 times in a 26-14 win. Detroit scored the first 26 points, mostly the arms and legs of quarterback Milt Plum.

Texas Stadium, seen in 2008, was a common site for Thanksgiving classics (Photo: Getty)
Texas Stadium, seen in 2008, was a common site for Thanksgiving classics (Photo: Getty)

1974 - Clint WOW-yer

Dallas-Washington is the NFL's fourth-most common Turkey Day matchup. One of the most memorable showings between the two came in 1974 when backup rookie quarterback Clint Longley was called up from the kids' table to help the Cowboys top the Redskins, the defending NFC finalists. Subbing for an injured Roger Staubach, Longley erased several deficits during second-half action, throwing for two touchdowns (including the game-winning 50-yard score to Drew Pearson) in a 24-23 victory. Those tallies accounted for 40 percent of Longley's NFL touchdown pass total.

While Longley is fondly remembered as one of the most renowned one-hit wonders in Cowboys history, his Dallas tenure came to a bizarre end two years later. Seeking a trade, Longley sucker-punched Staubach in the Dallas locker room during training camp, leading to a deal that sent him to the San Diego Chargers. One of the picks the Cowboys netted in the deal was eventually used to draft Tony Dorsett.

Pontiac Silverdome, the sight of many a Detroit heartbreak (Photo: Getty)
Pontiac Silverdome, the sight of many a Detroit heartbreak (Photo: Getty)

1980 - The Lion Sting

Holiday calamities in Detroit are nothing new on the NFL schedule. In 1980, the woebegone Lions were the victims of the first overtime Thanksgiving decision, falling 23-17 to Chicago. The Lions owned a 17-3 lead heading into the final quarter but a passing and rushing score, each from Bears quarterback Vince Evans (the latter coming as regulation expired), was enough to send the game to overtime. Detroit didn't even get a chance to defend themselves, as Bears returner Dave Williams took the extra period's kickoff back 95 yards for the winning score. On a day known for desserts, a guy named "Sweetness" appropriately had a strong game, as Walter Payton put up 123 yards.

Making things even more painful for Detroit? The loss might've cost them an NFL playoff spot. The Lions finished the year tied for first in the NFC Central but the tiebreakers sent the division crown to Minnesota.

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Edited by Piyush Bisht
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