American football on Thanksgiving
American football is one of the many traditions in American culture that is associated with Thanksgiving Day. Virtually every level of football, from amateur and high school to college and the NFL (and even the CFL on Canadian Thanksgiving), plays football on Thanksgiving Day (Thursday) or the immediately following holiday weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday).
- 1 Early days
- 2 High school football
- 3 Turkey Bowl
- 4 College
- 5 Professional
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Thanksgiving Day football games in the United States are nearly as old as the game itself. The first Thanksgiving Day football game took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Thanksgiving Day of 1869, less than two weeks after Rutgers defeated Princeton in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in what is widely considered to have been the first American Football game. On November 17, 1869, the Evening Telegraph newspaper of Philadelphia published the following announcement: "Foot Ball: A foot-ball match between twenty-two players of the Young America Cricket Club and the Germantown Cricket Club will take place on Thanksgiving Day at 12 1/2 o'clock, on the grounds of the Germantown Club."  The proximity of Philadelphia to both Rutgers and Princeton invites speculation that this game may have been played under similar rules and perhaps involved some of the same participants, or at least people familiar with the game played at Rutgers, and a second match at Princeton, earlier that month.
Princeton played Yale in the New York City area on Thanksgiving Day from 1876 through 1881. The Thanksgiving Day football game became an institutionalized fixture of organized football in 1882, when the Intercollegiate Football Association determined to hold an annual collegiate championship game in New York City on Thanksgiving Day between the two leading teams in the association. Previously, the 'Champion' was to be determined by a team's records over the entire season against all members of the association. For at least the three previous years, the championship had been a matter of dispute as a result of Yale and Princeton playing to scoreless ties on three Thanksgiving Day games in a row.
The tradition of playing football games on Thanksgiving continues to this day.
High school football
High school football games played on Thanksgiving are often called a Turkey Day Game or a Turkey Bowl (not to be confused with Turkey bowling), as Americans typically eat turkeys on Thanksgiving, although the title varies with each game. Most commonly these games are between high school football rivalries although in many cases, when poor weather requires a shorter season, the game can be the culmination of league play among a high-school league, in which the winners of this game will be the league champions for the year. (Statewide playoffs were generally rare until the 1970s and 1980s, which allowed for longer regular seasons.) The custom dates back more than 100 years and is particularly prevalent in the Northeast. In most cases, games are contested with kickoff times as early as 10 a.m., allowing the participants to have the rest of the holiday off.
This list is sorted alphabetically, first by state, and then by school, with team leading the series listed first wherever possible. State and regional championship tournaments are listed ahead of rivalries. If the rivalry involves two states, the rivalry is listed under the school whose state comes first alphabetically (e.g. a New Jersey-Pennsylvania rivalry is listed under New Jersey).
- San Jose Big Bone Game
- The only Thanksgiving high school rivalry game to be played west of the state of Missouri, this game dates to 1943 and is played in San Jose, California each Thanksgiving at 11 am The game pits Abraham Lincoln High School against San Jose High School. The "Big Bone" in question is the femur of a cow that was retrieved from a butcher shop. Lincoln leads the series 38–24. The game is preceded the week prior with the "Little Bone Game," played between the two junior varsity teams.
- San Francisco Turkey Bowl
- Also in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Turkey Bowl in San Francisco dates back to 1924, is in its 88 straight year and currently is played at Kezar Stadium each Thanksgiving at 11 am The Turkey Bowl is the city's public high school championship game. The most recent champion is Washington High School; Galileo High School has the most overall wins in the game (16) after breaking Lincoln High School's record four-game winning streak in 2009.
Connecticut has at least 48 Thanksgiving games. Some of the better known ones are as follows:
- Ansonia vs. Naugatuck
- Ansonia High School and Naugatuck High School have played each other since 1900.
In the battle of two predominantly Italian American towns each with a buzzing mascot, the Branford Hornets meet the East Haven Yellow Jackets in a rivalry that is must-see along the shoreline if for nothing more than East Haven marching band halftime performance.
- Guilford vs. Daniel Hand (Madison)
- Madison split out of what was East Guilford and since these two teams have begun playing annually Guilford has only won 7 of the match-ups, Guilford tends to be a below .500 team whereas Hand is typically a near perfect team. Hand is always favored, however Guilford always gets pumped up for this final game.
