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Why do the Lions and Cowboys play on Thanksgiving every year?

The Lions and Cowboys are a staple on Thanksgiving. Time to understand why.

Some Detroit Lions fans dressed up in their turkey outfits having fun during an NFL, Thanksgiving Day game against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field on November 22, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images

Thanksgiving is upon us, and that means it is time for the annual NFL triple-header. The day had long been a double-header involving two familiar teams, but in 2006 the league added a night game that involves different teams each year.

Yep, it’s time once again to open your Thanksgiving sports viewing with the Detroit Lions!

The Lions will host the Chicago Bears in a division rivalry matchup that is lacking some steam. The Lions are 0-9-1 and the Bears are 3-7 with head coach Matt Nagy the subject of numerous firing rumors. Justin Fields is sidelined with a rib injury and all in all, this could be an ugly matchup.

So, why are the Lions always on television on Thanksgiving day? We can thank history for that. Detroit has hosted a Thanksgiving game almost every year since 1934. ESPN noted the team first hosted a holiday game when owner G.A. Richards scheduled a matchup with the Bears the year he moved the team from Portsmouth, Ohio. Aside from a World War 2 stoppage of play from 1939 to 1944, the Lions have played every year on Thanksgiving. They are 37-42-2 on Thanksgiving.

The Cowboys joined them as a regular Thanksgiving host in 1966. Naturally, they did so because they wanted to build national publicity for the franchise. Dallas is 31-21-1 in their Thanksgiving history.

We generally see a rotation of teams, but given the Lions history, it’s no surprise the Bears and Packers are on the short list of teams playing the most games on Thanksgiving. The Bears are 19-15-2 while the Packers are 14-14-2.

Lions president Rod Wood discussed the Thanksgiving tradition recently and he does not see it changing anytime soon.

“I’m pretty confident that we’re going to have the 12:30 kickoff on Thanksgiving for as far in the future as we can ever see,” Wood said at a fan forum for season-ticket holders. “And it’s something that we should be very proud of and I know it’s special to the fans, it’s special to the city and it puts Detroit on the map every (year) to kind of kick off the holiday season.”

“We kind of invented that game,” Wood said. “It kind of put the national media on the map for the NFL. So I think in respect for that history and the games that we’ve played over the years on Thanksgiving, and we’ve had some great Thanksgiving Day games, not withstanding the record of the team recently. That’s how Barry Sanders, I think, became a national icon, because everybody watched him on Thanksgiving. Same thing with Calvin Johnson. … So there’s been some great history on Thanksgiving Day.”