Thanksgiving Day Game Belongs In Detroit

Thanksgiving Day Game in Detroit

With its roots firmly entrenched in Detroit Lions lore, some would still like to pry the Thanksgiving Day game from the franchise. But that just isn't going to happen.

"That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that History has to teach" - Aldous Huxley.

As Detroit prepares for the New England Patriots on Thursday, my FOX Sports colleague, Alex Marvez, recently regurgitated the endless debate that the Detroit Lions should be exempt from the Thanksgiving Day contest.

His reasoning? "It's all about the $$$."

Marvez's argument, shared by many outside Detroit, doesn't look to avoid the superficial. Rather, it's submerged within it.

As the soul of Dallas Cowboy football sits veritably wedged beside James Brown's, the other half of the traditional Turkey Day schedule isn't really a part of this conversation. Instead, the Lions find themselves in the cross-hairs of critics that demand quality football. A franchise that has been bullied since the turn of the century, the Lions put the "L" in "losing," cementing themselves as the poster-child for ineptitude at the professional level. As Marvez points out, they've dropped six straight on Turkey Day -- and none were competitive.

Between ratings and "economic climate," it isn't difficult to acertain the point: the Lions are an Ugly Betty in the league's prime-time slot. They're awkwardly cast on such a national stage, better suited for a recurring role on The Biggest Loser. The media darling Cowboys, meanwhile, are favorites of the fair-weathered, casual meanderer that doesn't know football, but does know that Jessica Simpson and Kim Kardashian have pinballed their way through the roster.

That collection of football moderates will at least watch the Cowboys. The Lions don't share the same groupies.

In a league with a doomsday date that has millionaire athletes and millionaire owners squabbling over monopoly money, one of Marvez's solutions is to confiscate the game from a football relic that helped pour the foundation of this multi-billion dollar empire.

(Note: The media, incidentally, is really the only group that brandishes this controversy, supported by the occasional, flaccid remark from an owner. The discussion never makes it to the league's annual meeting, where it matters. Thankfully).

The pitch is that the 3-7 Cowboys would retain their Thanksgiving Day throne, while Detroit's would be interchanged with whatever happens to be selling best. The fact that the Lions are directly responsible for not only the holiday game's existence, but possibly the depth of the league's pocketbooks, is deemed valueless.

On a day reserved for thanks, the irony is too thick to swallow.

This is their game

The year was 1934, and the only thing dominating the sports landscape was Lou Gehrig's bat. Football was as much an afterthought, many clubs in the 11-team National Football League struggling to cover league dues. Most players kept second jobs to help support their families. Detroit's team had just migrated from Portsmouth, Ohio, morphing from the "Spartans" to the "Lions."

In a stunt to drum up interest in his new product, and the league itself, Lions' owner George A. "Dick" Richards conceived a plan that would ultimately determine the course of the NFL. Leveraging his skills and connections in the radio industry, Richards hooked up with NBC radio, and each party found it mutually beneficial to broadcast a Thanksgiving Day game between Detroit's new Lions and the Chicago Bears.

Once Chicago head coach and owner George Halas signed off, the game would stream across NBC's network of 94 stations, marking the league's first nationally broadcast event.

Locally, it was the team's first sell-out; the Lions had arrived in Detroit, while introducing the league to an entire country.


The Lions, behind Earl "Dutch" Clark (above), fell to the eventual NFL Champion Chicago Bears, 19-16, in the league's inaugural Thanksgiving Day game.
photo credit: footballdiner.com

The ramifications of Detroit's inaugural Thanksgiving Day game extend beyond tradition, which -- regardless of what Marvez or any other media pundit claims -- isn't for sale. Rather, with a few spins on his rotary phone, Richards' call to NBC president Deke Aylesworth set into course a chain of events that led to the modern day NFL.

The radio broadcasts evolved into television spectacles. Once the league's value was determined by stratospheric viewership, BRINKS trucks began rolling into their front lawn.

If the NFL's logo is etched in gold, you can thank the Detroit Lions -- and this Thanksgiving Day contest -- for supplying the chisel.

This is our game

The Lions typify the easy target, a questionable side to a Thanksgiving Day feast that is capable of spoiling everyone's appetite. This fact isn't lost on anyone, including the team's devout following, which one sportswriter deemed had "biblical" patience with the franchise.

Lions fans don't need to have their favorite pastime kicked around by the national media. We do a better job of that ourselves, anyway.

In the past 10 years, the losing has reached epic levels, culminating in a historic goose egg. Every year, other fans hope to watch their team go undefeated -- some actually do. In 2008, the Lions went defeated.

Still, there is a blue-collar strength that is resonant in both character and loyalty to their favorite team. You can never accuse a Detroit Lions fan of losing faith. They arrive every Sunday, clad in honolulu blue, mind assuming the worst, heart hoping for the best.

Rinse, repeat.

Amid the losses, botched draft picks, broadcast analyst-turned-GM, coaching changes, black trim and paper bags, the league responded by revoking prime-time games from Detroit. The team's last Monday night game was in 2001 -- nearly a decade's worth of some other team playing every Monday on such a grand stage. No other team has such a drought.

And now Marvez has suggested taking away Thanksgiving. I wonder if he has a Christmas vacation home that overlooks Whoville.

If you strip the Lions from Thanksgiving for losing, dump the pumpkin pie because it's too fattening. Detroit football is as indegenous to Thanksgiving as the turkey, a generational heirloom that stems back to that fateful day in 1934.

The Detroit Lions and their fans understand losing. We wrote the book on it. But this is one game we're not going to lose.

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