- St. Bernard vs. Montville
- These two teams only began playing annually around 10 years ago, but because of the recent success of both teams, and short distance from each other, it has become one of the most heated high school football rivalries in the state.
- Hamden vs. Notre Dame West Haven
- The annual Green Bowl game that takes place every Thanksgiving.
- Norwich Free Academy vs. New London High School
- Said to be the oldest high school football rivalry in Connecticut and, in terms of games, one of the longest in the country.
- Shelton vs. Derby
- Shelton and Derby have played each other since 1904.
- Stonington vs. Westerly, Rhode Island
- As of 2009, these two schools have met 150 times with Stonington leading Westerly 68–65–17. However, when strictly looking at Thanksgiving Turkey day games Westerly leads 47–40–11. The two schools at one time played twice a year; hence, these two schools have played more games than any other high school football rivalry.
- Wilbur Cross vs. Hillhouse
- New Haven's two largest high schools, Hillhouse High School and Wilbur Cross High School, meet every Thanksgiving in the "Elm City Bowl".
District of Columbia
- District championship game
- The District of Columbia Interscholastic Athletic Association holds its annual city high school championship game on Thanksgiving weekend.
- Gonzaga vs. St. John's
- An annual game occurs between Gonzaga College High School and St. John's College High School, two Catholic high schools in the Washington, DC area. The rivalry dates to 1893.
Maine has only one Thanksgiving football game
- Portland High School vs. Deering High School
- This is the only annual Thanksgiving game played in Maine. First held in 1911, this annual game pits cross town rivals Deering High School Rams and Portland High School Bulldogs against each other at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
- Loyola Blakefield vs. Calvert Hall College
- Calvert Hall College and Loyola Blakefield, one private high school (Loyola) and one parochial high school (Calvert Hall) in Towson, Maryland have played an annual football game on Thanksgiving Day known as the "Turkey Bowl." The 93-year-old tradition is the oldest continuous Catholic prep-school football rivalry in the United States. The game is currently held at M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens. To date, The Loyola Dons have the overall lead over the Calvert Hall Cardinals in the Turkey Bowl, with a record of 48–37–8, but the Cardinals have won each of the last four matches played. It is televised on the local ABC affiliate, WMAR 2.
- Baltimore Polytechnic Institute (Poly) vs. Baltimore City College (City)
- In 1889, the game was played between City and Poly, then located on Courtland Street just a short distance from City. This led to one of the longest continuous public high school American football rivalry in the nation. In the early 1900s the game was played on Thanksgiving Day and when Memorial Stadium was built in 1954 the game was played there until the stadium was demolished in 2000. The games played at Memorial stadium during the 1960s drew an average of 25,000 fans. In 1965, 27,500 fans saw quarterback Kurt Schmoke and team captain Curt Anderson lead City to a 52–6 win over Poly. The Thanksgiving tradition ended in 1993 when both City and Poly joined the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association which held its playoffs during the Thanksgiving week, requiring both schools to move their rivalry to a date three weeks earlier. The game is now played at M&T Bank Stadium, in downtown Baltimore the first week of November. Anderson (City) and Baltimore attorney Warren Brown (Poly) have kept the Turkey Day tradition alive between the two schools by sponsoring a flag football game at 9 am every Thanksgiving morning at Baltimore's Herring Run Park. For the past 30 years any former Poly student, football player or not, faces off against a team made up of former City students. Brown and Anderson no longer play, but their sons do.
In Massachusetts, where high school football is not nearly the draw it is in other parts of the country, the Thanksgiving Day game is a long-standing tradition that brings out thousands of alumni and other fans. Virtually every school in the Bay State has a traditional rival and the holiday game is a focal point for all of them, no matter how unsuccessful the regular season may have been.
- Abington vs. Whitman
- Abington High School and Whitman-Hanson Regional High School have faced off on Thanksgiving Day since 1910. The 100th meeting between these two schools was played at Whitman in 2010. Whitam-Hanson has won 57 of the one hundred games played.
- Andover vs. Central Catholic
- Attleboro vs. North Attleborough
- Barnstable vs. Falmouth
- Barnstable High School and Falmouth High School have played each other since 1895.
