Food, Family, and Football: Here’s how the NFL has become an essential part of Thanksgiving festivities over the years

It’s that time of the year again! Thanksgiving festivities are literally back, and everyone’s mood is extremely positive. The festival celebrates the harvest of the year and is a pivotal event where friends and family come together to enjoy and celebrate each other’s achievements and express their gratitude for their existence. While turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and mouthwatering desserts are essential to the celebration, there is another event that has become a tradition over the years.

Thanksgiving is incomplete without football. For those who come from families with athletes and sporty individuals, it is playing backyard football, but for most, it is watching a match. Thursday Night Football Games on TV. Thanksgiving night brings a lot of viewers NFL.

The proof of custard is in its food. Take the 2021 NFL Thanksgiving game, for example. Dallas cowboys face to face Las Vegas Raiders. A huge 38.5 million people were eagerly watching this game. That’s a lot of people!

To find out how the game became an integral part of the celebrations, we need to take a look at history. Football originally started as a sport exclusive to top colleges around the country. It was essentially like golf, as those who played regularly were only those from top institutions like Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Columbia.

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Football has evolved from just a sporting event to more of a social one:

The Dallas Cowboys have always played Thanksgiving Thursdays (image via ESPN)
The Dallas Cowboys have always played Thanksgiving Thursdays (image via ESPN)

In 1880 the game of football started to gain more attention and the final match of the Intercollegiate Football Association was held at The Big Apple. This move benefited the sport as it marked the beginning of football becoming a social event. According to Matthew Andrews, professor of history at UNC, Chapel Hill, “This match was kind of the unofficial start of the winter holiday social season.”

“People from different colleges and universities would fill New York and there would be pre-game dinners on Wednesday night and post-game balls and theater trips on Friday and Saturday night. That’s when it really exploded in the 1880s and 1890s. This period cemented football’s position as a Thanksgiving tradition.

Football started to become popular just a few decades after Thanksgiving was officially declared an annual holiday by former President Abraham Lincoln. In retrospect, sports and festival complimented each other’s development. The holiday increased interest in sports and made the festival a festival that many look forward to.

Sports became popular because it brought people together, like Thanksgiving if you think about it. As mentioned above, when football was just starting to become popular, it was played by those from ivy league schools. As we know, the rivalry between students at these institutions is fierce, and a game between two lifetime rivals was one that excited not only the player but also the fans who showed up in large numbers to cheer for their chosen team.

As with any new trend, there are always those who want to crush it, and this rule applies to the game of football as well. In 1893, the New York Herald criticized the game, stating that it spoiled the essence of Thanksgiving. “Thanksgiving is no longer a holy holiday for God’s mercies. It is a holiday given to the state and the nation to watch a football match,” he said. This was the justification he gave for his criticism of the publication.

How the NFL cemented football as a Thanksgiving ritual

Football was getting popular day by day, but there was no professional league yet that could really help elevate the game. The NFL came into existence in 1920, and of course no one paid much attention to it in its first few years. The league was trying to do something unusual for the time by getting athletes to play football professionally.

Officials decided to schedule more games on Thanksgiving in an effort to grow the league and the game. At this point, football and Thanksgiving had already become somewhat of a tradition, but the league made it a ritual. In those years, the NFL played 6 games on Thanksgiving, unlike the 3-game schedule we see today.

His plans worked out perfectly as fans began to gain more and more attention. Fast forward 40 years and the words NFL and Thanksgiving have become synonymous. Around this time, in the 1970s, the Dallas Cowboys began playing the annual Thanksgiving tradition on the holiday. The team hosts one game on a special day each year, which has benefited them in terms of increasing their fan base while helping the sport grow.

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Detroit Lions (USA Today Image)

The Detroit Lions were another team that played on Thanksgiving from time immemorial. To this day, Dallas and Detroit play on this special day every year. As time went on, the league started adding more teams, and of course the new teams wanted a piece of their Thanksgiving primetime turkey.

Due to pressure from other teams, in 2006 the league decided to add a third Thanksgiving game; The teams that will play will be decided on a rotating basis. Football and Thanksgiving are now inseparable. Fans are looking forward to these games.

As holy as the holiday is, watching your favorite teams fight means so much more to people today. For the NFL and its partners, they get a good chunk of their gravy Turkey as the view count and ad revenue are ridiculously high! Some days, maybe Thanksgiving, there may not be stuffed turkey on the table, but there will always be a football game on the TV.

With reference: CNN

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