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The Times
  • Neal Simon: Thanksgiving and football, a great American tradition

  • Thanksgiving and football. They go together like Laurel and Hardy.

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  • Thanksgiving and football. They go together like Laurel and Hardy.
    Or peanut butter and jelly.
    Or Romney and Ryan.
    Millions of Americans could never imagine a Thanksgiving holiday without watching the Lions and Cowboys on television.
    Another tradition for many families is the backyard Thanksgiving day “classic.” Nothing works up an appetite like a game of touch or tackle football in the yard. Is there snow on the ground? If so, that’s all the better.
    Probably the worst pass I ever threw took place during a Thanksgiving day pick-up game with my family. I overthrew a ball intended for my brother-in-law, Paul Burka. The pass was way too long, but Paul wouldn’t give up on the throw. He ran straight into a garage wall, making a bloody mess out of his face. My mom stopped the bleeding and helped get him cleaned up in time for dinner.
    For many families, the most memorable Thanksgiving football games take place in their own yard.
    Growing up, my mom had the turkey dinner on the table shortly after mid-day. When we were done eating, most of us would stagger into the living room to watch the games. Nobody ever threw a penalty flag if someone dozed off on the couch during the game. It wasn’t until many years later that I found out about tryptophan, an amino acid in turkey that some experts believe can make people drowsy.
    The professional game has not always dominated the Thanksgiving football scene the way it does today.
    There was a time, when some of the great high school and college rivalries were scheduled for Thanksgiving day.
    In Buffalo, the city public school championship game, the Harvard Cup, was played on Thanksgiving morning at All High Stadium for more than 100 years. Sadly, that tradition ended in 2009.
    Still, some of the best match-ups and fiercest college rivalries are scheduled for the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving.
    Over the years, some people have urged the NFL to rotate the teams that are featured on Thanksgiving. Part of the reason is that the Lions have struggled for several decades to establish a winning tradition.
    “Why should Detroit be in the national spotlight every Thanksgiving?” the critics ask.
    Thankfully (that’s a good word on Thanksgiving) the NFL has ignored the critics on this issue.
    It just wouldn’t be the same to settle down in the family room with a big slice of pumpkin pie, turn on the TV set and watch, say, Tennessee at Jacksonville on Thanksgiving day. Even if you’re not a fan of the Lions or Cowboys, you have to admit there have been some memorable games played on Thanksgiving.
    • Bills backers will never forget the 1976 Thanksgiving game against Detroit. O.J. Simpson set an NFL single game rushing record with 273 yards. Unfortunately, the Lions won the game, 24-21.
    • Dallas, 1974. Trailing the Redskins 16-3 in the second half, the Cowboys lost future hall-of-famer Roger Staubach to an injury. Enter little-known and little-used Clint Longley at quarterback. All Longley did was complete 12 of 21 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns. The Cowboys stunned the division leading Redskins, 24-23.
    • 1962. I was too young to watch this one, but it’s the Thanksgiving game my dad and older brothers always said they would never forget. The Packers had won 12 straight going back to the 1961 season, but they were dominated by the Lions defense at Tiger Stadium. Detroit sacked Bart Starr 11 times and held Green Bay to 122 total yards. Detroit ended the Packers' winning streak, 26-14.
    Page 2 of 2 - Whether you’re actually playing in a game Thursday or just watching from home, I hope you make some great new memories this Thanksgiving.
    Neal Simon is a staff writer for the Evening Tribune in Hornell, N.Y.

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