- Beverly vs. Salem
- Salem High School and Beverly High School have played each other since 1891. The 100th meeting between the two schools in 1998 at Hurd Stadium attracted over 11,000 fans.
- BMC Durfee vs. New Bedford
- New Bedford High School and B.M.C. Durfee of Fall River have contested this rivalry since 1893.
- Chelmsford vs. Billerica
- Chelmsford High School and Billerica Memorial High School have faced off against each other annually since 1927.
- Chicopee vs. Holyoke
- Chicopee High School and Holyoke High School
- Cohasset vs. Hull
- Cohasset High School and Hull High School have played each other on Thanksgiving since the 1920s.
- Dedham vs. Norwood
- English High School vs. Boston Latin
- The rivalry between English High School of Boston and Boston Latin School dates to 1887. It is played annually at Harvard Stadium.
- Fairhaven vs. Dartmouth
- Fitchburg vs. Leominster
- Leominster High School and Fitchburgh High School have played since 1894. As of 2008, it has been contested on Thanksgiving 103 times, out of 125 total matches.
- Georgetown vs. Manchester-Essex Regional High School.
- Gloucester vs. Danvers
- Haverhill vs. Lowell
- This game is one of the few to be broadcast live. It is carried on radio, and online, by WCAP, Lowell's radio station.
- Longmeadow vs. East Longmeadow
- Longmeadow High School and East Longmeadow High School
- Pioneer Valley vs. Franklin Technical
- Teams have played each other since 2005. Pioneer leads series 5–3. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving each team has a bonfire for the community.
- Marlborough vs. Hudson
- Marlborough High School and Hudson High School have played since 1904.
- Medford vs. Malden
- This rivalry has been contested since 1889.
- Melrose vs. Wakefield
- Needham vs. Wellesley
- Since 1882, the Rockets and Raiders have been playing in the oldest public school football rivalry in the country.
- Newburyport vs. Amesbury
- These two teams have played each other 88 times as of 2010 with Newburyport holding the edge 46–36–6.
- Newton North vs. Brookline
- These two teams have been duking it out on Turkey Day since 1894, and is one of the oldest traditions in Massachusetts. As of 2013, Newton North leads the rivalry 57–54–6.
Pentucket vs. Triton: Teams have played since the 1970s. Pentucket has won 11 of the last 13 contests, including on the way to winning the Super Bowl in 1999.
- Stoneham vs. Reading "The Turkey Bowl"
- Teams have played since 1923. Reading leads the series 61–24–8. Stoneham last won in 2005 (21–7).
- Wilbraham-Hampden vs. Springfield
- Minnechaug Regional High School and Springfield Central High School
- Winchester vs. Woburn
- These teams have played each other, uninterrupted, since 1893.
- Michigan High School Athletic Association State Championships
- The state's high school football championships fall on Black Friday and the Saturday after Thanksgiving at Ford Field in Detroit. This coincides with the Detroit Lions' annual Thanksgiving Day game (see below). Eight championship games are played, one for each division (Division 1–8).
- Show-Me Bowl
- The state championships of Missouri high school football are held on the Friday and Saturday following Thanksgiving at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis under the name "Show Me Bowl." There are seven games, one to decide the championship for each class, ranging from "Class 1" to "Class 6" and an eight-man football class.
- Webster Groves vs. Kirkwood Turkey Day Game
Main article: Missouri Turkey Day Game
The contest between Kirkwood High School's Pioneers and Webster Groves High School's Statesmen, two teams based in the suburbs of Saint Louis, Missouri has traditionally been played on Thanksgiving since 1907.
- Manchester city championship (Turkey Bowl)
- Gill Stadium in Manchester, New Hampshire hosts an annual turkey bowl between the city's two top ranked teams in the regular season.
Hamilton High School West vs. Steinert High School Played on Thanksgiving Day since 1960 as this is the crosstown rivalry in Hamilton Township (Mercer County).
Hopewell Valley Central High School vs. Lawrence High School A new Thanksgiving Day Game as this game has been played on Thanksgiving Day since 2012 and mirrors the annual Hamilton West/Steinert game as the other Thanksgiving Day game in Mercer County New Jersey.
