Every year at Thanksgiving, families around Michigan join together for some fantastic traditions. Since 1934, no matter what else happens throughout the course of a year, there's always food, family and Detroit Lions' football to be thankful for during the official kickoff to the holiday season.
For a franchise which last won a title in 1957 and a team that has never seen the Super Bowl, Thanksgiving Day's opening game will always represent the closest thing to the pinnacle of playoff greatness. For one moment, the undivided attention of a nation is finally thrust on the Lions. There are no other games to be watched (until the Dallas Cowboys come on at 4 and a night game begins later, of course) and bigger opponents are usually scheduled, allowing all Lions' fans to feel their team matters first.
It's become a part of our fabric as Detroiters. It's who we are, and as much a part of us as going up north, drinking Faygo and eating messy coney dogs. That's why every single year, when some national wahoo suggests stripping the Lions of their Thanksgiving game tradition, my skin crawls a little bit more and I'm forced to hop on the soap box and explain why the event is great.
I might not agree with every personnel decision the Lions make or every coaching move. I might write about the incompetence of players' mistakes more than occasionally, even on Thanksgiving Day. That's my job to watch things with a skeptical eye. However, one thing I'll always respect is keeping tradition alive.
As a kid, I relished moments I could wear my Barry Sanders jersey around the house during Thanksgiving Day Lions' games. It was always more epic than a usual Sunday game, and the excitement was always more palpable. In 1996, I screamed "give the ball to Barry!" in unison with NBC commentators during Detroit's loss to Kansas City. In 1998, I laughed at Phil Luckett hearing heads at the coin flip. In 2000, I smiled as the Lions dominated the pre-dynasty version of the New England Patriots. Of course, through the lean years, I've also thrown plenty of hats with disgust across living rooms and made more than a few family members wish to disown me after hearing my colorful commentary. Hey, it's tradition. One day, hopefully, my children will be able to do all of that for me.
Yeah, most of the time, the Lions lose more than they win, even on Thanksgiving. Yet, haven't the Cowboys, universally referred to as "America's Team" performed nearly as bad for America over the past decade as the Lions? I don't recall many Super Bowls being won in Dallas since Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin left town, and they've even lost their fair share of games on turkey day as well. The competitiveness of the later game doesn't stop me from watching it after the Lions' contest wraps up. Football games are nothing bigger than football games on holidays, no matter the score or who's playing. On those days, the games should serve mostly as spirited background music to the sounds of family, friends and food anyway.
Within that background music, the nation has still seen some glorious moments through the years courtesy of Detroit. Lately, what football fan will forget Sanders running wild against Chicago in 1997, the Luckett coin flip error in 1998 and Dre' Bly's interception stunning the Packers in 2003. Incidentally, 2003 was the last time the Lions have won their annual Super Bowl, but that doesn't mean it hasn't been fun trying through the agony of defeat. One of these times, on their way to the actual Super Bowl, the Lions are going to get the job done on Thanksgiving, thrill their fans and make the NFL really take notice. In side-dish parlance, it will be the pumpkin pie on top of an already great day.
No, that moment might not come this year against the Houston Texans, but tomorrow will still be exciting regardless of the game's outcome. For one week on the 16 game slate, winning should never matter most; honoring the long standing tradition of our grandfathers and grandmothers should. That will always say more about us as Detroiters than the scoreboard results of our local football team's four hour gridiron contest.
I'm proud a football team I grew up with constantly plays on a great American day. Just like always, I'll be watching with a skeptical eye, a quick tongue and an undying love for the most spectacular sports and holiday tradition out there.
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