This is going to be a little different. Instead of running down the usual series history post, I will be recounting the Packers' history on Thanksgiving Day. Currently, the Packers are 14-19-2 on Thanksgiving. The record breaks down as follows:
vs. Brooklyn Dodgers: 1-0
vs. Chicago Cardinals: 0-2
vs. Dallas Cowboys: 0-2
vs. Detroit Lions: 8-12-2
vs. Frankford Yellow Jackets: 2-2-1
vs. Hammond Pros: 1-0
vs. Kansas City Blues: 1-0
vs. Pottsville Maroons: 0-1
vs. Providence Steam Rollers: 1-0
When the NFL (then the APFA) began play in 1920, Thanksgiving was an immediate part of the schedule. The Packers entered the league in 1921, and played their first Thanksgiving game in 1923, defeating the Hammond Pros by the score of 19-0. At this point, it's worth noting that Thanksgiving was still the final Thursday in November. Further complicating the matter was the fact that the NFL schedule was particularly haphazard, with no set teams playing on the day and the number of games each team played varying from year to year.
In 1924, the Packers played the Kansas City Blues, winning 17-6. A year later, they suffered their first defeat on Thanksgiving, losing 31-0 to the Pottsville Maroons.
Finally, in 1926, the Packers began a regular Thanksgiving series, playing in Philadelphia against the Frankford Yellow Jackets every year from then until 1930. The results of the games were a loss, a win, another loss, a tie, and then another win. The Yellow Jackets series finally went on hold after the 1930 season and the team folded after the 1931 season. In that year, however, the Packers played the Providence Steam Roller and defeated them in Rhode Island by the score of 38-7. The Steam Roller team also folded following the 1931 and its license was returned to the league two years later.
The Packers then defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers in Ebbets Field on Thanksgiving in 1932, winning 7-0. After a year off from Thanksgiving, the team returned to action on the holiday, playing the Chicago (now Arizona) Cardinals on Thanksgiving in 1934 and 1935, losing both games. To date, this is the last time the Packers have played someone other than the Detroit Lions or Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving.
In 1934, the Portsmouth Spartans moved to Detroit and became the Lions. Their owner at the time, G. A. Richards, started the tradition that has continued uninterrupted for the most part by scheduling a game in Detroit on Thanksgiving every year. His idea was to get people to go to the games on the holiday and to continue the tradition which previous Detroit teams had started.
The Detroit Lions thus have played on nearly every Thanksgiving ever since, with two exceptions. First, in the period from 1939-1940, the Lions were not scheduled on Thanksgiving due to the Franksgiving controversy. At the time, President Franklin Roosevelt wanted to move the holiday up a week due to economic concerns coinciding with the Great Depression, but the move proved highly unpopular--half of the states approved the change, while the other half did not (and three states, including Texas, could not come to a consensus as to which week they would celebrate the holiday and thus celebrated Thanksgiving on both weeks), which made scheduling games on the holiday almost impossible. As soon as this controversy subsided, an even more ominous threat emerged--World War II. Due to the shortages of manpower, the NFL did not schedule any Thanksgiving games at all from 1941-1944 (the Eagles and Steelers, both being from the same state, played on Thanksgiving during the Franksgiving issue). A compromise was soon established--the holiday was moved to the fourth Thursday in November, allowing more ease in scheduling games on Thanksgiving, and the Lions resumed their yearly series on the holiday.
In 1951, the Packers began a yearly series of playing in Detroit on Thanksgiving. They would play at Detroit for 13 consecutive years until 1963. As a result, the Packers and Lions have met on Thanksgiving more than any other teams. For most of these years, the Packers were in the NFL's basement while the Lions were among the elite teams in the NFL, winning championships in 1952, 1953, and 1957. The Thanksgiving series in Detroit reflected this, with the Lions winning nine of the thirteen games compared to just three Packers triumphs (in 1956, 1959, and 1961) and a tie in 1963. The 1962 game stands out in this stretch. En route to their second consecutive championship, the Packers entered Detroit at 10-0, but were dominated in every phase and lost 26-14. It was their only loss of the season.
Following the loss in 1962, Packers head coach Vince Lombardi agitated to get the Packers removed from the yearly series in Detroit. He understood that giving a rival a yearly game every year on the holiday in front of a fired-up crowd would result in more Packers losses than wins. After the tie in 1963, the NFL finally switched the Packers off the series in Detroit. Green Bay would not play in Detroit again on Thanksgiving until the mid-1980s.
