Having your eyes glued to a TV screen to watch football on Thanksgiving day seems like a very modern and millennial thing to do on such a family-oriented holiday, but we can’t take credit for the popular tradition.
Football on Thanksgiving started just thirteen years after President Abraham Lincoln named it a national holiday in 1863.
The first teams taking to the gridiron happened long before NFL football began taking over the TV on Thanksgiving day. It was college football that did it first. Yale and Princeton played the very first Thanksgiving day football game in 1876. During the 1890s, the universities of Michigan and Chicago established a solid Thanksgiving football rivalry.
Even high school football teams were getting in on the action at the end of the 19th century. Since 1887, Boston Latin and the English High School in Massachusetts have played every year on Thanksgiving to establish a rivalry that’s now 129 years old. Professional football began being played in 1920 and immediately adopted the Thanksgiving football traditions.
Early on, the NFL played as many as six games on Turkey Day, but that number has since been cut down to three contest. Every year the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys will participate in the Thanksgiving Day games, which brings us to the tradition that many people know and love today.