Here it is, a bit earlier than usual this week, and you can understand why: Three big games on the Thanksgiving menu, including, for the first time in sixteen years, on NBC. The usual regionals are upcoming, but given the holiday and the circumstances surrounding this setup, I’m including the Turkey Day games, as well as recognizing NBC, in this special edition only.
For the longest time, there had been only two annual NFL games on Thanksgiving Day: in Detroit in the early afternoon, and in Dallas in the late afternoon. Then when NFL Network started their “Thursday Night Football” package, which initially called for eight games per season (including a Saturday night game here and there), it included a Thanksgiving night game (which was also available on local broadcast stations in the markets involved with the game).
Then this year, on the weekend of the Super Bowl, the league announced that not only would NFLN’s annual tally of games expand from eight to thirteen, but in exchange for the extra games, the Thanksgiving night game would go to NBC.
So in 2012, a new tradition begins, with NBC worked into the Turkey Day NFL mix. The last time the Peacock Network aired a game on Thanksgiving Day, it was in the final year of their AFC contract. In fact, it’s been so long that the team that beat the Cowboys in that game in 1997, the Tennessee Oilers, now go by a new name (Titans). Ironically, the NFL franchise previously known as the Titans will be hosting the first Thanksgiving game on NBC in quite some time.
Here’s some Turkey Day NFL trivia for you: Did you know that, for two years out of the 52 seasons and counting that the NFL Thanksgiving doubleheader was established, the Cowboys did not host the late game? That’s right: there appeared to be a consensus that the team hosting a regular season game in the middle of the week gave them somewhat of an unfair advantage over other teams. The group with the biggest grievance was the St. Louis Cardinals – which at the time, were in the NFC East with the Cowboys. (They’ve since flown west to Phoenix in 1988, and eventually to the NFC West in 2002.) So the NFL awarded the St. Louis football Cardinals the late Thanksgiving game on odd years, starting in 1975. However, this plan ended in 1977 because CBS had their own grievance: there was not as much viewer interest in Cardinals Thanksgiving games than in Cowboys Thanksgiving games. What’s more, it would prove to be a chore to sell out the Thanksgiving games in St. Louis, as there was a high school football game in the area that was apparently of more interest. But there’s no record of the two Cards games not selling out, thus no record of local blackouts of the games in the St. Louis area.
So as far as I know, there has never been a local home team blackout for any Thanksgiving Classic games. Not even the Lions during their struggling years experienced a blackout on Thanksgiving Day – even the year that they compiled an 0-16 record. And even though word on the street was that the Jets had unsold tickets for their previous night game this season against the Texans – who will also be in action on Thursday for the first Thanksgiving game in the team’s eleven-year history – it’s a safe bet that the Jets’ second home game on Thanksgiving night in three years is sold out.
By the way, one more footnote on the Cardinals before we get started: Did you know that they’ve been involved in six Thanksgiving games since the AFL/NFL merger, and they’re 0-6 in those games? They were the St. Louis Cardinals for five of those games, and were involved in games for three consecutive years, including the two home games back in the mid-’70’s (yep, the Cowboys hosted the other). They also visited the Cowboys in 1983 and 1985, and lost each game by an identical score of 35-17. And in their most recent Turkey Day game in 2008, the Arizona Cardinals were eaten alive by the Philadelphia Eagles, 48-20. The Eagles, by the way, are undefeated (2-0) in Thanksgiving games played since the merger. At least the current Eagles team can take solace in that, when they host a Monday night matchup against the Carolina Panthers this week.
Here we go.
The Detroit Lions start the day’s festivities, just as they have been for every year since 1945. They host the AFC South-leading Houston Texans, and that means it’s a CBS game, and the network’s A-team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms will be at Ford Field for this game. It’ll be the third matchup between the two teams; each of their previous two tilts was won by the home team, most recently the Texans in 2008. So the Lions have that going for them against the high-powered Texans offense. The Dallas Cowboys follow with their 35th consecutive Thanksgiving Day game since the sacrifice of the Cardinals, and it’ll be against the division rival Washington Redskins, and Joe Buck and Troy Aikman will work that one. Here’s another weird stat for you: Since a pre-merger matchup in 1968, the Redskins are 0-6 against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day (though they did play the Lions back in 1972 and shut them out, 20-0). And the nightcap on NBC will be another divisional contest, as the New York Jets host the New England Patriots, who currently lead the AFC East. NBC’s crew of Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and Michele Tafoya are assigned to this game. Since the merger, the Jets are 0-3 on Thanksgiving as the road team, but at home, they’re 1-0 – so far, anyway.