While this was going on, the Dallas Cowboys began their series of playing on Thanksgiving. It is widely believed that the Cowboys wanted to be guaranteed to continue playing on the holiday as a result of their first Thanksgiving game in 1966. The timing was impeccable--Texas was the last state to adopt the "Fourth Thursday in November" rule as a result of the Franksgiving controversy when it finally imposed the rule in 1961. Before 1961, Texas had used the last Thursday in November rule, which caused the state to celebrate Thanksgiving a week after the rest of the country on occasion, most recently in 1956. As a result, the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys have always been the host teams for the Thanksgiving games.
In 1970, the Packers went into Dallas for their first trip into Texas on the holiday and lost to the Cowboys, 16-3. It was also the Packers' first-ever loss to the Cowboys. The Cowboys became one of the NFL's elite teams while the Packers slid into the NFL's basement in the 1970s. Curiously, the NFL (for reasons which will likely never be fully known or understood) switched the Cowboys off Thanksgiving in favor of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1975 and 1977, and the Cowboys and Cardinals played each other in Dallas on Thanksgiving in 1976. This move caused tremendous outcry, and not just because the Cowboys were a much more nationally-recognized team. There was also a very popular high school football game that (still) takes place on Thanksgiving every year in St. Louis, and this move thus proved highly unpopular with Cardinals fans as well. The Cowboys resumed hosting Thanksgiving games in 1978 and have played on the holiday ever since. The Rams have not played on Thanksgiving since moving to St. Louis, likely for the same reason.
The Packers played on Thanksgiving in Detroit in 1984 and 1986. The Lions won the first game but the Packers, behind a career day for Walter Stanley, won the 1986 game in Detroit by the score of 44-40. It was Green Bay's first triumph on Thanksgiving since 1961. In 1994, the Packers went into Dallas and although they led 17-6 at the half, the Cowboys rallied for a 42-31 victory behind Jason Garrett. To date this is the last time the Packers have played in Dallas on Thanksgiving.
The Packers' most recent Thanksgiving series began in 2001 in Detroit. The teams would play practically every other year on the holiday until the current year. The Packers won a close one in 2001, 29-27, when Lions' quarterback Mike McMahon inexplicably threw through the end zone when he could have run the ball in on a two-point conversion. Two years later, the Lions atoned for this defeat. Brett Favre threw three interceptions as the Packers lost 22-14 in Detroit. This game nearly killed Green Bay's season, and the playoff berth they achieved that year was only made possible by a tremendous late-season collapse from the Minnesota Vikings.
While this was taking place, the NFL faced a series of requests to expand the Thanksgiving slate of games beyond Detroit and Dallas every year. A particularly vocal voice was that of Lamar Hunt, the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, who repeatedly lobbied the NFL to give the Chiefs a regular Thanksgiving slot. In 2006, the NFL adopted a compromise position when it added a Thanksgiving night game, and picked the Chiefs to host the first game of this series. This caused Hunt to stop lobbying the NFL for a Thanksgiving slot, and he died shortly thereafter. Ever since 2006, there have been three games on Thanksgiving every year, first in Detroit, then in Dallas, and then a night game with a different host team every year. To date, only the Baltimore Ravens (in 2011 and 2013) have hosted this Thanksgiving night game more than once.
The Packers returned to Thanksgiving in 2007. Behind a resurgent Favre, who completed a Packers' record 20 consecutive passes at one point, the Packers won, 37-26, in Detroit. A later Dallas Cowboys win that day set up the teams to meet each other in Texas Stadium a week later with identical 10-1 records. Two years later, the Packers and Lions met again on the holiday, this time with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. That the Lions were still on Thanksgiving was a little remarkable at this point--a year earlier, they had gone 0-16 and there was thought about moving them off the holiday. This did not happen, however, but it did not help the Lions at all as the Packers won, 34-12, behind a 350-yard passing day from Rodgers.
In 2011, the teams finally met on Thanksgiving with the Lions having finally shrugged off their basement dweller label and coming into the game sporting a 7-3 record. Although they struggled early, the Packers found their way in the third quarter, helped along by a monumental Detroit Lions collapse which saw Ndamukong Suh ejected and two Lions turnovers which led to ten Packers points. Green Bay would ultimately win, 27-15, effectively sealing the NFC North division title.
Most recently, the Packers, without Aaron Rodgers, went into Detroit on Thanksgiving in 2013. Although the Packers led early, the Lions roared back and were not headed. Detroit won, 40-10, exacting at least a little revenge for years of defeats on Thanksgiving. The Packers, however, would ultimately get the last laugh, winning the division on the final day of the regular season while the Lions fell apart down the stretch and missed the playoffs.
When the Packers take the field against the Bears on Thursday night, it will mark their first Thanksgiving game against a team other than the Detroit Lions or Dallas Cowboys since 1935, when they lost to the Chicago (now Arizona) Cardinals. What are your memories of the Packers playing on Thanksgiving?