Packers on Thanksgiving: A Tradition Since 1923

Gregory Shamus

The Packers will play on Thanksgiving in 2013. Let's go back through Green Bay's history to relive their past Thanksgiving matchups. Their first game on the holiday was in 1923.

And with that, we will be treated to another Packers-Lions Thanksgiving day game. This will be the 21st meeting between the rivals on the holiday, and Packers-Lions is the most common Thanksgiving Day matchup in NFL history.

However, many years ago, the Packers played other games on the holiday. Most of the recent games have been against Detroit, but there are other games against other teams, many defunct, that were played in the 1920s and 1930s.

Overall, the Packers are 14-18-2 on Thanksgiving. Percentage-wise, they rank behind the Lions and ahead of the Buffalo Bills in terms of overall Thanksgiving records.

The Packers' first game on Thanksgiving was in 1923, against the Hammond Pros. The Packers won, 19-0. This game has the distinction of being the only time the Packers have ever been the home team on Thanksgiving. Afterwards, they have been the visitor in every other Thanksgiving game.

The game against the Pros was the start of a 13-game stretch in which the Packers would play 12 times on the holiday. They visited the Kansas City Blues in 1924, winning 17-6. The Packers then suffered their first loss on the holiday in 1925, losing 31-0 to the Pottsville Maroons.

The Packers then became the perennial opponent for the Frankford Yellowjackets in 1926. The two teams played each other the next five years on the holiday, splitting the matchups 2-2-1 until the 1930 season. The Yellowjackets folded in 1931.

After defeating Providence in 1931 and the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1932 on Thanksgiving, the Packers took a year off in 1933. They returned to the holiday in 1934-1935, losing to the Chicago Cardinals both times. After this, the Packers went on a 15-year hiatus from playing on Thanksgiving. In 1934, the Portsmouth Spartans moved to Detroit, renamed themselves the Lions, and began the tradition of playing on Thanksgiving, which they have done every year since (with the exception of the period around World War II).

The Packers then went to Detroit in 1951, to begin a 13-year run as the Lions' Thanksgiving opponent. As the Packers of the 1950s were not among the best teams in the NFL, most of the games were blowouts. In fact, the Lions won the first three games by the scores of 52-35, 48-24, and 34-15. The Packers did win the 1956 game, but this was the only triumph on the holiday until the arrival of Lombardi in 1959.

Lombardi turned the Packers around, and Green Bay won the 1959 and 1961 Thanksgiving matchups. The Lions, however, spoiled the Packers' dreams of an undefeated season in 1962 by winning 26-14 on the holiday. They sacked Bart Starr 11 times and registered a safety as well as a defensive touchdown.

Following a tie on the holiday in 1963, the Packers were moved off the regular Thanksgiving slot. Lombardi, for his part, was vocal about giving a hated rival a nationally-televised game every year in front of a fired-up crowd, and insisted the NFL schedule someone else on the holiday. The Packers would not make another appearance on Thanksgiving until after Lombardi left.

In the time while Lombardi was coaching, the Dallas Cowboys were founded, and, in 1966, they began playing games on Thanksgiving. They have hosted every year since (with the exception of two years in the mid-1970s when the NFL attempted to allow the St. Louis Cardinals to host, much to the angst of St. Louis fans due to a widely-followed high school football game that takes place every year on the holiday).

The Packers would appear on Thanksgiving again in 1970, this time in Dallas against the Cowboys. The Cowboys prevailed, 16-3, and the Packers would not appear on the holiday again for 14 years.

In 1984, the resurgent Packers lost 31-28 in Detroit, their first game against the Lions on Thanksgiving since 1963. With the NFL now rotating networks on the holiday, the Packers were excluded from playing in Detroit in 1985 but returned to face the Lions in 1986. That game was the best day of Walter Stanley's career, as he returned a punt for a touchdown in the final minute of the game to allow the Packers to win, 44-40. This was the Packers' first victory on Thanksgiving in 25 years.

The Packers only played once on Thanksgiving in the 1990s, when they made their second trip on the holiday to Dallas. The Cowboys were without Troy Aikman, and the Packers were putting the pieces together for being dominant during the mid-1990s. A win appeared inevitable, and early on, it seemed the Packers would finally break their streak in Dallas. Green Bay led 17-6 at halftime and 24-13 early in the third quarter. Cowboys backup Jason Garrett, however, led a comeback and Dallas ended up winning, 42-31.

The Packers would finally return to Detroit on Thanksgiving in 2001. The Lions came in 0-9, while losing many close games, and the Packers had lost at Lambeau Field the previous week to the Atlanta Falcons. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Packers led 29-13. Enter Mike McMahon, who led a spirited comeback and nearly tied the game. His two-point conversion pass, however, went through the end zone (he could have easily run the ball in) and the Packers hung on, 29-27.

With the NFL television contracts rotating around, the Packers could go to Detroit on odd-numbered years. This has been evident as the Packers have since appeared on Thanksgiving in Detroit on 2001, 2003, 2007, 2009, 2011, and now, 2013 (the Falcons appeared on Thanksgiving in 2005 at Detroit). The Lions won the 2003 game, 22-14, intercepting three Favre passes and stopping the Packers' powerful running game.

In 2007, Favre would get a measure of payback. In front of what was at the time the largest Thanksgiving game crowd in Ford Field history, Favre threw for 381 yards and three touchdowns, completing 20 straight passes at one point. Ryan Grant added 101 yards rushing, and the Packers raced out to a 34-12 lead before having to hang on and win by the score of 37-26.

In 2009, Aaron Rodgers made his first start on Thanksgiving. The Lions scored early, but the Packers fought back. Helped along by four interceptions one of which Charles Woodson returned for a touchdown, the Packers won 34-12. Donald Driver won the Galloping Gobbler award and proceeded to give a hilarious interview during the ceremony.

In 2011, the Packers faced the Lions again on Thanksgiving. This time, the Lions came out swinging but could not score any points. The Packers would capitalize on an interception to take a 7-0 lead at halftime. In the third quarter, the Lions imploded, leading to a 24-0 Packers lead. Detroit would try to rally but the Packers ended up winning 27-15.

What are your memories of the Packers playing on Thanksgiving? Also, what are your predictions for this year's Turkey Day game?

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