Don Bosco Prep vs. Paramus Catholic: Don Bosco Preparatory High School in Ramsey, one of the top high school football programs in the United States, and Paramus Catholic High School in Paramus are traditional Thanksgiving rivals. Fox Sports 1 carried the 2013 contest nationwide.
- Phillipsburg vs. Easton, PA
- Phillipsburg High School and Easton High School have been playing each other since 1905. The first Thanksgiving Day meeting was in 1916 and the schools have played each other annually ever since. The winner of the game is presented with the Forks of the Delaware Trophy, as both schools are located from different states (Phillipsburg from NJ, Easton from PA) on opposite sides of the Delaware River. The game is played each year at Fisher Field located on the campus of Lafayette College as a neutral site. The game was previously nationally televised (the 2006 contest was carried on ESPN's High School Showcase); as of 2012, it is carried on radio by WEEX and televised by WBPH-TV, with Internet television broadcasts handled by pay-per-view (with a free Internet radio stream for the first 50 listeners only).
- Ridgewood vs. Paramus
- Ridgewood High School and Paramus High School was played every Thanksgiving morning annually from 1984 to 2013. Paramus had played continuously every Thanksgiving from 1962 onward until deciding after the 2013 season not to partake in any more games on the holiday. The school determined that the contest interfered with their participation in the state championship and refused to compromise the integrity of the match by resting the starters.
- East Orange vs. Barringer
- East Orange High School and Barringer High School have played since 1897.
- Millville vs. Vineland
- This rivalry has been contested since 1894.
- Westfield vs. Plainfield
- Westfield and Plainfield has been played since 1900 and celebrated its 100th game in 2005.
- Watchung Hills vs. Ridge
- A game formally played the day before Thanksgiving, as the two rivals weren't in the same division for football. When they both became members of the same division in 2008, they began regular-season play. The venue alternated between the two schools' stadiums every year, with the last game in 2007 played at Ridge.
- North Plainfield vs. South Plainfield
- The game is played on Thanksgiving morning each year.
- East Brunswick vs. Old Bridge
- East Brunswick High School and Old Bridge High School compete annually in the Battle Of Route 18 football game. The rivalry began in 1994 when Cedar Ridge High School and Madison Central High School merged into Old Bridge High School, and has since played East Brunswick every year on Thanksgiving morning. The contests alternates home field advantage each year, and each side awards an offensive and defensive MVP.
- Palmyra High School and Burlington City High School have played on Thanksgiving since the 1930s; the rivalry began in 1908, and is one of the oldest high school rivalries in the Delaware Valley. Palmyra leads the series 52–45–12.
Salem vs. Woodstown: Played Thanksgiving Day every year at 10:30, started in 1911, next year will be the 100th year anniversary.
- Madison vs. Millburn
- Alternates fields each year. The mayors typically make bets, with the losing team providing the winners with a platter of sloppy joes. Also, the loser must wash the other team's cars without pants on.
- Red Bank Catholic vs. Rumson Fair-Haven
- Game played annually since 1921. Presents Peninsula Trophy to winner
- New Providence vs. Berkeley Heights
- This rivalry has been contested for only a few years, but is very popular in the surrounding areas of New Providence, Summit, and Berkeley Heights. The Turkey Bowl is usually saved by NPHS stand out athlete Vincent Fuschetto.
- Middletown South vs. Middletown North
- Middletown High School South and Middletown High School North varsity teams play annually, with the home team alternating every year. 2010 marked the 35th game played between the two schools, with Middletown South beating Middletown North 20–7. Middletown South leads the rivalry with a record of 23–11–1 over Middletown North.
Toms River HS South vs Lakewood High School
Shawnee High School vs Lenape High School
New York State
- State championship weekend
- The New York State Public High School Athletic Association, which sanctions all public high school football in the state, holds its statewide football championships over Thanksgiving weekend at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. Five divisions (ranging from the largest schools outside the five major cities to the smallest districts) each have their own state title decided on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Buffalo Public Schools, representing the second-largest city in the state, joined the NYSPHSAA beginning in 2009, allowing them to contend for state championships, but abolishing their local Thanksgiving Day city championship (see below).
