5 Most Memorable NFL Thanksgiving Games
If there’s a tradition more American than watching football on Thanksgiving, we haven’t found it.
Who among us hasn’t spent their Turkey Day stuffing their faces with all manner of gluttonous dishes, only to waddle over to the couch for a little post-dinner bloodsport? Sure, we may have initially turned on the game to hear one of John Madden’s crazed turducken rants, but we stayed for the unforgettable gridiron action…at least until halftime, when we succumbed to the inevitable food coma.
Here are some of the better games and moments you missed while sleeping off all of those turkey legs.
1976: OJ Simpson Breaks Single-Game Rushing Record
Before O.J. Simpson got caught up in that whole murder trial thing, he was actually a really great football player. On Thanksgiving 1976, the league’s first 2,000-yard rusher gave the Detroit Lions a firsthand glimpse of his scary skill set. O.J. needed just 29 carries to rack up a then-NFL record 273 yards, amassing a ridiculous 9.4 per carry average in the process. Unfortunately, Simpson’s record-setting performance was negated by an equally pathetic showing from Bills quarterback Gary Marangi, who completed just 4 of his 21 passes in Buffalo’s 27-14 loss. We don’t even want to think about the death stares O.J. was sending Marangi’s way.
1993: Leon Lett Kicks the Game Away
Defensive end Leon Lett was a key component of the Cowboys’ 1990s Super Bowl dynasty, but he was also prone to more than a few brain farts. Luckily for us, the massive defender chose Dallas’ 1993 Thanksgiving match-up with the Miami Dolphins to commit his most memorable error in judgement. The Cowboys clung to a 14-13 lead with just 15 seconds remaining, forcing the Dolphins to attempt a desperation field goal. One of Dallas’s big bruisers managed to block the kick, setting off a team-wide celebration—for everyone except ol’ Leon. Lett clumsily kicked the ball right back into Miami’s hands, leading to a game-winning field goal and a furious Cowboys fan base.
1998: Randy Moss Embarrasses the Cowboys
By November of his rookie season, Vikings receiver Randy Moss had already started to turn a few heads. Still, unfortunately for the Dallas Cowboys, the Marshall University product waited until Thanksgiving to display his full talent. To be fair, Moss managed to touch the ball just three times that night—it just so happened that he ended up in the end zone on each of them. The future Hall of Famer’s three-touchdown, 163-yard performance catapulted Minnesota to a memorable 46-36 victory, and served as a precursor to Randy’s decade-long reign of terror.
1998: The Jerome Bettis Coin Toss Incident
On the surface, the Detroit Lions’ 19-16 Thanksgiving victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers may look like a pedestrian affair—and for the most part, it was. The real drama came at the end of regulation, when the team’s respective captains lined up for the coin toss that would determine possession in overtime. Steelers legend Jerome Bettis called tails, which should have secured the ball for his squad. Instead, referee Phil Luckett insisted that Bettis had called heads, giving the Lions the football and, eventually, the victory. Luckett’s gaffe is still regularly referenced as an example of inept officiating, and is undoubtedly one of the league’s most famous Thanksgiving moments.
2004: Peyton Manning Dominates the Lions
The Detroit Lions of the early-to-mid 2000’s experienced their fair share of regrettable moments, but Thanksgiving 2004 may have been the worst of all. The hapless denizens of the Motor City had the misfortune of running into Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts at the height of their offensive dominance. By the time the 41-9 trouncing was over, Manning had tossed a career-high six touchdowns (three of them to Marvin Harrison), Edgerrin James had tossed in 105 yards on the ground, and Lions quarterback Joey Harrington was spending yet another game in the fetal position. Don’t feel so bad, Lions fans—Peyton destroyed everyone that year, finishing the 2004 season with a then-record 49 touchdown passes.