On Nov. 25, 2010, the New England Patriots beat the Detroit Lions 45-24 in a game that’s final outcome was really never in doubt – even though the Lions led 17-10 at halftime, the Patriots had regained the lead by the fourth quarter and rolled on to an easy victory. And yet, that game’s ratings were up almost 50 percent from the average NFL game. In fact, the game was one of the most watched Thanksgiving games in the last decade.
This year’s Packers-Lions matchup (not to mention Dolphins-Cowboys and 49ers-Ravens) should get an equally large audience – definitely including myself. The NFL even added an additional game to the traditional Lions and Cowboys games to generate more revenue. After all, what is there really to do on Thanksgiving Day besides collapse on the couch and watch a football game or three?
When Congress officially made Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1941, the Lions had already been playing on Thanksgiving for seven years. The Cowboys became a fixture just twenty-five years later.
Today it’s more of an interesting insight into American culture. Our holiday that celebrates a historical heritage focuses on an often-criticized game.
But really thinking about it, this Thanksgiving football fascination makes a lot of sense. This isn’t a religious holiday; we’re not secularizing Christmas here (we’ll wait until Christmas to do that).
Abraham Lincoln began the official tradition in 1863 to set aside a day for Thanksgiving, honoring the Pilgrim tradition. So, while yes, Thanksgiving should focus primarily on family, friends and blessings, it also celebrates an appreciation for American culture – the dream, the freedom and the leisure. Right now, sports (particularly football) are American’s pastime.
Is it wrong if, as it likely is for many people, Thanksgiving stops being a day of gratitude and instead becomes an excuse to watch football? Sure. But turning on the game on Thanksgiving Day? That’s part of the America we’re thankful for. No one has to like the game or its role in American culture. But no one can deny its reality either. Call it sad, call it culture, call it relaxation, call it Capitalism, but call football on the fourth Thursday of November, Thanksgiving.