- Buffalo Harvard Cup (abolished)
- In Western New York, Thanksgiving was the day of the annual Harvard Cup, the city of Buffalo's high school football championship game. It ran for 106 years. Games were held at All-High Stadium on the campus of Bennett High School in Buffalo and broadcast on local radio station WJJL. However, the Harvard Cup was abolished after the 2009 season when Buffalo Public Schools joined the NYSPHSAA.
- Fordham Prep vs. Xavier High School
- The Xavier/Fordham Prep annual "Turkey Bowl" is one of the oldest high school football rivalries in New York history. Their very first game against one another took place in the late 1800s when the game was called due to darkness and ended in a tie. Xavier and Fordham Prep used to play many of their famed Thanksgiving Day "Turkey Bowl" Games at Manhattan's Polo Grounds until it was demolished following the construction of Shea Stadium in the borough of Queens. For many years, the game was played in Downing Stadium (now Icahn Stadium) on Randall's Island or on the campus of Fordham University in the Bronx. Most recently, in years Fordham has the home-field advantage, the game is played at Jack Coffey Field on the campus of Fordham University. When Xavier has the advantage, the game is played at the Aviator Sports and Events Center on the grounds of Floyd Bennett Field, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area in Brooklyn.
- Stepinac vs. White Plains Turkey Bowl
- This game between the Catholic high school Archbishop Stepinac High School and public school White Plains High School has been played continuously since 1971. The game was traditionally played at a "neutral" field in White Plains, Parker Stadium. However, since 2009, the game has been played at White Plains High School, Loucks Field. White Plains, being a public school, forfeits any regional consolation playoff appearance it may have earned, due to a limit of 10 games for high school football teams in the NYSPHSAA, but does not have to forfeit its appearance in the state championship tournament.
- Mt. St. Michael vs. Cardinal Hayes
- Bronx Turkey Bowl: Mount St. Michael High School vs. Cardinal Hayes High School. It's been a tradition for the last 66 years. Since 1942 Mount St. Michael and Cardinal Hayes have met on each Thanksgiving Day a storied CHSFL rivalry showdown.
- Abington vs. Cheltenham
- Abington Senior High School and Cheltenham High School play every year on Thanksgiving morning, unless one of the two schools is in the playoffs. The two schools, representing Abington Township and Cheltenham Township, are less than 2 miles apart and have been playing since 1915. The rivalry is the fifth-oldest public school rivalry in Pennsylvania, and seventh oldest of all schools. As of 2013, Abington holds the lead, 54-33-6.
- Catasauqua vs. Northampton
- Catasauqua High School and Northampton High School play a non-league game against each other every Thanksgiving dating back to 1925. The two schools are no longer within the same league, and thus the game is not sanctioned and does not count as a win/loss for official standings with regard to playoff consideration within the PIAA. The game is always considered to be Homecoming for Catasauqua, regardless of whether the game is played at home or away from their perspective.
- Chichester vs. Sun Valley
- These two high schools from Delaware County have played each other a total of 83 times, and now the rivals face each other every Thanksgiving. Sun Valley narrowly has more wins than Chichester as the series record is currently 42–41. Sun Valley has won the past three years.
- East Stroudsburg vs. Stroudsburg
- East Stroudsburg South High School (formerly East Stroudsburg High School) and Stroudsburg High School have been playing annually since 1945 and began their Turkey Day tradition in 1953. With the advent of district playoffs, the game was moved to the regular season for four years, then the schools agreed to play once during the season and again on Thanksgiving if neither team is in the playoffs. A little more than 2 miles separate these public high schools which allows the victor to walk home with the Little Brown Jug Trophy.
- Emmaus vs. Whitehall (no longer played on Thanksgiving)
- Emmaus High School and Whitehall High School played an annual game on Thanksgiving from 1927 until 1995. They still play each other annually, but the game is now contested during the regular season and not on Thanksgiving.
- Hatboro-Horsham vs. Upper Moreland
- Hatboro-Horsham High School and Upper Moreland High School play each other on Thanksgiving, alternating between each school as the home team.
- Mount Carmel vs. Shamokin (no longer played on Thanksgiving)
- Mount Carmel High School and Shamokin High School first played each other in 1893, and annually since 1934. They began playing each other on Thanksgiving in 1951. The rivalry continues, but the game is no longer contested on Thanksgiving and is instead played during the regular season.
