With Thanksgiving upon us once again, the Detroit Lions will take the field against the Green Bay Packers on Thursday to continue a tradition that started back in 1934. After moving the Lions from Portsmouth to the Motor City prior to the start of the '34 season, owner G.A. Richards created the Thanksgiving classic in the hopes of sparking more interest in football since baseball took center stage in Detroit at the time. To make the game even bigger, Richards persuaded the NBC Radio Network to broadcast the game coast-to-coast on 94 stations. Detroit ended up losing 19-16 to the undefeated Chicago Bears, but nevertheless, a tradition was born.
In 71 total Thanksgiving games, the Lions hold a run-of-the-mill 33-36-2 record with a current nine-game losing streak. Since there are more bad memories than good when it comes to football on Turkey Day, let's take a look back at the four wins for the Lions on Thursday's date, a date on which they've only played Thanksgiving games:
1935 - Detroit Lions vs. Chicago Bears, 14-2
It was the first win for the Lions on Thanksgiving Day and avenged the loss to the Bears in the inaugural match a year prior. Earl "Dutch" Clark tallied both touchdowns, as well as both extra points for the Lions in the staunch victory. Unable to do anything on offense, Chicago earned both of its points off of a safety in the second quarter. The win propelled the Lions into the NFL Championship Game, where they defeated the New York Giants 26-7 for the first league title in franchise history.
1957 - Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers, 18-6
I recapped this game briefly in my earlier article. Below is that text coupled with some bonus facts:
Following their first loss to Green Bay on Thanksgiving, Detroit rallied from a 6-3 halftime deficit to stifle the visiting Packers. On the first play from scrimmage in the second half, fullback John Henry Johnson broke off a 62-yard touchdown run following a fake handoff by Bobby Layne. The score put momentum in Detroit's favor and gave the Lions their first lead of the day. From that point on, the Lions never looked back, adding 3 more field goals following the touchdown to close out the win. The loss dropped the Packers to 3-7 on the year (they'd finish 3-9), and it was the first time since '54 that they were held below 7 points. As for the Lions, the win kept Detroit's hopes of winning the Western Division alive (they did), and they ended up going on to win their most recent NFL championship later that year.
1985 - Detroit Lions vs. New York Jets, 31-20
Coming into the game, New York boasted the best record in the AFC at 9-3 as the Lions limped along with a 6-6 record. However, the Lions manhandled the powerful Jets back in '85 behind 7 sacks and a dominant performance by quarterback Eric Hipple. Hipple accounted for 269 passing yards and all 4 of Detroit's touchdowns, and he helped the Lions jump out to a commanding 17-3 halftime lead. 3 of the 4 TD passes went to wideout Leonard Thompson, who also had himself a day with 7 receptions for 115 yards and 3 scores. On the other side of the ball, defensive end William Gay led the way for Detroit with 3 of the defense's 7 sacks, a forced fumble and a recovered fumble. The Lions defense quieted New York's offense, as most of the Jets scoring came in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach. The win ended up being one of the few bright spots for the Lions in '85, as they lost their next three games to keep them out of the playoffs for the second straight year.
1991 - Detroit Lions vs. Chicago Bears, 16-6
In a low-scoring affair, the Lions used 6 Chicago turnovers to aid their cause as 3 Eddie Murray field goals and a touchdown pass from Erik Kramer to Robert Clark made up all of Detroit's scoring. Bears quarterback Jim Harbaugh accounted for all 6 turnovers -- 4 interceptions and 2 fumbles -- in the loss, even though Chicago's offense outperformed Detroit's. The Bears finished with 319 yards to the Lions' 208, but all that mattered was the +4 turnover margin in Detroit's favor (Kramer threw 1 interception and Mel Gray muffed a punt). The win was Detroit's third in a row on Thanksgiving and put them in a first-place tie with the Bears. The Lions ended up winning the division in '91 and stomped the Dallas Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs before losing to the Washington Redskins in the NFC Championship Game.
Overall record on Nov. 28
Game scores (* denotes Thanksgiving Day game)
'35 vs. Chicago Bears, 14-2*
'46 vs. Boston Yanks, 10-34*
'57 vs. Green Bay Packers, 18-6*
'63 vs. Green Bay Packers, 13-13*
'68 vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 0-12*
'74 vs. Denver Broncos, 27-31*
'85 vs. New York Jets, 31-20*
'91 vs. Chicago Bears, 16-6*
'96 vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 24-28*
'02 vs. New England Patriots, 12-20*