How the NFL Popularized Thanksgiving Day Football

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Thanksgiving football dates to at least 1876, when Yale defeated Princeton, 2-0, on a cold, bleak afternoon in Hoboken, New Jersey. By the 1890s, many college and high school teams played on the holiday. But the tradition didn’t become a bonafide institution in professional football until 1934, when the Detroit Lions hosted the powerhouse Chicago Bears in a Thanksgiving game broadcast nationally.

The Lions and Bears Thanksgiving Day Game Is Born

In March 1934, Lions owner George A. Richards, a Detroit radio executive, headed a group that purchased the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans and moved the team to the Motor City. Eager to boost ticket sales and improve his team’s profile in a city dominated by the Tigers, Richards persuaded Chicago Bears owner and coach George Halas to play on Thanksgiving morning. He also persuaded the 94-station NBC Radio Network to broadcast the game nationally.



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