If it seems like the Detroit Lions always play on Thanksgiving, well, that’s because they do.
The Lions’ annual tradition of playing on the American holiday, which began in 1934, is nearly as old as the franchise itself. In fact, they’re the biggest reason why football and Thanksgiving are synonymous, even if the Lions haven’t enjoyed as much success on the holiday as other franchises.
Here’s a brief history lesson, plus a full list of past games and how to watch the 2021 version while stuffing your face with turkey and pie.
Why do the Lions always play on Thanksgiving?
It all started on Thanksgiving Day in 1934, when owner George A. Richards decided to play on the holiday to attract more fans.
Richards was known for his marketing acumen, and his Thanksgiving plan was an immediate hit. The Lions at the time weren’t attracting much of a crowd because the Detroit Tigers were the city’s main sports attraction. But on that Thanksgiving, the Lions not only sold out the stadium, they also had to turn people away at the gates.
The Lions lost to the Bears, but a new team tradition was born.
Other teams had played on Thanksgiving before 1934, but the Lions were different because Richards owned a radio station that was a major affiliate of the NBC Blue Network. Richards negotiated an agreement with NBC to broadcast his Thanksgiving games on 94 stations across the country.
Since 1978, the Lions and Cowboys have hosted a game on Thanksgiving every year. Detroit always plays the early game, followed by Dallas in the late afternoon and a rotating prime-time matchup added in 2006.
Who do the Lions play on Thanksgiving 2021?
The Lions play the Bears on Thanksgiving in 2021. It is the 17th time these franchises have met head-to-head on the holiday, 34-30, with their most recent a 24-20 Bears win in 2019.
What channel is the Lions vs. Bears game on?
CBS will broadcast Lions vs. Bears this year. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. ET — the first game of the day, as per tradition.
Lions record on Thanksgiving
The Lions are 37-42-2 playing on Thanksgiving in franchise history.
|1934||Chicago Bears||L, 19-16|
|1935||Chicago Bears||W, 14-2|
|1936||Chicago Bears||W, 13-7|
|1937||Chicago Bears||L, 13-0|
|1938||Chicago Bears||W, 14-7|
|1945||Cleveland Rams||L, 28-21|
|1946||Boston Yanks||L, 34-10|
|1947||Chicago Bears||L, 34-14|
|1948||Chicago Cards||L, 28-14|
|1949||Chicago Bears||L, 28-7|
|1950||New York Yanks||W, 49-14|
|1951||Green Bay Packers||W, 52-35|
|1952||Green Bay Packers||W, 48-24|
|1953||Green Bay Packers||W, 34-15|
|1954||Green Bay Packers||W, 28-24|
|1955||Green Bay Packers||W, 24-10|
|1956||Green Bay Packers||L, 24-20|
|1957||Green Bay Packers||W, 18-6|
|1958||Green Bay Packers||W, 24-14|
|1959||Green Bay Packers||L, 24-17|
|1960||Green Bay Packers||W, 23-10|
|1961||Green Bay Packers||L, 17-9|
|1962||Green Bay Packers||W, 26-14|
|1963||Green Bay Packers||T, 13-13|
|1964||Chicago Bears||L, 27-24|
|1965||Baltimore Colts||T, 24-24|
|1966||San Francisco 49ers||L, 41-14|
|1967||Los Angeles Rams||L, 31-7|
|1968||Philadelphia Eagles||L, 12-0|
|1969||Minnesota Vikings||L, 27-0|
|1970||Oakland Raiders||W, 28-14|
|1971||Kansas City Chiefs||W, 32-21|
|1972||New York Jets||W, 37-20|
|1973||Washington Redskins||L, 20-0|
|1974||Denver Broncos||L, 31-27|
|1975||Los Angeles Rams||L, 20-0|
|1976||Buffalo Bills||W, 27-14|
|1977||Chicago Bears||L, 31-14|
|1978||Denver Broncos||W, 17-14|
|1979||Chicago Bears||W, 20-0|
|1980||Chicago Bears||L, 23-17 (OT)|
|1981||Kansas City Chiefs||W, 27-10|
|1982||New York Giants||L, 13-6|
|1983||Pittsburgh Steelers||W, 45-3|
|1984||Green Bay Packers||W, 31-28|
|1985||New York Jets||W, 31-20|
|1986||Green Bay Packers||L, 44-40|
|1987||Kansas City Chiefs||L, 27-20|
|1988||Minnesota Vikings||L, 23-0|
|1989||Cleveland Browns||W, 13-10|
|1990||Denver Broncos||W, 40-27|
|1991||Chicago Bears||W, 16-6|
|1992||Houston Texans||L, 24-21|
|1993||Chicago Bears||L, 10-6|
|1994||Buffalo Bills||W, 35-21|
|1995||Minnesota Vikings||W, 44-38|
|1996||Kansas City Chiefs||L, 28-24|
|1997||Chicago Bears||W, 55-20|
|1998||Pittsburgh Steelers||W, 19-16 (OT)|
|1999||Chicago Bears||W, 21-17|
|2000||New England Patriots||W, 34-9|
|2001||Green Bay Packers||L, 29-27|
|2002||New England Patriots||L, 20-12|
|2003||Green Bay Packers||W, 22-14|
|2004||Indianapolis Colts||L, 41-9|
|2005||Atlanta Falcons||L, 27-7|
|2006||Miami Dolphins||L, 27-10|
|2007||Green Bay Packers||L, 37-26|
|2008||Tennessee Titans||L, 47-10|
|2009||Green Bay Packers||L, 34-12|
|2010||New England Patriots||L, 45-24|
|2011||Green Bay Packers||L, 27-15|
|2012||Houston Texans||L, 34-31 (OT)|
|2013||Green Bay Packers||W, 40-10|
|2014||Chicago Bears||W, 34-17|
|2015||Philadelphia Eagles||W, 45-14|
|2016||Minnesota Vikings||W, 16-13|
|2017||Minnesota Vikings||L, 30-23|
|2018||Chicago Bears||L, 23-16|
|2019||Chicago Bears||L, 24-20|
|2020||Houston Texans||L, 41-25|
1962 — The Lions gave the Green Bay Packers their only loss that season. Green Bay finished 13-1 and won its second consecutive NFL championship.
1980 — The Lions and Bears were tied 17-17 at the end of regulation. It was the first Thanksgiving game to go into overtime, and when Bears running back Dave Williams returned the OT kickoff for a touchdown, it also became the shortest overtime at 13 seconds — a regular-season record that stands today.
1986 — The Lions and Packers played the highest-scoring game in Thanksgiving history to date, 44-40, with Green Bay taking the W.
2008 — The 10-1 Titans beat the 0-11 Lions 47-10, one of the biggest point differentials in Thanksgiving history. The Lions finished the season 0-16.