The embattled Chicago Bears will travel to Detroit to take on the Lions’ Thanksgiving Day as it will mark the 37th time in franchise history that the Bears will play on the holiday. With Thursday’s game, the Bears will have third-most appearances on Thanksgiving behind the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys. Chicago’s history with playing on the holiday is unique as it’s one of the great traditions in the NFL and the special day.
The Bears Are Ingrained Throughout the History Of The NFL On Thanksgiving
One of the main reasons why the Detroit Lions constantly play on Thanksgiving is due in part to their participation in starting the tradition. The inaugural Thanksgiving game took place in 1934 as then Lions owner George A. Richards was looking for a creative way to promote Lions’ football during the team’s first season in Detroit. Richards scheduled a Thanksgiving Day Game between the 10-1 Lions and undefeated Chicago Bears. Detroit’s owner also negotiated a deal with NBC Radio to air the game nationally. In front of a sold-out crowd and with many more listening across the country, the Bears defeated the Lions 19-16 in Detroit’s first Thanksgiving game.
Did you know? The Lions have played every Thanksgiving since 1934. Their first owner, George Richards, started the tradition. He owned WJR, an affiliate of the NBC Blue Network, and was able to negotiate an agreement with NBC to carry the games. #DidYouKnowDetroit
📸 Sporcle pic.twitter.com/qHafqXHZ9s
— Hour Detroit Magazine (@Hour_Detroit) November 3, 2021
Since 1934, The Lions have played annually on Thanksgiving with the Bears as their usual opponent. The two teams have faced off 18 times on the holiday. Since the Lions began playing in a domed stadium in 1975, playing inside has created a unique visual setting for the two teams. Due to the pomp and circumstance involved with the Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit, the Lions’ Thanksgiving game will often be played in a very hazy setting, almost like artificial fog, due to the lingering smoke from the added pyrotechnics lit within the enclosed stadium.
The other reason why the Bears playing on Thanksgiving is special is due to the national audience watching the NFL that day. NFL football is almost as synonymous with Thanksgiving as turkey. Whether it is the avid NFL fan or a casual observer, everyone tunes in to watch the Lions, Cowboys, and the nightcap NFL game because it is tradition, and there is nothing else prominent on TV at the time. Every significant play is amplified due to the massive audience watching around the country. Any player in either of the three games has a chance to become a national hero and be remembered for his memorable play.
One prime example of a player being remembered because something he did on Thanksgiving is former Bears’ running back Dave Williams. The biggest highlight of Williams’ career was returning the opening kickoff of overtime in the 1980 Thanksgiving game between the Lions and Bears. He returned the kick for a game-winning touchdown in what was then the shortest overtime in NFL history. Since the 1980 game, Williams is fondly remembered by older Bears’ fans, with his kickoff touchdown shown repeatedly every Thanksgiving since.
𝐍𝐨𝐯𝐞𝐦𝐛𝐞𝐫 𝟐𝟕, 𝟏𝟗𝟖𝟎
Dave Williams returns the kickoff in OT to secure the Thanksgiving Day win over the Lions! pic.twitter.com/VGAbFfrl0O
— This Day in Chicago Sports (@ChiSportsDay) November 27, 2019
Bears Have Stacked Good And Bad Memories Throughout Their Thanksgiving History
The Bears have played on Thanksgiving so much that it has allowed the franchise to develop a wide variety of different memories, both good and bad. It is almost like sitting down for Thanksgiving Dinner with the relatives that you like and the ones that annoy you. There have been games that Chicago has fully controlled on their way to victory, while there have been losses where they were flat-out embarrassed.
For the good games that get remembered such as the 2015 Thanksgiving Night victory over the Green Packers, there are the bad games such as the 1997 55-20 loss to the Lions that are fond memories of Bears fans. Each fan has their favorite moment watching their beloved team play on Thanksgiving, whether good or bad.
NOTHING was better than watching Barry Sanders on Thanksgiving.
Remember this game in 1997 vs the Bears?
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) November 26, 2020
The Bears are also one of the few teams to be lucky enough to have played in all three time-slots on Thanksgiving as they have played the early game in Detroit, the late-afternoon game in Dallas, and the night game. The only other NFL teams that have played in all three games have been the Buffalo Bills, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers, Las Vegas Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Denver Broncos, and Washington Football Team.
Chicago is rich with football history, which is another reason why playing on Thanksgiving is so special. For many Bears fans, the Thanksgiving Day game against the Lions brings generations of fans together. Each family gathering could feature different stories from different decades of Bears’ football, which only unites family members in rooting for their favorite football team. Some fans may have relatives that got to see Walter Payton play in person, while others may have seen the Bears play at Wrigley Field.
𝐍𝐨𝐯𝐞𝐦𝐛𝐞𝐫 𝟐𝟐, 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟖 | 🦃
With Chase Daniel starting, the Bears use an Eddie Jackson pick-six to seal the Thanksgiving Day win!
How far the Bears have fallen …pic.twitter.com/62RAhMaYFd
— This Day in Chicago Sports (@ChiSportsDay) November 22, 2021
Playing on Thanksgiving shouldn’t be underappreciated by Bears fans as there have been NFL teams that have only appeared once on the holiday, or in the Jacksonville Jaguars’ case, not at all. Thanksgiving is one of the best holidays of the year, and the Chicago Bears have become one of the traditions of the special day. For a day known for memories, Chicago fans should be fortunate that the Bears have contributed significantly to many of those memories.