— Having the Lions play on Thanksgiving is as much a part of the holiday as a good afternoon snooze. And they sometimes go together.
But that doesn’t mean the Lions will be knocked off their Thanksgiving perch anytime soon. The league — or most of it — appears to value the tradition that goes along with having the Lions and Cowboys play on Thanksgiving.
The Lions’ involvement in the high profile game remains a subject of debate among the league’s power brokers, however. It could be an issue at the NFL’s owners meetings in the offseason.
Snatching the game away from Detroit now might seem insensitive, considering how hard the town has been hit by the country’s economic downturn. Another factor is the league might not want to alienate Lions owner William Clay Ford Sr., the former CEO of Ford Motor Company — which is an NFL sponsor.
For awhile, the late Lamar Hunt would consistently lobby to spread the Thanksgiving games around to other teams. But the NFL came up with a solution three years ago by adding a third game on Thanksgiving night in which any teams can play.
And truth be told, most teams don’t want to play on Thanksgiving. The Lions and Cowboys love it because they are comfortable with the schedule disruption and almost look at it as their advantage. But most other teams look at it as an inconvenience.
“Playing on a Thursday after playing on a Sunday is hard,” one NFC general manager said. “Your team usually is beat up, the preparation is limited and you typically don’t have one of your better performances. I wouldn’t mind not playing in that game ever.”
Some have suggested that the Lions game be replaced by a game between contenders that is flexibly scheduled, as are the Sunday night games late in the season.
You could argue that the TV ratings would be better if the Saints and Patriots were playing on Thanksgiving afternoon. But then again, the TV ratings would be worse if the Lions and Packers were playing next Monday night.
And just because the Lions have been in little a dry spell, does not mean they will stay there. The league is set up to help teams like the Lions. If their new management team clicks, the Lions could become a marquee team in short order.
The Cowboys have been playing on Thanksgiving since 1966, and have only missed twice — in 1975 and ’77. There is less noise about taking their Thanksgiving game away because they are typically the league’s No. 1 television draw.
The Lions have much deeper Thanksgiving roots, having begun their tradition in 1934. Local radio executive George A. Richards had purchased the Portsmouth Spartans and moved them to Detroit and renamed them the Lions that year. As a way of gaining attention in their inaugural season, he decided to schedule a game on a holiday.
And what do you know, the game sold out two weeks in advance. It was such a success, Richards decided to try it again the next year, and the Lions clinched the West division on Thanksgiving in 1935.
With the exception of the six years between 1939 and 1944, the Lions have played on every Thanksgiving Day since.
And for many of those years, there has been a fine window of opportunity to catch a few zzzzs somewhere between the hours of 12:30 and 3:30 eastern.
Q: All is well in good weather and domes, but which teams can play well in bad weather (Dec & Jan)? Will Indy and N.O. still be the best or will it be Cincy, Pitts, and N.E. and Philly?
— Rick Niles, Arva, On Canada
A: It might not matter. With the way the Colts and Saints are rolling, chances are good they will never have to step foot outdoors until the Super Bowl.
If they do have to play a playoff game in a northern climate, I would think both could be affected — especially the Colts, given the way they have struggled to run the ball.
No question there are playoff-bound teams that are better built for winter ball. Among them are the Vikings, Bengals and Patriots.
A: There might not be a great team in the East, but it is a pretty balanced division with three playoff contenders.
The Giants certainly have been disappointing, but they still could rally and become a great team late. Sometimes, a balanced division doesn’t look as strong as it is because the teams beat up on one another. That could be the case with the NFC East.
Q: Does JaMarcus Russell have a future in Oakland? There’s no way the Raiders can go back to him, right?
— Sharika Hutton, Kansas City, Mo.
A: Russell’s best hope probably will be with another team, but never say never. I would say it would be unlikely that Russell would resurface with the Raiders.
Then again, stranger things have happened. For evidence, all you need to do is look across the Bay, where Alex Smith is starting and not doing badly for the 49ers. There was a time—more than one time — when Smith appeared to be finished in San Francisco.
Q: I think winning in the overtime with a field goal seems unfair. Will the NFL end this? Winning by a touchdown seems more fair or give each team a chance like College football which is very exciting.
— Frank Black, Calgary
A: This is a topic that has been beaten to death by the NFL’s competition committee, and my sense is there will not be any change to the rule anytime soon. The main impediment to making a change is the league does not want longer games. Keeping games as brief as possible will be even more important if the schedule expands to 18 games, as is expected.