Chris Wesseling

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Thanksgiving Lore

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Although the Thanksgiving Classic has been regularly scheduled since the NFL's 1920 inception, football on Turkey Day actually predates the league's formation. There are records of professional football games on Thanksgiving going back to 1902, when the "National" football league held its championship game over the holiday weekend. Not for the last time, the game ended in controversy when a tie resulted in three different teams claiming the league's title. Let's take a spin through the NFL's Thanksgiving lore going back 90 years.

  • The Staley Swindle, 1921: Back when the NFL was still called the American Professional Football Association, the undefeated Buffalo All-Americans squared off against George "Papa Bear" Halas' undefeated Chicago Staleys for all the marbles on Thanksgiving Day. When the All-Americans emerged victorious while sewing up the league title, Halas demanded a rematch. Buffalo agreed on the condition that the game be considered only a "post-season exhibition match," not counting toward the final standings.

    Worn out from beating a tough Akron Pros team the day before, the All-Americans fell to the Staleys in the grudge match. Halas quickly scheduled two more games against the Canton Bulldogs and Chicago Cardinals so his team could finish with a better percentage than the All-Americans' 9-1-2. Papa Bear also strong-armed the league into instituting a tie-breaker rule stating that a victory in a rematch carries more weight than a first matchup. As the "curse" goes, no major Buffalo sports franchise would ever win another championship (if one considers the AFL a "minor" league when the Bills won titles in 1964 and 1965).

  • The Galloping Ghost Debuts, 1925: Harold "Red" Grange, the NFL's first bona fide national star, led the Chicago Bears to a scoreless tie against the Chicago Cardinals at Wrigley Field in front of the largest crowd in pro football history (35,000).

  • Ernie Nevers Is a One-Man Show, 1929: Establishing a record that still stands, Chicago Cardinals Hall of Famer Ernie Nevers scored six touchdowns and accounted for all 40 points in a blowout victory over the cross-town rival Bears.

  • Detroit Begins a Tradition, 1934: The Lions' 19-16 loss to the Bears not only marked the first of 71 Thanksgiving games in Detroit, it was also the first NFL game to be broadcast nationally (on NBC radio).

  • The Thanksgiving Massacre, 1962: The Packers lost only one game in their 1962 championship season, and what a doozy it was. Led by the "Mad Duck" Alex Karras, Dick "Night Train" Lane, and All-Pro Roger Brown (five sacks plus assists on two others), the Lions took down Hall of Fame QB Bart Starr a record 11 times in what became known as the "Thanksgiving Massacre."

  • Clint Longley's One-Shot Wonder (Video), 1974: Hall of Famer Roger Staubach was knocked out of the game with the Cowboys trailing 16-3 to the Redskins. Unknown rookie Clint Longley came on and rallied the troops for an improbable victory behind two deep touchdowns. One teammate, alluding to Longley's lack of preparation, called the victory a "triumph for the uncluttered mind."

  • The Juice Is Loose, 1976: Running behind the "Electric Company" (they turn on the Juice), O.J. Simpson broke free for a then-NFL record 273 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-14 loss at Detroit.

  • The Bounty Bowl, 1989: The first of two Bounty Bowls, so-called because Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson accused Buddy Ryan's Eagles of taking out a $200 bounty on Dallas kicker Luis Zendejas, cut by Philly earlier in the season. There were also allegations that Ryan had a bounty out on Troy Aikman in the 27-0 Eagles shutout. In the post-game press conference, Johnson made it known that he went looking for Ryan after the game only to find that the Eagles coach had "put his big, fat rear end into the dressing room."

  • Leon Lett in the Snow (Video), 1993: In a rare snow-filled game at Texas stadium, the Cowboys took a 14-13 lead into the final 20 seconds with Miami kicker Pete Stoyanovich attempting a 41-yard field goal. The kick was blocked, NBC's Dick Enberger proclaimed "The Cowboys will win," and then DT Leon Lett inexplicably chased the ball down and slid into it. Stoyanovich nailed the game-winner from 20 yards out after the Dolphins recovered the ball. Lett's boner came just 10 months after his showboating in the Super Bowl cost him a touchdown when the Bills' Don Beebe chased him down.

  • Barry Goes Bananas, 1997: In the midst of an incredible 14 straight games over the century mark and on the way to his only 2,000-yard season, Barry Sanders torched the Bears for 167 yards and three touchdowns in a 55-20 victory. In the process, Sanders passed Eric Dickerson for second on the all-time rushing list.

  • Randy Moss' Revenge, 1998: Vikings rookie Randy Moss had his national coming out party two months earlier with 190 yards and two touchdowns against the Packers on Monday Night Football. Passed over by the Cowboys twice in the first round of the draft, Moss hauled in three bombs -- all touchdowns -- for 163 yards in a 46-36 victory at Dallas. Youtube has the grainy videos of Score No. 1, Score No. 2, and Score No. 3.

  • Jerome Bettis vs. Phil Luckett (Video), 1998: The Lions rallied to send the game to overtime, leading to the NFL's first coin-toss controversy. Jerome Bettis began to softly call "heads" before loudly switching to "tails" as referee Phil Luckett tossed the coin. Though it came up "tails," the Lions were awarded the ball because Luckett heard "heads" first. The Lions went on to win the game on their first possession, and NFL rules now state that team captains must call the coin before it's tossed.

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    Chris Wesseling is a senior football editor and Dynasty league analyst for Rotoworld.com. The 2011 NFL season marks his fifth year with Rotoworld and his third year contributing to NBCSports.com. He can be found on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.
    Email :Chris Wesseling



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