This isn’t the first time the Green Bay Packers have taken an unbeaten record into a Thanksgiving Day matchup with the Detroit Lions.
On November 22, 1962, exactly one year to the day before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the Packers came into Tiger Stadium sporting a 10-0 record.
The dream of an undefeated season ended that day for the Pack as the Lions, then 8-2, sacked Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr 10 times and roared off with a 26-14 win. The victory avenged a last minute, 9-7 loss in Green Bay earlier in the season.
“To this day, I don’t know if I have ever been in a locker room quite like that one,” Dick LeBeau told the Detroit News. “It was a group of men who came together with a singleness of purpose that they were going to win a game that day.”
A Lions defensive back and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who has coached in the NFL for 39 years, including in six Super Bowls.
On Turkey Day in 1962, Detroit’s Milt Plum connected with Gail Cogdill for a pair of touchdown passes, then defensive end Sam Williams rumbled six yards with a Starr fumble to give the Lions a huge lead in the second quarter. When Starr was tackled in the end zone by Roger Brown for a safety, the Lions led 23-0.
Plum added a 47-yard field goal in the third quarter before the Packers made the score respectable with a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Thanksgiving Day Massacre
Detroit’s domination of the game that came to be referred to as “The Thanksgiving Day Massacre” was more complete than the score indicated. The Lions outgained the Packers, 304 yards to 122. The usually unstoppable Green Bay running attack was held to just 73 yards on 27 attempts, and the passing attack netted 49 yards.
The game, played in 37-degree temperatures in the Motor City, featured 10 turnovers, three fumbles and two interceptions by each team.
“It’s a known fact that the Detroit defense is good,” summed up Lombardi. “They completely overpowered us in the first half…My club wasn’t flat. We were ready. They just overwhelmed us.”
It was the only NFL game that day, and it drew 30 million viewers, at the time the largest television audience ever for CBS.
The Packers went on to win their final three games — beating the Rams twice and the 49ers — to finish 13-1. Green Bay then won its second straight NFL championship under Vince Lombardi with a 16-7 win over the New York Giants on a cold, blustery December day at Yankee Stadium.
Detroit, which also lost to the Giants and the Bear, finished 11-3, second in the NFL’s Western Conference.
Thanksgiving Day, one of the great American holidays, means turkey, stuffing and the Macy’s parade…and football. Not necessarily in that order.
For years Iona Prep, would play arch-rival New Rochelle on Thanksgiving morning. The game, called the Turkey Bowl, was televised in metropolitan New York on WPIX Channel 11, with the legendary announcer Marty Glickman calling play-by-play.
Unfortunately, Iona and New Rochelle no longer meet on the gridiron. New York state playoff schedules have forced a sad end to this rivalry, which in years past often drew crowds of 10,000 or more.
Another Westchester County T-Day match-up, Stepinac vs. White Plains, continues to this day, although the game has been moved from the Highlands to the WPHS campus.
Thanksgiving high school football remains a strong tradition in many parts of the country. Fitchburg vs. Leominster is one of the many Turkey Day rivalries staged each year in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
These twin city rivals have played since 1894 and have met 125 times, including 103 times on Thanksgiving. Fitchburg leads the overalls series 59-57 with 9 ties
College Football on Thanksgiving
On the college scene, perhaps the greatest Thanksgiving Day game of all time occurred in 1971, when No. 1 Nebraska defeated No. 2 Oklahoma, 35-31, The signature moment of that game was provided by the Huskers Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers, below right surrounded by Sooners, who fielded a punt and raced 72 yards through the OU defense for the first score of the game.
The Sporting News named that 1971 Cornhusker team the greatest team of the Twentieth Century in 1988. ESPN.com called the 1971 Nebraska Cornhusker team the greatest team of all time.
The best lead written about this Game of the Century came from noted columnist Dave Kindred, who at that time was writing for the Louisville Courier-Journal. He wrote, “They can quit playing now, they have played the perfect game.”
