The Detroit Lions playing on Thanksgiving began in 1934, with the game being nationally broadcasted annually, initially on radio and later on television. For most of those years, the concept has been met with reluctance from the rest of the country and, at times, even from Detroit itself. Thanksgiving is traditionally seen as a joyous day, but the Lions haven’t been consistent purveyors of holiday cheer. With a historical record of 37-44-2 on Thanksgiving, they have struggled in recent years, going 4-15 since 2004 and losing six consecutive games.
The Lions’ lackluster performance is underscored by their single playoff win since 1957 and the regular fielding of non-competitive teams. However, there have been two notable periods when people eagerly tuned in to watch a Detroit game: the 1990s, when Barry Sanders was in play, and the present.
Currently, the Detroit Lions find themselves in a favorable position with an 8-2 record, a feat not achieved since 1962. They are set to face their rivals, the Green Bay Packers, while holding a 2.5-game lead in the NFC North—a division they have never won, despite its existence since 2002 (the Packers have won it 12 times).
What makes this year different for Detroit Lions?
This year is not just the winning record but the excitement generated by the team. The Detroit Lions, under the leadership of the likable and daring coach Dan Campbell, have showcased thrilling performances, including a 41-38 shootout victory against the Chargers and a comeback win against Chicago.
Campbell’s aggressive play calling and bold fourth-down decisions have been nerve-racking for some fans, leading him to humorously suggest that they should consider wearing diapers before watching certain games.
Contrasting this excitement with past lackluster performances, particularly during the 1989-1998 period when Barry Sanders was the star player, highlights the significance of the current team’s success. Sanders, considered the greatest Lion of all time and one of the greatest football players ever, consistently delivered outstanding performances on Thanksgiving, scoring 12 touchdowns in 10 games and rushing for over 100 yards five times in 1997 alone.
Despite Sanders’ brilliance, the Detroit Lions’ overall success during his tenure was limited, largely due to frustrations with the team’s management and a lack of interest in records. If not for these challenges, Sanders’ career yardage of 15,269 could have potentially surpassed 20,000, a mark that still stands unbroken since Emmitt Smith’s 18,355 in 2004.
As Thanksgiving approaches, there’s a newfound sense of anticipation and excitement for watching the Detroit Lions, thanks to their current success and the promise of an entertaining game on the horizon.