- Nazareth vs. Wilson (no longer played on Thanksgiving)
- Nazareth High School and Wilson High School played annually on Thanksgiving morning from 1926–1975. From 1945–68, the game was played at Easton's Cottingham Stadium as a neutral site, and from 1969–73 it was played at Taylor Stadium on the campus of Lehigh University. In 1974 the game was played at Nazareth High School, and in 1975 it was played at Wilson High. The game has not been played on Thanksgiving since 1975 and the two schools have not met at all since 1993. Discussions between the two schools are in the works to renew this rivalry.
- Northeast vs. Central
- This game pits two schools from the city of Philadelphia, Northeast High School and Central High School, against each other; the rivalry dates to 1892. The Central Lancers won the most recent Thanksgiving game (2013) by defeating the Northeast Vikings 6–3 in overtime. The Vikings hold a narrow all-time edge on the Lancers, 56–52–10.
- Ridley vs. Interboro
- Ridley High School and Interboro High School play each other on Thanksgiving, alternating between each school as the home team. November 28, 2013 will be the 45th Thanksgiving Day football game played between these two schools This game is not held in years in which either team is currently in the playoffs on Thanksgiving Day.
- Pottsville vs. Reading (no longer played on Thanksgiving)
- Pottsville High School and Reading High School have been playing each other since 1893, and played annually on Thanksgiving from 1923 to 1977. They no longer play on Thanksgiving, but still play each other during the regular season.
- Upper Darby vs. Haverford
- Upper Darby High School and Haverford High School, two public schools that are located less than three miles apart, have contested a game since 1921.
- Portsmouth vs. Middletown
- The two teams have played every year since 1965 with Portsmouth leading the all time series 26–2–16–2
- East Providence vs. La Salle
- South Kingstown Rebels vs. North Kingstown Skippers
- West Warwick vs. Coventry
- Barrington Eagles vs. Mount Hope Huskies (formerly Bristol)
- Burrillville vs. Ponaganset
- Central vs. Hope
- Central Falls vs. Lincoln
- Chariho vs. Exeter/West Greenwich
- Classical vs. Mount Pleasant
- Coventry vs. West Warwick
- Cranston East vs. Cranston West
- Cumberland vs. Woonsocket
- Carried on radio by WOON, Woonsocket's full-service radio station.
- East Greenwich vs. Narragansett
- Hendricken vs. Toll Gate
- Johnston vs. St. Raphael
- North Providence vs. Smithfield
- North Smithfield vs. Scituate
- Pilgrim vs. Warwick Veterans
- Rogers vs. Tiverton
- Shea vs. Tolman
- Westerly vs. Stonington (CT)
- Hampton vs. Newport News (abolished)
- From 1907 to 1970, Hampton High School's Crabbers and Newport News High School's Typhoon faced off against each other in one of the Hampton Roads region's most heated high school football rivalries. The imposition of a state championship tournament, coupled with the federally-ordered closure of Newport News High School for the purpose of desegregation, brought an end to the rivalry.
Unorganized groups have also been known to partake in American football on Thanksgiving. These informal matches are usually known as a Turkey Bowl (not to be confused with some high school football games that also use the name "Turkey Bowl", see above, and with Turkey Bowling). These games are usually unofficiated with a flag football, street football or touch football format.
While the games themselves are not generally nationally known, Turkey Bowls hold importance for those who participate and it is not uncommon for rivalries to last for decades. Turkey Bowls are played by a variety of people including extended families, college fraternities, volunteer fire departments, and local churches across the country which use the day and the game to have fun, exercise and renew old acquaintances.
The University of Michigan made it a tradition to play annual Thanksgiving games, holding 19 such games from 1885 to 1905. The Thanksgiving Day games between Michigan and the Chicago Maroons in the 1890s have been cited as "The Beginning of Thanksgiving Day Football." Since the Maroons no longer play at the Division I level, the Wolverines now play their modern-day archrivals, the Ohio State Buckeyes, during Thanksgiving weekend. Yale and Princeton began an annual tradition of playing against each other on Thanksgiving Day starting in 1876.
