While families sit down at over-sized dinner tables across the nation to show thanks, reconnect with family members, and of course — stuff their faces with loads of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and corn — a number of NFL teams strap on their helmets for another day at the office.
NFL football has been hosted regularly on Turkey Day by both the Cowboys and Lions since 1966 as a marketing ploy to get their teams national recognition. Ever since the inaugural year, there have been a number of outstanding individual and team performances. However, with so many amazing efforts to choose from, we won’t dig too deep into the archive. Below are our top five moments on Thanksgiving Day in recent history.
- Jason Garrett (Cowboys vs. Packers) 1994
Growing up in Wisconsin with die-hard Packer fan parents, this is a story I’ve heard one too many times. Jason Garrett, then a third-string quarterback, essentially played the game of his life. Garrett was filling in for the injured Troy Aikman, and didn’t skip a beat as he torched the Packers’ defense for 311 yards and 2 touchdowns. Dallas trailed Green Bay 17-6 at halftime, but in the second half Garrett, and running back Emmitt Smith, led the offense on five straight touchdown-scoring drives to give the Cowboys a 42-31 win over the Packers.
- Mark Sanchez (Jets vs. Patriots) 2012
While creating this list, most of the memories I had ingrained in my memory, or had researched, were great individual accomplishments. One performance, however, stood out for all the wrong reasons. Jets starting quarterback Mark Sanchez dropped back to hand off the ball (or so he thought), but the running back expected a pass play. With the broken play, Sanchez tried to improvise — he tucked the ball in his arm and tried to run. Sanchez ended up running into the backside of one of his offensive linemen, falling straight onto his back, and fumbling, allowing the Patriots to score and increase their lead in a play now known as the “butt fumble.” Unsurprisingly, the Patriots won the game 49-19.
- Randy Moss (Vikings vs. Cowboys) 1998
In 1998, wide receiver Randy Moss and quarterback Randall Cunningham connected 69 times for 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns, some of the best single-season numbers for a quarterback and receiver duo in NFL history. On Thanksgiving Day, the two were on point once again (no surprise) as they hooked up for three scores — all over 50 yards. These scores helped lead the Vikings to 46-36 shootout victory over the cowboys. Moss was one of the biggest deep threats in the NFL history, and paired with Chris Carter their offense was nearly unstoppable in 1998.
- Barry Sanders (Lions vs. Bears) 1997
In a classic black and blue division matchup on Turkey Day, the Lions took on the Bears, but it wasn’t the normal low-scoring game you’d expect in an NFC North rivalry. Barry Sanders and his Lions ran dominated the Bears, as he ran for 167 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 55-20 rout of the division rival. Sanders elusive speed, cuts, and jukes were enough to make defenders miss all game long. Although his career didn’t last due to his personal decision to retire early, Sanders will always be remembered for his great Thanksgiving performances and the excitement he brought to the game throughout his career.
- Peyton Manning (Colts vs. Lions) 2004
Whatever his detractors may say, I think Peyton Manning was one of the most exciting quarterbacks to watch. With his crazy audible and signal calls at the line of scrimmage, his ability to dodge sacks (in the early part of his career), and his game management late in close games — to me he was an icon. In this game, Manning legitimately put on a quarterback clinic, throwing for 236 yards and six touchdowns. Granted the Lions were still a hot mess at this point in time, but six touchdowns is something one will never forget. Also engrained in my memory was the connection between Manning and receiver Marvin Harrison. On this day the two truly showed fans they deserved to be first ballot hall of famers with each pitch and catch in the 41-9 win.
Flashbacks of great and not so great football on Thanksgiving over the past 20-25 years are aplenty, and every year comes with another chance to make even more memories on Turkey Day. This year Detroit will face Minnesota in the early game with first place in the north on the line, while Dallas will try to keep their winning streak alive against Washington later on. The night cap will be Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, two teams who both desperately need wins as they vie for playoff spots in the AFC.
This Thanksgiving, don’t skimp on the pumpkin pie, and make sure you have the gear you need to cheer on all of your team’s accomplishments with eastbay.com.