Tomorrow will be the 39th Thanksgiving Day game that I can remember the Lions playing. I thought it might be fun — for me, not necessarily for you — to go through them, one by one, and see what I can recall about each game. It’s like a live blog: I’ll just type what comes to mind. Nothing prepared, no cutesy prose. Keep in mind that many of these games weren’t on local TV — either because they were played before the NFL allowed home games that were sold out 72 hours in advance to be televised, or they weren’t sold out. So a lot of the memories either come from listening to the game on the radio, or reading about it the next day. I only attended two Thanksgiving Day games in person: 1983 and 1988.
Here goes (most final scores culled from shrpsports.com, or my memory) ….
1970: The Lions beat the Raiders, 28-14, after falling behind 14-0. But this was notable because it was the only time, that I know of, the Lions wore white uniforms at home. NBC was afraid that the Raiders’ road white uniforms, with their silver numbers at the time, wouldn’t show up well on national TV. So the network asked the Lions to wear white (with blue numbers) instead. Charlie Sanders made two fantastic TD catches.
1971: The Chiefs were in town, and I remember being at my relatives’ house and hearing that the Lions were winning. That’s about all I recall about this one. The Lions won, 32-21.
1972: The Lions spanked Joe Namath and the Jets, 37-20. What I remember about this one is a photo you still see from time to time — probably can find it on the Lions website — of MLB Mike Lucci staring down Namath at the line of scrimmage before the snap. The photo was taken from behind Namath, with Lucci lurking in the background.
1973: The Redskins came in and drubbed the Lions, 20-0. Again, not on TV. Nothing much to report about this one.
1974: The Lions’ last home game ever at Tiger Stadium. I had to double check this, as it’s highly unusual to play no more home games after Thanksgiving, but this was when the NFL schedule was 14 games. The Broncos came calling and beat the Lions, 31-27. Also notable because it was the last game for FB Steve Owens, who tore up a knee and never played again.
1975: Another 20-0 drubbing, this time from the LA Rams. I remember being at my grandmother’s house and my uncle joining us for dinner after having attended the game. I remember he said it was cold and the roof of the Silverdome leaked.
1976: Not on TV, but this was the game where Buffalo’s O.J. Simpson ran wild, to the tune of 273 (I think) rushing yards. Still, the Lions won, 27-14.
1977: The Bears were here, and I barely remember it. Just as well; the Lions lost 31-14.
1978: The defending AFC champs, the Denver Broncos, were in town. This was one of those games where the Lions rose to the occasion and pulled the upset. They sacked Denver’s Craig Morton several times on their way to a rousing 17-14 win.
1979: I remember listening to most of this one on the radio. The Lions came into the game at 1-11, but shutout the Bears by that ubiquitous 20-0 score. I remember how loud the crowd was at the final gun. The Lions finished 2-14.
1980: This was the famous overtime kickoff return game. The Bears were here again, and they scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, including a scramble for a TD by Vince Evans as time expired. Then Dave Williams took the overtime kickoff to the house, some 98 yards. This loss mortally wounded the Lions’ playoff hopes.
1981: OK, what was notable here, for me, wasn’t the game itself (the Lions beat KC, 27-10), but what happened the Sunday after the game. We were dropping my uncle off at the airport, and all of a sudden I see a figure out of my peripheral vision as I sat in the backseat of the car. The figure is running between the cars parked near the terminal. The figure was Lions running back Billy Sims. Truth.
1982: The Giants beat the Lions, thanks to Lawrence Taylor returning an interception nearly 100 yards for a touchdown. This was on TV, and I remember TE David Hill smugly dangling a penalty flag after Taylor scored. Hill and everyone at the Silverdome, and me at home, thought the flag was on the Giants, and the score would be nullified. It was against the Lions. The touchdown stood, and the Lions fell.
1983: Ahh, NOW we’re talking memories! I was there when the Lions pummeled the Steelers, 45-3. Unbelievable. Total destruction of the Steelers. I remember someone had hung a banner with an image of Mr. T on it that said, “I PITY PITT!” I thought that was cute, but that the Lions would lose the game. Instead it was a slaughter meted out by the boys in Honolulu Blue.
1984: The Lions only won four games in ’84, but one of them was over the Packers on Turkey Day. This one is hopelessly lost in a black hole somewhere; I have absolutely no recollection of this game!
1985: The Lions, under first-year head coach Darryl Rogers, won their first six home games. The last of these was a 31-20 win over the 9-3 Jets. But this is memorable because at halftime, NBC’s Ahmad Rashad, from Pontiac, proposed marriage to Phylicia Ayers-Allen, who was in New York, on live TV. She said yes. (They’re divorced now, but don’t tell anyone)
1986: The Packers came in and beat the Lions in a shootout, 44-40. I remember someone for the Packers running a punt back for a touchdown (Phillip Epps, perhaps?)