The Hornet Homecoming, a college football game between Alabama State University and Tuskegee University, was played on Thanksgiving Day annually from 1924 to 2012; as such, it has historically been known as the "Turkey Day Classic." It is also the oldest black college football classic, since the two colleges first played each other in 1901. Tuskegee University pulled out of the contest after 2012 (they were replaced by Stillman College in the 2013 contest), and Alabama State did the same in 2013, deciding to move its homecoming to the Saturday before Thanksgiving; in both cases, the NCAA football tournaments prompted the schools to move the end of their seasons to before Thanksgiving so that they would be able to compete for the national championship should they qualify. Another popular black college football classic played on Thanksgiving weekend is the Bayou Classic between Grambling State University and Southern University, which is held the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Other prominent college football rivalries that take place over Thanksgiving weekend include:
- Auburn Tigers vs. Alabama Crimson Tide (the Iron Bowl)
- Ole Miss Rebels vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs (the Battle of the Golden Egg, held on Thanksgiving night from 1998 to 2003)
- LSU Tigers vs. Arkansas Razorbacks (the Battle for the Golden Boot)
- Georgia Bulldogs vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate)
- BYU Cougars vs. Utah Utes (the Holy War, to 2010)
- Colorado Buffaloes vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers (Colorado–Nebraska rivalry, through 2010)
- Oklahoma Sooners vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys (the Bedlam Series)
- Texas Longhorns vs. Texas A&M Aggies (the Lone Star Showdown, played on Thanksgiving from 2008 until its end in 2011, also played on Thanksgiving many other times prior to 2008)
- Florida Gators vs. Florida State Seminoles (the Sunshine Showdown)
- Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Southern California Trojans (the Jeweled Shillelagh; rivalry is played every year but only scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend when Southern Cal hosts; Southern Cal has hosted on Thanksgiving in even-numbered years since the 1960s)
- Clemson Tigers vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (the Palmetto Bowl)
- Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Virginia Cavaliers (the Commonwealth Cup, erratically scheduled)
- Kentucky Wildcats vs. Tennessee Volunteers
- Michigan vs. Ohio State (The Game), played the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
The frequent changing of conferences stemming from an ongoing realignment of NCAA teams and conferences has complicated the numerous rivalries that traditionally play Thanksgiving weekend.
The vast majority of the current traditional Thanksgiving weekend college football games listed above are played on Friday or Saturday. Texas, as previously mentioned, has had more or less of a permanent spot on the night of the holiday itself since at least 2008.
Professional football teams and leagues have played on Thanksgiving from the start, with pro leagues and teams having played on Thanksgiving since the 1890s. It carried over when Buffalo and Rochester, two members of the New York Pro Football League which had held its championship on Thanksgiving 1919, and the Ohio League, which traditionally held its marquee matchups on Thanksgiving, combined into the NFL upon its founding in 1920, and as such, the NFL has played on Thanksgiving ever since. The Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys have played home games on Thanksgiving since 1934 and 1966, respectively, in a traditional series of NFL games. Beginning in 2006, the NFL added a third game on Thanksgiving night with a rotating host team.
In the Canadian Football League, where games are played on Canadian Thanksgiving, the CFL hosts two games in the Thanksgiving Day Classic; it is one of only two weeks each year in which the CFL plays on a Monday, the other being the Labour Day Classic. The difference between the Thanksgiving and Labour Day games is that the Thanksgiving Day games do not have the same matchups each year; however, like its American counterpart, one of the games has a regular host (in the CFL's case, the Montreal Alouettes). Coincidentally, both the Grey Cup, the CFL's championship game, and the Vanier Cup, the championship of Canadian college football, are both traditionally played on the fourth weekend in November, which amounts to the week before or the week after American Thanksgiving.
The World Football League originally planned to hold its 1974 championship game, World Bowl 1, the day after Thanksgiving in 1974; the business failures of the 1974 season led to the league reorganizing the playoff structure and pushing the World Bowl one week back. Similarly, the United Football League, which began play in 2009, held its first two UFL Championship Games over Thanksgiving weekend; both the truncated 2011 UFL season and the 2012 UFL season were cut short well before the Thanksgiving holiday due to financial shortfalls.
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