Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving’s 10 Most Memorable Football Games

Football is just as much a part of Thanksgiving as turkey, dressing, and your annoying, inescapable relatives. As a matter of fact, when the turkey is burned and your drunken uncle Ronnie won't get out of your ear, you can always rely on one of the games to serve as a welcomed distraction. Listed below are the best Turkey Day matchups since the beginning. These captivating performances and memorable finishes were sweeter than grandma's pumpkin pie.

1. Decatur Staleys 6, Chicago Tigers 0, (1920)

Nothing quite like a "loser goes home — forever" clash on America's favorite holiday. According to legend, the outcome of the Chicago Tigers' and Decatur Staleys' second matchup of the NFL's (then known as the American Professional Football Conference) first season determined which team would become Chicago's second representative in the league — the Cardinals already had dibs. The Staleys won the low scoring affair — characteristic of the time period — and eventually became the Bears, forming an intense rivalry with the Cardinals while enjoying loads of success during their first three decades in the league. The Tigers, of course, folded, becoming the first franchise to hold that unfortunate distinction.

2. Chicago Cardinals 40, Chicago Bears 6 (1929)

Bragging rights for the 1929 edition of the heated rivalry belonged to the Cardinals. Ernie Nevers trounced the Bears on his own, accounting for all 40 of their points, a record — along with his six rushing touchdowns — that still stands today. Remarkably, he converted on four-of-six PATs, demonstrating his multi-dimensional gridiron talent. An exceptional athlete, he also served as a relief pitcher for the St. Louis Browns, tallying a 4.64 ERA in three seasons.




3. Chicago Bears 19, Detroit Lions 16 (1934)

Detroit's Turkey Day football tradition started in 1934, when owner George A. Richards came up with the idea in an effort to attract more fans. New to town, the team got off to an impressive 10-1 start, but the turnstiles weren't turning at a satisfactory rate, and more support was needed to justify the franchise's move from Portsmouth, Ohio. The Lions played before a packed house and nationwide radio audience on NBC, the latter of which was a first. Although they lost in a close one, the game certainly served its purpose.

4. Dallas Cowboys 24, Washington Redskins 23 (1974)

One of many emotional slugfests in perhaps the NFL's greatest rivalry, the Cowboys' 1974 comeback victory still stings for longtime Redskins fans. Up 16-3 in the beginning of the second half with Roger Staubach out of the game due to an injury, the Skins were poised to lock down a spot in the playoffs. The Cowboys, who began the season 1-4, were in the midst of a 7-2 finish, and weren't ready to quit without their field general. Backup quarterback Clint Longley tossed two touchdown passes, including a 50-yarder to Drew Pearson with 28 second left in the game. Their playoff hopes were kept alive, and the Skins were left to recover from their most heartbreaking loss of the season.

5. Detroit Lions 27, Buffalo Bills 14 (1976)

It was a record-setting day for arguably the greatest running back of all time. OJ Simpson again carried the load for his Bills, gaining 273 yards while compensating for the poor play of his quarterback. Gary Marangi, competing in his only season as a starter, completed just four of 21 passes for 29 yards, tallying a passer rating of 19.7. The Bills' miserable season ended with 12 losses, second worst in the AFC — the Buccaneers became the first team to finish a season with no wins. Of course, 32 years later, the Lions became the second team to suffer a winless season.



6. Chicago Bears 23, Detroit Lions 17 (OT) (1980)

Battling with the Vikings for a spot atop the NFC Central and a playoff berth, the Lions couldn't afford to drop a home game to the 5-8 Bears. Their motivation was apparent through the third quarter, as they maintained a 17-3 lead — until Bears quarterback Bob Simmons led his team back with two touchdowns, one passing and another rushing. In overtime, the game ended when it started — the opening kickoff was returned 95 yards for a touchdown by the Bears' Dave Williams, giving Chicago fans something to cheer about in an otherwise underwhelming season.



7. Green Bay Packers 44, Detroit Lions 40 (1986)

The Lions have played the Packers, their longtime division rival, the most on Thanksgiving, providing Midwesterners with plenty of early afternoon drama. None were as captivating as the 1986 affair, in which the teams exchanged multiple 10-point leads, the latter of which belonged to and was relinquished by the Lions. The Packers' Walter Stanley had the game of his life, collecting 207 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning 83-yard punt return with 41 second remaining that secured the victory for the Packers. It still stands as the highest scoring game in Thanksgiving history.

8. Miami Dolphins 16, Dallas Cowboys 14 (1993)

In the process of defending its Super Bowl title, America's team encountered a few bumps in the road during the 1993 season. A fourth loss by Thanksgiving was seen as a disappointment, especially given the fact that it would've been a win if not for a mindless mistake by Leon Lett, who was mercilessly panned for his fumble of a would-be touchdown in Super Bowl XXVII. With the Cowboys up 14-13 in the waning seconds, the Dolphins' Pete Stoyanovich attempted a 40-yard field goal only to have it blocked by the Cowboys' Jimmie Jones. Lett foolishly proceeded to touch the ball, allowing Miami to recover it and attempt another field goal from the 19-yard line. Stoyanovich nailed it, giving the Dolphins the win and Lett more shame.



9. Detroit Lions 19, Pittsburgh Steelers 16 (OT) (1998)

Here's a game the NFL would prefer you forget. At 7-4, the Steelers were making a playoff run, and couldn't spare a loss in the competitive AFC. As they struggled to maintain a consistent rushing attack, the team's bread and butter, the Lions remained within striking distance. Jason Hanson's 42-yard field goal as time expired in the fourth quarter forced overtime, and the Lions received the ball first despite the Steelers' Jerome Bettis clearly called tails — after calling heads — during the coin toss. It landed on tails, but referee Phil Luckett went with Bettis's original call, and the Lions proceeded to drive down field and kick the game-winning field goal. The Steelers finished the season with five straight losses, missing the playoffs.

10. Denver Broncos 24, Dallas Cowboys 21 (OT) (2005)

With both teams atop the standings in their respective divisions, it wasn't a surprise that the game came down to overtime. The Broncos and Cowboys traded touchdowns until regulation ended, scoring three apiece. The star of the game was Ron Dayne, who had been declared a draft bust after departing from the Giants after the previous season. He made the most of his seven carries, gaining 98 yards and scoring a touchdown. His 55-yard run on the second play of overtime enabled Jason Elam to connect on the game-winning 24-yard field goal.

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HOPE EVERYONE HAD A GREAT THANKSGIVING!

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