A foreword before the Sunday games: Of the three aforementioned announcing crews, we won’t hear from Nantz and Simms again until next week. Iron man Joe Buck and his sidekick Troy Aikman will return this Sunday on Fox (more on that later) and Al, Cris and Michele will also work NBC’s regularly scheduled Sunday night broadcast, which has the Green Bay Packers visiting the New York Giants. Fox has the Sunday doubleheader this week, by the way; not sure if that factors into Nantz/Simms getting a day of rest this Sunday or not.
CBS: But if Nantz and Simms were working a second game on this long holiday weekend, this probably would be the one: it involves the Denver Broncos, who travel to Kansas City to play the 1-9 Chiefs. On second thought, perhaps the carnage might be too much for Jim and Phil, so this sounds like a job for Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf. There are a couple of other divisional tilts in CBS’ early game window: the Jacksonville Jaguars, coming off a double overtime loss to the Texans, host the Tennessee Titans, with Spero Dedes and Steve Beuerlein interpreting the game action. And the Pittsburgh Steelers, sans Ben Roethlisberger, take on the Cleveland Browns, sans a reasonable offense; Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots will call this game from Cleveland. In fact, there will be two NFL games being played simultaneously in Ohio, as Bill Macatee and Steve Tasker will call the Cincinnati Bengals/Oakland Raiders contest. And the great Marv Albert once again teams up with Rich Gannon for what should be an exciting game in the rookie season of Andrew Luck – I say “should be an exciting game” but the Indianapolis Colts are hosting the Buffalo Bills this week.
FOX: A majority of the country will see Kenny Albert, Daryl “Moose” Johnston and Tony Siragusa work an NFC North showdown between the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears. And just like the Ohio deal, there will be three NFL games at the same time in the state of Florida: in addition to the aforementioned Jaguars game in Jacksonville, the Miami Dolphins host the Seattle Seahawks, in a game that will be called by Chris Myers and Tim Ryan. You may recall Myers’ snafu last week in which he declared a Panthers victory as a Tampa Bay Buccaneers decisive touchdown was scored in overtime. Which brings us to the other game in the Sunshine State, which is yet another divisional tilt. Yet, despite a heroic effort last week, I heard on Wednesday that there are still “thousands” of tickets available for the Bucs’ next home game against the Atlanta Falcons. The Bucs’ first and only sellout at Raymond James Stadium to date has been against another NFC South foe, the New Orleans Saints. If the team rises to second place in the division and they’re still not putting behinds in the seats, then Tampa Bay just doesn’t deserve an NFL team. It’s as simple as that. Despite the holiday, the sellout deadline remains as Thursday; I’ll update this post accordingly when time permits. By the way, Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick will call this game from Tampa. (UPDATE: It will actually be Charles Davis working with Brennaman.)
CBS: The lone late contest in CBS’ late game window, the San Diego Chargers’ hosting of the Baltimore Ravens, is also in danger of being blacked out locally. For those that will be able to watch this game, you’ll hear Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts describe the game action. (Surprisingly, I’ve heard nothing blackout-related as far as the Raiders/Bengals game is concerned.)
FOX: As I previously mentioned, Buck and Aikman will be back in the catbird seats on three days rest, in the Big Easy, as the resurgent New Orleans Saints play the San Francisco 49ers. Finally, you knew I was bringing up all of those details about the St. Louis football Cardinals for a reason. Of course, on Thanksgiving weekend, the NFL is going to schedule the Arizona Cardinals vs. the St. Louis Rams – or the team representing the city the Cardinals once resided, where they became etched in Thanksgiving Classic lore. This far-from-a-Thanksgiving-classic (will it end in a tie?) will be worked by Dick Stockton and John Lynch.
UPDATE: As of Friday, November 23, Cincinnati, San Diego and Tampa Bay will not be able to watch their local teams this weekend.
Information from the506.com was used in this post.