By Victoria Chavers, Staff Writer—
Family, food, and football are the most important things for the average American on Thanksgiving Day.
Six years after Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, the first football game took place on the holiday in Philadelphia. Because of the game’s local popularity, the Intercollegiate Football Association made it a tradition in 1882 to hold its championship game on Thanksgiving day in New York City.
Colleges have also latched onto the need for tradition and nostalgia around the holidays. Several schools have specific games they play each Thanksgiving, like the annual Turkey Day Classic between Alabama State University and Tuskegee University. The University of Michigan historically played their rival (the Chicago Maroons) from 1885 to 1905. Now they play their current rival, the Ohio State Buckeyes. Similarly, Yale and Princeton also compete each Thanksgiving.
The NFL has enshrined itself as a solid piece of Thanksgiving history in pop culture and in the nostalgic hearts of people throughout the country. Dallas, Texas has only missed playing on Thanksgiving in 1975 and 1977 after starting the tradition in 1966. All across America, families put away their political opinions and dysfunctionality for a few hours to continue eating food and watch the Thursday matinee football games.
Pop culture has also grasped the American tradition. In the Friends episode “The One with the Football,” Thanksgiving shenanigans occur when Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe want to take on their male counterparts in a game of flag football before dinner on Thanksgiving Day.
Because the NFL is such a huge part of our culture, it’s no surprise that playing football, or at least watching it, has made its way into TV and movies. Soda and snacks are suddenly football themed, and Hallmark utilizes the Thanksgiving family football game in their movies (which probably aren’t even geared towards those who participate).
No matter what team you’re cheering for, or how annoyed with your visiting relatives you are, every American knows there’s an opportunity to escape the drama and watch a football game for a few hours each Thanksgiving. Much like the Macy’s Day Parade, the games have become inseparable from the holiday and are part of American culture.