The longest-running college tradition is the Turkey Day Classic, a game between Alabama State University and Tuskegee University, which has been played on Thanksgiving Day annually since 1924. It is also the oldest black college football classic, since the two colleges first played in 1901.
This year on Thanksgiving, undefeated and third-ranked Texas will face long-time rival Texas A&M in College Station in the Lone Star Showdown.
Turkey Day Pros
Pre-dating the NFL, semi-pro organizations in Pennsylvania and Ohio played football on Thanksgiving as early as 1902.
In the NFL, the first owner of the Lions, G.A. Richards, started the tradition of the Thanksgiving Day game in 1934 as a gimmick. The Lions played the Chicago Bears each year on Thanksgiving through 1939, and faced the Green Bay Packers each season from 1951 through 1963.
Several other NFL teams played regularly on Thanksgiving in the past, including the Chicago Bears and Chicago Cardinals, the Frankford Yellow Jackets, and the New York Giants, who visited crosstown rivals like the Staten Island Stapletons or Brooklyn Dodgers between 1929 and 1938.
n 1939 and 1940, during the Franksgiving controversy when President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted to move the holiday for economic reasons, the only two teams to play on Thanksgiving were the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles.
Beginning in 1964, the NFL began rotating Thanksgiving Day match-ups for the Lions. Four years later, the Dallas Cowboys kicked off their inaugural and annual Thanksgiving Day game by beating the Washington Redskins, 29-20.
The NFL added a third Thanksgiving game, this one a night contest, in 2006, when the Kansas City Chiefs hosted the Denver Broncos. This year on Thanksgiving the Broncos will entertain the Giants.
Among the many memorable NFL Thanksgiving Day games were the 1962 contest, when the Lions handed Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers their only loss, 26-14, and the 1974 Cowboys-Redskins game in which unknown Cowboys backup quarterback Clint Longley took over for an injured Roger Staubach with the team down 16-3 and rallied them to an improbable 24-23 victory on two long passes.
And then there was the infamous Leon Lett It Be game in 1993, when Cowboys defense lineman touched a blocked field goal, giving the Dolphins a second chance and an improbable 16-14 win on a Pete Stoyanovich field goal at the gun.
A week or so ago, the SportsLifer went back to the future.
This past weekend the future appeared, in the person of Iona Prep junior running back Jeffrey Mack.
Mack scored seven touchdowns as Iona beat St. Anthony’s, 48-35, in the New York CHSFL AAA finals. Mack scored on runs of 50, 17, 11, 48, 71, 19 and 38 yards. And he added a two-point conversion for 44 points. He also caught two passes, giving him 400 all-purpose yards.
I had never seen someone who can make so many people miss the way he did today,” Iona Prep coach Vic Quirolo said. “He was a man with boys out there.”
The championship was Iona’s first since 1967, and ended a string of seven straight league titles for St. Anthony’s. The Gaels finished the season unbeaten at 11-0 and ranked number one in the New York metropolitan area.
Mack, who stands 5’8″ and weighs 155 pounds, came into the game leading the CHSFL in rushing with 1,574 yards and 17 touchdowns.
And then he had the game of his life. Mack’s heroics overshadowed those of Ernie Nevers, Dub Jones and Gale Sayers, who share the NFL record with six touchdowns in a game. Nevers also holds the record of 40 points in a game (six rushing touchdowns and four PATs) set with the Chicago Cardinals in a November 28, 1929, contest against the Chicago Bears.
No More Turkey Bowl: One of the great traditions of Thanksgiving Day, the Iona-New Rochelle game, is now history. For years, the two arch-rivals battled every year on Thanksgiving morning, but the high school playoff system put an end to the game several years back.
Even if they can no longer play on Turkey Day, Iona and New Rochelle owe it to their students, alums and fans to continue the tradition and play each year. Why not make Iona-NRHS the opening game of the football season? No playoff conflicts there.