As the calendar creeps toward Thanksgiving Day, we, as fans of the Detroit Lions, are reminded of the team's recent failures in the Turkey Day game. It isn't quite time to delve into that discussion -- that will come in the next edition of this article -- but since the final Thursday of November this year falls near the end of the month, this week's game day includes many previous Thanksgiving Day games. These, coupled with the rest, brings the game total for Nov. 24 to double any of the previous weeks this year: 22 games, with the Lions holding a 7-13-2 record (5-7 on Thanksgiving). That's a lot of games. So instead of touching on all 22, I'm going to talk about the best and the worst, in my opinion, and leave the rest in the history books.
Worst Game: 1940, Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers, 7-50
This game score hurt on two levels: not only did it set the bar as the worst Lions defeat in history, it was also the most points the Packers had scored since joining the NFL. Both teams weren't anything special in '40. The Lions came into the game at 5-4-1 with three of their four losses by one score or less. Sitting at 5-4, the Packers weren't much better in terms of record and had already lost to Detroit earlier in the season.
As for the game, the Lions never really had a chance and failed to do anything offensively thanks to 5 interceptions on the day. Detroit's 7 points came on a meaningless touchdown with 5 minutes remaining. On the other hand, the Packers scored multiple touchdowns in each quarter except the third (when they could muster only a field goal) and simply dominated every aspect of the game.
Dishonorable Mention: 1966, Detroit Lions vs. San Francisco 49ers, 14-41
Losing this bad on Thanksgiving Day is never fun. The Lions surrendered 10 points in the opening minutes of the game off of a field goal and an interception that was returned for a touchdown. However, they kept the game close and only trailed 20-14 at halftime. Unfortunately, the 49ers shut out Detroit in the second half while adding 3 more touchdowns to embarrass the home team in the holiday game.
Best Game: 1983, Detroit Lions vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 45-3
Heading into the '83 Thanksgiving Day game, the Steelers were the clear-cut favorites with a 9-3 record compared to the 6-6 Lions. However, Detroit was still in the hunt for the NFC Central title and a win would have put them within a half-game of first place. That, paired with holiday heroics, must have been enough to stun the Steelers.
Most of the heroics for Detroit came from one man: Mr. Billy Sims. He was before my time, but every Thanksgiving I wear a throwback Lions jersey with his name on the back. The '83 game is a perfect example of why I do that. In the game, Sims ran for 106 yards on 26 carries with 2 touchdowns and led the Detroit offense in the upset. Quarterback Eric Hipple threw a consistent passing game as well -- 10 for 18 for 153 yards and 2 touchdowns -- and the Lions defense picked off 5 Pittsburgh passes to help in the winning effort.
The Steelers' head coach, Chuck Noll, had this to say following the loss, which illustrates how dominant Detroit was that Thanksgiving Day:
"As I was walking back [to the locker room], I mulled over what the turning point of this game was. I decided it was the opening kickoff."
Honorable Mention: 1994, Detroit Lions vs. Buffalo Bills, 35-21
In another memorable Thanksgiving Day victory, the Lions handled the four-time defending AFC champion Buffalo Bills, using backup quarterback Dave Krieg in place of an injured Scott Mitchell. The game's most memorable moment happened on the second play from scrimmage as Krieg connected with Herman Moore via a flea flicker for a 51-yard touchdown. Krieg finished the game with 351 passing yards and 3 touchdowns; Moore had a then-career-high 169 yards receiving; and safety Willie Clay had the first 2 interceptions of his career in the fourth quarter, returning the second 28 yards for a touchdown.
Overall record on Nov. 24
7-13-2 (5-7 on Thanksgiving)
Game scores (* denotes Thanksgiving Day game)
'35 at Chicago Bears, 20-20
'38 vs. Chicago Bears, 14-7*
'40 vs. Green Bay Packers, 7-50*
'46 at Chicago Bears, 6-42
'49 vs. Chicago Bears, 7-28*
'55 vs. Green Bay Packers, 24-10*
'57 vs. Chicago Bears, 7-27
'60 vs. Green Bay Packers, 23-10*
'63 at Minnesota Vikings, 31-34
'66 vs. San Francisco 49ers, 14-41*
'68 vs. New Orleans Saints, 20-20
'74 vs. Chicago Bears, 34-17
'77 vs. Chicago Bears, 14-31*
'83 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 45-3*
'85 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 16-19 (OT)
'88 vs. Minnesota Vikings, 0-23*
'91 at Minnesota Vikings, 34-14
'94 vs. Buffalo Bills, 35-21*
'96 at Chicago Bears, 14-31
'02 at Chicago Bears, 17-20 (OT)
'05 vs. Atlanta Falcons, 7-27*
'11 vs. Green Bay Packers, 15-27*