The Detroit Lions are nearly as synonymous with Thanksgiving as turkey and pumpkin pie. Thursday’s game against the Houston Texans will mark the 82nd time the Lions have played on Thanksgiving. And while their record on Thanksgiving is a mediocre 37-42-2, Detroit has been able to pull off some improbable wins in front of nationally televised audiences.
Before D’Andre Swift and his teammates face the Chicago Bears Thursday, here are the top five Lions Thanksgiving Day games ever. The list includes several memorable individual performances as well as some notable wins that Lions fans who watched the games won’t soon forget.
5. Lions silence talkative Packers
Before the 2013 Thanksgiving game between the Lions and Packers, former Packers guard Josh Sitton had some choice things to say about the Lions’ defense during an appearance on a Green Bay radio station. The Lions, who used Sitton’s words as motivation, had no issues beating their longtime division foe, 40-10. Matt Stafford threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns that included a third-quarter touchdown pass to receiver Calvin Johnson, who caught six passes for 101 yards. Running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell combined to amass 310 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.
The Lions’ defense, led by Ndamukong Suh, feasted on a Packers offense that did not have Aaron Rodgers, who missed the game with an injury. With Rodgers out, the Lions sacked Matt Flynn seven times while allowing just 126 total yards. The win not only ended a five-game losing streak against the Packers, it marked the Lions’ biggest margin of victory over Green Bay since 1973.
4. Barry scorches the Bears
Led by Barry Sanders’ 167 rushing yards and three touchdowns, the Lions rolled up nearly 500 total yards in a 55-20 Thanksgiving win over the Bears in 1997. After their lead was cut to seven points in the third quarter, touchdown runs of 25 and 15 yards by Sanders helped Detroit win the game while keeping their playoff hopes alive. The game was one of many memorable performances that season for Sanders, who shared the league’s MVP award with Brett Favre after rushing for 2,053 yards and leading the Lions to the postseason.
3. ’95 Lions win track meet vs. Vikings
Led by quarterback Scott Mitchell’s 410 yards and four touchdowns, the Lions took an early 21-7 lead en route to a 44-38 win. Three Lions receivers — Brett Perriman, Herman Moore and Johnnie Morton — each went over 100 yards receiving. The trio combined to catch 27 catches for 382 yards and four touchdowns. Barry Sanders rushed for 138 yards that included his 50-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run.
Detroit withstood gallant performances by Vikings quarterback Warren Moon (384 yards, three touchdowns) and receivers Jake Reed, Cris Carter and running back Amp Lee, who combined to catch 20 passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns. The win would help the Lions clinch a playoff berth after a 2-5 start to the season.
2. Lions benefit from coin-flip blunder
Detroit native Jerome Bettis is part of the most infamous coin flip in NFL history. After forcing overtime with a last-second field goal, the Steelers appeared to win the coin toss to start the extra period after Bettis called tails. But the head official that day, Phil Luckett, deemed that Bettis called heads and awarded the ball to the Lions. While Bettis and the Steelers protested, a 28-yard completion from Charlie Batch to Herman Moore helped set up Jason Hanson’s game-winning field goal, as the Lions prevailed, 19-16. Pittsburgh, after a 7-4 start, would not win again during the 1998 season. The win also served as the final Thanksgiving Day game for Sanders, who shocked everyone by announcing his retirement that offseason.
1. ‘Thanksgiving Day Massacre’
Fresh off of winning their first championship under Vince Lombardi, the ’62 Packers won their first 10 games that included a 9-7 nail-biter against the Lions that was the focus of Lombardi’s 1962 book, “Run to Daylight“. The Packers weren’t as fortunate in the rematch, however, as quarterback Milt Plum’s two touchdown passes to Gail Cogdill gave the Lions an early 14-0 lead.
Detroit’s Hall of Fame defensive backfield duo of “Night Train” Lane and Dick LeBeau each recorded interceptions of Packers Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr that helped the Lions prevail, 26-14. NFL historians believe the Lions recorded 11 sacks of Starr that included six by Roger Brown, who also sacked Starr in the end zone for a safety. The game is fondly remembered in Detroit as the “Thanksgiving Day Massacre.” It would be the only loss for the ’62 Packers, who went onto win their second of five championships during the decade.