clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

A History of Thanksgiving and Football

Join bet365 for up to $100 in Bet Credits you can use in Thursday’s football games.

This advertising content was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and our sponsor, without involvement from Vox Media editorial staff.

The very first football game ever played was in early November 1869, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. That day, the Rutgers College Queensmen hosted the New Jersey Tigers at its home field. Although the game more closely resembled collegiate soccer than gridiron football—it was even played with a soccer ball—the future Rutgers University Scarlet Knights delivered a solid 6-4 win against the future Princeton University Tigers, which incited a near-riot where Rutgers students chased their opponents literally out of town. A week later, the two held a rematch; Princeton trounced Rutgers 8-0. No surprise, then, that the ensuing “Route 1 rivalry” endures today, dividing families like an unspoken demilitarized zone up the Garden State Turnpike.

The very first Thanksgiving football game ever played was just two weeks later.

This time, it was far less dramatic: two local clubs in Philadelphia faced each other, the Germantown Cricket Club hosting the Young America Cricket Club. They played football by the same rules, but these clubs originally formed for cricket could have simply been a front for a third rematch for the two universities. History doesn’t record a winner.

Cricket, in America, went the way of the dodo; football took off. Starting in 1876, Princeton began to take on Yale every Thanksgiving in New York City, until 1881. A year later, Intercollegiate Football Association created a formal tournament on the holiday. In 1885, the University of Michigan began to face the University of Chicago’s Maroons, an annual event that would continue for two decades.

As the Thanksgiving football tradition became established, it trickled down into high school. Two of the oldest and most respected prep schools in Boston (English High School and Boston Latin School) began a rivalry in 1887; the sport prepared their Boston Brahmin student bodies for collegiate combat. By 1897, American college students in Paris were playing American-rules football at the École des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Julian on Thanksgiving—the first instance of the sport in the Old World. And a uniquely late-November pastime became firmly established.

From the beginning, Thanksgiving and watching football went hand-in-hand. Some historians point to Edward Winslow’s seminal letter describing the first harvest festival in 1621 between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans, in which he describes various “Recreations” in which “we exercised our arms” in between deer hunts. Sports counted as a respite from daily tasks, and from then on the die was cast.

A time-honored tradition

Thanksgiving is a unique time among American holidays, a day when nearly everyone is free from work, gathering together to give thanks, eventually separating to partake in such modern traditions as Black Friday, the “Gobbler” sandwich, and the tryptophan-fueled post-turkey slumber. During Thanksgiving, it’s all about the draw of the crowd. In 1934, to get more butts in seats (and, eventually, eyeballs on the television), the owner of the Detroit Lions began to host the Chicago Bears; three decades later, the Dallas Cowboys began their Thanksgiving tradition, starting with a win over the Cleveland Browns. Detroit has won 37 games, while Dallas has won 30—Detroit’s Midwestern rival in Chicago is close, with a 17-win record.

Today, the NFL broadcasts three games every Thanksgiving. And it’s still Detroit and Dallas versus the world. Fans love Thanksgiving Day football for the throwback uniforms that most teams don as tribute. For the spectacle of crushing victories, dynasties upset and the chance to place their bets and win on their favorite players.

A playbook for this year’s Thanksgiving

Detroit Lions versus Houston Texans: This is a matchup between two of the most underachieving teams in football this year.

  • Some audiences expect both quarterbacks to be on their backs many times during the game. There may be value on the overs on quarterback sacks.
  • Even though Detroit is coming off a scoreless game against Carolina, some expect Detroit to cover the +2.5 on their home turf.

Dallas Cowboys versus Washington: One of the great stories of the season has been the Washington Football team’s quarterback, Alex Smith. He’s gone through 17 surgeries on his leg after an injury two years ago. But now he’s back in shape, racking up the passing yards and got his first win on Sunday.

These two teams met on October 25, when Washington crushed Dallas 25-3 in a humiliating loss for the Cowboys. Some experts expect Dallas to do the same to Washington on Thanksgiving and a victory against Washington will be a big step for Dallas winning the division.

  • Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliot, who is in the midst of a bad season due to the offensive line, should get better in the last six games of regular season – bettors look for him to go over in his rushing yards against Washington.
  • There may be value in unders on offense for Washington’s key players and overs on Dallas’
  • Even though this is one of the worst divisions in recent times, the winner of this game will most likely be leading or tied for the top of the division by the end of the weekend.

Pittsburgh Steelers versus Baltimore Ravens: This will be a game. Now playing on Sunday: with Pittsburgh having a three-game lead on the division, Baltimore desperately needs a win against the Steelers to try and keep their Playoff hopes alive. Pittsburgh was outplayed at home by Baltimore on November 1, but eked out a win by four points. The currently undefeated Steelers are expected to play a big game here and win the series.

  • A popular market in the previous meeting of these two teams earlier this month was passing yardage by the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger and Ravens’ Lamar Jackson.
  • The Steelers’ have two performing receivers going for them, Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson. Two props sports bettors are looking at on these receivers are Claypool to go over longest single reception and Johnson to go over in receiving yards.
  • Another favorite prop is for Chase Claypool, a breakout rookie, to score a touchdown.

To check out these and other available markets on the Thanksgiving day games, check out the football section of of bet365bet365. And if you’re a new customer, be sure to take advantage of Bet Credits.

Advertiser Content From bet365 logo