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The Best Thanksgiving Day NFL Games in History

November 23, 2022
Dolphins vs Cowboys best game on Thanksgiving day history

On Thursday, families throughout the country will gather for their traditional Thanksgiving Day feasts. Many will flip on their televisions and tune in to one of the three National Football League games on the schedule. The Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys have played every Thanksgiving Day since 1966 and they will continue that tradition Thursday. The two teams have played in some memorable games on one of our country’s most revered holidays. Here’s a look at the best of all NFL Thanksgiving Day games.


1974: Dallas 24, Washington 23

It’s one of the NFL’s biggest rivalries. In 1974, the Cowboys were led by Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach. Unfortunately, Staubach got hurt and was replaced by Clint Longley. Longley had never thrown a single pass in an NFL game and with the Cowboys trailing 16-3 it appeared Washington had the game in the bag. Washington led 23-17 with just 30 seconds to play. Then, Longley launched the most famous pass of his career, a 50-yard touchdown to WR Drew Pearson that gave Dallas the victory. Longley would start just two games in his NFL career and throw just 58 total passes, but he still has Thanksgiving Day 1974.


1980: Chicago 23, Detroit 17

The Lions were headed to a victory before the Bears, who trailed 17-3 in the fourth quarter, rallied for two late touchdowns to tie the score at 17-17. Sixteen seconds into overtime the game was over. Chicago’s Dave Williams returned the opening kickoff in overtime 95 yards for a touchdown. Game over. It was the fastest overtime touchdown in regular season NFL history until the Saints broke the record in 2015.


1976: Detroit 27, Buffalo 14

The game itself in our country’s bicentennial was not particularly entertaining. The Lions led 20-0 at one point and won easily, but the Bills had O.J. Simpson. The Buffalo running back would establish an NFL rushing record by running for 273 yards. The record would stand for 23 years. Of the Top 25 single-game rushing performances in the NFL, O.J.’s Thanksgiving Day performance in 1976 is the only one in that came in a losing effort.


1998: Detroit 19, Pittsburgh 16

Steelers vs Lions coin flipDetroit native Jerome Bettis and the Steelers had to go to overtime on Thanksgiving Day 1998. Bettis, aka the ‘Bus’, would call the overtime coin toss while the coin was in the air. Bettis called tails, but Phil Luckett, the game’s referee, repeated Bettis’ call but said “the call is heads.” The famous coin flip did come up tails and Detroit was awarded the ball. The Lions scored on their first possession. The snafu led the league to mandate that all coin tosses are called prior to the coin being in the air.


1993: Miami 16, Dallas 14

In a driving snowstorm in Dallas, Miami lined up for a 41-yard field goal and an opportunity to win. The Cowboys Jimmie Jones blocked Dolphins kicker Pete Stoyanovich’s attempt and the ball rolled to the Dallas 10-yard line. In one of the all-time worst blunders in NFL history, the Cowboys’ Leon Lett tried to cover the ball, failed, and it was recovered by Miami at the one-yard line. Stoyanovich didn’t miss from 19 yards away and Miami won. Had Lett never touched the ball, the play would have been blown dead and Dallas would have won.