Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thankful for Thanksgiving [Justin Doom]

From Justin Doom of Sports Illustrated:

Certain things have long confounded me -- post-algebraic math, U.S. tax codes, people who actually buy poodles -- but right near the top of that list is how little respect is given to arguably the best holiday all year: Thanksgiving.

Think about it: It's an entire day devoted to eating and watching football. When I was a kid my two favorite holidays easily were Christmas (free presents) and Halloween (free candy), but the older I get the more I appreciate eating plateful after plateful of food, none of which I'm actually responsible for preparing, while watching back-to-back -- and this year back-to-back-to-back -- football games. Sure, I still enjoy buying and receiving Christmas gifts, and I totally dig those bite-sized -- at least for me -- mini-Snickers, but it's mystifying why the day after people toss out their jack-o'-lanterns they put up Christmas lights. As much as I enjoy the irony of this ostensible link between a traditionally pagan holiday and an obviously Christian holiday, what's with totally disregarding the time between? When did it become OK to overlook Thanksgiving just because it's the middle child on our calendars?

I still remember how when I was 13 everyone at my Thanksgiving dinner table was asked to say at least one thing for which they were thankful. I said that I was thankful that the Bears beat the Lions 10-6 that day. I wasn't kidding. (I also was thankful that because, having grown up in public schools, I'd been trained to eat entire meals in approximately 37 seconds and cleaned my plate in plenty of time to sneak off and catch that night's Simpsons Thanksgiving Special.)

Maybe this year's games aren't the best -- Miami at Detroit, Tampa Bay at Dallas and Denver at Kansas City -- but think of it this way: You're getting paid to sit at home, eat, and watch NFL games on a Thursday. Is there any other typical work week when that wouldn't be your No. 1 choice of things to do that day? Really?

Thanksgiving Day football, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Web site, actually used to be more popular among high schools and colleges. Lots of families band together and play touch football or flag football on Thanksgiving afternoon, which I'm assuming is gaining in popularity now that more people own TiVo.

Technically, the NFL tradition began in 1920, but it didn't really take off until an epic 1934 matchup between the Lions and Bears. The Lions were 10-1 and hadn't allowed a touchdown until their eighth game. The Bears were 11-0. The game was played at University of Detroit Stadium and the 26,000 tickets were sold out two weeks in advance. The Bears won, 19-16, and beat the Lions again three days later, 10-7, to clinch the NFL Western Division title. Detroit won the NFL Championship in 1935 after a 14-2 Thanksgiving win over Chicago. Except for a six-year gap (1939-44), Detroit has hosted a game every year since. And the Cowboys, except for in 1975 and 1977, have hosted every year since 1966. There's probably an interesting story behind why Dallas became part of the Thanksgiving Day tradition, but it wasn't mentioned on the Hall of Fame Web site. And I hate the Cowboys, so I'm not looking it up.

That's not to say I don't enjoy some Dallas Cowboys history. In fact, it also was on Thanksgiving Day in 1993 when Leon Lett was responsible for probably the single dumbest play in NFL history. After Dallas, leading 14-13, blocked the Dolphins' 41-yard field goal attempt in the game's final minute, Lett needlessly tried to pick up the ball and slipped in the snow and fumbled it away. Miami recovered the ball at Dallas' 1-yard line and kicked a field goal to win 16-14. (All of this coming the season after Don Beebe -- whatever happened to that guy? -- chased down Lett in the Super Bowl and knocked the ball out of his hands before he could cross the goal line and snatch away from San Francisco the single-game scoring record.)

Everyone who saw Lett's ridiculous fumble remembers exactly where they were when it happened, just as years from now I'll remember where I was this Thursday when Jon Gruden's head explodes or a wide-open T.O. doesn't drop an important pass or the Dolphins and Lions combine for as many as three total touchdowns: On my cousin's couch with a face full of pumpkin pie.