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Who Plays Football on Thanksgiving?

who plays football on thanksgiving

Thanksgiving and football—are two American traditions that go hand-in-hand. Whether you’re a die-hard fan or someone who only tunes in once a year, the excitement of Thanksgiving Day football games is undeniable. But who exactly takes to the field on this festive day? Let’s explore the rich history, current matchups, and enduring traditions that make Thanksgiving football a cherished part of the holiday.

History of Thanksgiving Day Football

The tradition of playing football on Thanksgiving dates back to the late 19th century. College football games were among the first to be played on this holiday, creating a robust tradition that captured the nation’s attention. The first professional Thanksgiving football game occurred 1892 between the Allegheny Athletic Association and the Pittsburgh Athletic Club. By 1934, the Detroit Lions began their now-famous Thanksgiving Day games, followed by the Dallas Cowboys in 1966. These games have since become a staple of Thanksgiving celebrations across the country.

NFL Teams Playing on Thanksgiving

Today, two NFL teams are almost synonymous with Thanksgiving football—the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions. Their games are eagerly anticipated and widely watched, drawing millions of viewers annually.

Dallas Cowboys Game:

  • Opponent: Las Vegas Raiders
  • Match Time: 4:30 PM ET
  • Venue: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Detroit Lions Game:

  • Opponent: Chicago Bears
  • Match Time: 12:30 PM ET
  • Venue: Ford Field, Detroit, Michigan

College Football Traditions

While the NFL dominates Thanksgiving Day football, college football has its rich tradition. Rivalry games and annual matches often occur around this holiday, bringing thrilling competition and school pride to the forefront. These games are a significant part of many college football fans’ Thanksgiving celebrations.

High School Football Games

In many communities, high school football games are played on Thanksgiving morning. These local rivalries unite families and friends, fostering community spirit and providing young athletes with an unforgettable experience. It’s a cherished tradition that enhances the holiday’s communal atmosphere.

Community and Family Turkey Bowls

On a more grassroots level, many families and communities organize their “Turkey Bowls”—informal, friendly football games played among family members and friends. These games are a fun and active way to spend the holiday, creating memories and bonding moments that last a lifetime.

International Football Influence

Though primarily an American tradition, the influence of Thanksgiving football has reached international audiences. With the NFL’s growing global presence, fans worldwide tune in to watch the Thanksgiving games, showcasing the sport’s universal appeal and unifying power.


Q: Why do the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions always play on Thanksgiving?

  • A: The tradition started with these teams to boost attendance and viewership. The Detroit Lions began playing on Thanksgiving in 1934, and the Dallas Cowboys followed in 1966. Both teams’ commitment to playing on this holiday has cemented their status as Thanksgiving Day staples.

Q: Are NFL Thanksgiving games played at the same time every year?

  • A: While the teams involved and start times can vary, typically, three NFL games are played on Thanksgiving. The Detroit Lions usually have the early afternoon game, the Dallas Cowboys play in the late afternoon, and an additional prime-time match has been introduced recently.

Q: Do college football games take place on Thanksgiving Day?

  • A: While NFL games dominate Thanksgiving Day, some college football games occur around the holiday. Traditionally, college football rivalry games and matches with significant implications for the season are scheduled during Thanksgiving weekend.

Q: What is a “Turkey Bowl”?

  • A: A “Turkey Bowl” refers to informal, friendly football games played among family members and friends on Thanksgiving Day. These games are often held in backyards, local parks, or community fields, providing a way for people to engage in a fun and active holiday tradition.

Q: How can I watch Thanksgiving football games if I live outside the United States?

  • A: With the NFL’s ever-expanding global reach, Thanksgiving games are broadcast internationally through various sports networks and streaming services. Fans outside the U.S. can check local listings or use platforms like NFL Game Pass to watch the games live.

Q: Have high school football games on Thanksgiving inspired professional players’ careers?

  • A: High school Thanksgiving football games are a cherished tradition that can inspire young athletes and highlight their talents. While specific stats on professional players arising from these games aren’t typically tracked, the experience can contribute to a player’s development and passion for the sport.


    Football on Thanksgiving is more than just a game; it’s a tradition that unites fans, families, and communities. From the storied legacies of the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions to the grassroots Turkey Bowls, football adds an element of excitement and camaraderie to the holiday.

    Football is an integral part of Thanksgiving celebrations, whether you’re watching from your living room or playing in your backyard. Ready to join the fun? Learn how to incorporate this tradition into your holiday festivities and make this Thanksgiving one to remember!

    Happy Thanksgiving, and enjoy the games!