1987: This was around the time the Lions got insufferably boring under Rogers. They fell to 2-9 after a 27-20 loss to the previously 1-9 Chiefs. What a marquee match-up, eh? Two teams with a combined record of 3-17.
1988: I was there when Wayne Fontes, new on the job after Rogers got the ziggy, watched his team be simply awful offensively in a 23-0 loss to the Vikings. This game was so bad, I barely remember it — and I was in attendance!
1989: The 2-9 Lions beat the Browns, 13-10, in a major upset. And I ran out of gas driving to my dad’s house in Clarkston. He had to pick me up at the County Sheriff post in Pontiac, near which I conveniently stalled, gas can in tow.
1990: Again the Broncos came in as defending AFC champs, and again the Lions upset them, 40-27. Not many memories from this one, personally.
1991: On TV, and the Lions paid tribute to fallen teammate Mike Utley by beating the Bears, 16-6, on their way to a 12-4 record and a trip to the NFC Championship Game. Not much of a game, really, but the Lions won so all was well.
1992: The last Thanksgiving game to be blacked out saw Warren Moon and the Houston Oilers make a rare Detroit appearance. They beat the Lions, 24-21.
1993. The Lions lost to the Bears, and I think this was the game in which Barry Sanders hurt his knee and was lost until the playoffs. I remember the Lions stunk up the joint offensively — even before Sanders got hurt.
1994. Dave Krieg (remember him?) Mania was at its apex when the Lions beat the Bills, 35-21. Krieg, taking over after Scott Mitchell got hurt on October 30, was in the middle of a brilliant run in which he threw a ton of TDs and hardly any interceptions. I remember the Lions doing a flea flicker early in the game — maybe even the very first play from scrimmage — and it was a huge gainer.
1995. A wild one. The Vikings were here, and got off to a great start. But the Lions came back and beat them, 44-38. It was a shootout between Warren Moon and Mitchell. And Mitchell won — how ’bout that?
1996. Marcus Allen and the Chiefs won, 28-24. This was a hugely disappointing year, coming after three straight playoff seasons. Fontes got the ziggy at the end of the year.
1997. The Lions blew out the Bears, 55-20. I watched this one from my uncle’s house, and it was a real laugher. A rare time when you didn’t have to worry about whether the Lions would somehow blow it; you could just eat, talk, and have a good time while the game played on the TV, in the background.
1998. This was the infamous coin toss game against Pittsburgh. The Lions were awarded the ball at the beginning of overtime because the referee thought Jerome Bettis called the coin wrong, even though TV microphones sided with Bettis. I remember how incredulous Bettis looked when the toss was given to the Lions.
1999. A 21-17 win over Chicago, but damned if I can remember one thing about it.
2000. The Lions demolished the Patriots, 34-9. Charlie Batch played hurt and and gutsy. I remember him sacrificing his body on a touchdown run that electrified the Silverdome.
2001. The 0-9 Lions fell to the Packers, 29-27. This was Marty Mornhinweg’s first (of two) Thanksgiving games. Also Matt Millen’s first (of too many).
2002. Just two years later, the Pats were back, but this time as defending Super Bowl champs. The Lions were chumps. Pats won, 20-12.
2003. Steve Mariucci was now the coach, and the Lions managed to beat the Packers, 22-14, to “raise” their record to 4-8. Totally devoid of memory of this one, too.
2004. I remember this one, though. Peyton Manning threw five TD passes, and had he not been pulled so early, he could have had ten. The Lions were completely helpless. Colts won, 41-9.
2005. Another stinker, and it cost Mooch his job. The Falcons dominated from the start and won, 27-7 as the Ford Field crowd booed mercilessly. Mariucci was fired by the end of the weekend.
2006. The return of Joey Harrington, with the Dolphins. And Pal Joey torched the Lions, 27-10. Again the crowd booed. We were in Year One of the Rod Marinelli Era, which hopefully comes to an end five games from now.
2007. The Lions were 6-4, but it was a Fool’s Gold kind of 6-4. The Packers came in, and Brett Favre had one more feast at the expense of the Lions, 37-26. Between then and now, the Lions have won one — ONE — football game.
2008. The Tennessee Titans, 10-1, make mincemeat of the Lions, trampling them 34-13. Ford Field is again filled with boo birds. “Fire Marinelli” signs are seen throughout the stadium. I know it hasn’t happened yet, but why wait for the news when you know it beforehand?
P.S. Yes, “The Knee Jerks” WILL be seen tomorrow at their regularly scheduled time. You think Big Al and I are gonna let a little turkey stand between us and our weekly chat? Last I checked, you can type if you jam the turkey leg into your mouth, between your teeth.