The Detroit Lions Always Play on Thanksgiving, What's Their Holiday Record?

A Detroit Lions football game has become just as much of a Thanksgiving staple as turkey, pumpkin pie and the Macy's parade, and the team is returning again this holiday to take on the Chicago Bears.

But while the tradition of a Lions game goes all the way back to 1934, the Lions' history of winning is not quite as dependable.

In the team's first Thanksgiving game, the Bears beat the Lions 19-16 and the loss may have jinxed the 86 games that have followed since.

Since that first game, the Lions have only won 37 times on Thanksgiving Day while losing 42 times and tying twice on the holiday.

Wins have become even rarer over the last two decades, with the Lions winning only five Thanksgiving games while losing 15. The last time they won on the holiday was in 2016 when they beat the Minnesota Vikings 16-13.

Things may be looking up for the team this year, not because their performance this season has been stellar, but because their Thanksgiving competition has not played particularly well over the past 11 weeks.

The Lions have not won a game this season, losing nine times and tying once, while the Bears are just 3-7—with one of those being a 24-14 win over the Lions in Week 4. Both teams have offenses ranked at the bottom of the league.

Thursday's Thanksgiving game will be the 19th time the franchises go head-to-head for the holiday. Of those games, the Bears have won ten and the Lions have won eight.

Detroit Lions Football Thanksgiving NFL Chicago Bears
The Detroit Lions continue a holiday tradition with the team's annual Thanksgiving game Thursday afternoon against the Chicago Bears. Pictured, AJ Parker Lions plays against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 21, 2021 in Cleveland. Gregory Shamus/Getty

While there is some belief that the NFL was behind the Lions' Thanksgiving tradition, it was the team, not the league, that started the annual holiday game.

The tradition of the Lions' Thanksgiving game began after owner George Richards decided the franchise would play on the holiday in 1934 to attract more fans. Richards' plan worked—the Lions not only sold out the stadium that year but had to turn people away.

Richards was particularly successful because he owned a radio station affiliated with the NBC Blue Network and because of that, he managed to reach an agreement to have the Lions' Turkey Day game broadcast across all 94 stations on that network.

The league has continued to honor the Lions' contribution by scheduling them to play every Thanksgiving.

The Lions aren't the only team with a holiday tradition. The Dallas Cowboys began hosting a Thanksgiving game in 1966, they hosted a game on the holiday every year until 1975, when the league awarded the game to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals hosted Thanksgiving games in 1975 and 1977, but the Cowboys returned to the holiday slot in 1978 and have hosted a Thanksgiving game ever since.

FOX will broadcast the Lions game this year, with kickoff from Ford Field in Michigan scheduled for 12:30 p.m. ET.

The Cowboys game against the Las Vegas Raiders will follow at 4:30 p.m. ET on CBS and the Buffalo Bills will take on the New Orleans Saints on NBC at 8:20 p.m. ET.