Nov 23 – “Thanksgiving is almost always a Thursday” – Butch Davis, former Browns head coach
Butch Davis made some memorable remarks during his time as the Browns’ head coach from 2001 to 2004.
Davis once said that a quarterback the Browns were preparing for “has a cannon for a gun.” On another occasion, he warned that “it won’t be a piece of cake” as the Browns prepared to play a team with a lower record.
Remembering Davis noted that “Thanksgiving is almost always a Thursday” often comes to mind in late November, partly because Butch was arguably the most successful coach the Browns have had since 1999 and partly because they rarely play on Thanksgiving.
The Browns have played on Thanksgiving just three times since they were absorbed by the NFL in 1950 after four years of dominating the American Football Conference. They lost every time.
The Detroit Lions began the tradition of hosting a Thanksgiving game in 1934, and have upheld the tradition for 88 years. They host the Bills at 12:30 pm on November 24 at Ford Field.
The Dallas Cowboys, an expansion team in 1960, began hosting a Thanksgiving game in 1966. The Browns were their opponent that first year. It didn’t go well for the boys in the orange helmets.
The Lions play in the NFC North and the Cowboys in the NFC East. The Browns play in the AFC. There are four divisions in each conference.
The rotating schedule is set up, for example, so that the AFC North plays in each NFC division once every four years. It’s more divided, for example, that the Browns are in Dallas (and the Cowboys in Cleveland) only once every eight years.
Although each year’s opponents are predetermined, the NFL decides which games are played and when to appease the television networks. The Browns are apparently not regarded as the national appeal their fans make them out to be, despite the numerous groups of Browns Backers around the world.
In 2006, the NFL added a third Thanksgiving game played at night. This year’s night game has the Patriots playing the Vikings in Minnesota at 8:20 pm. The night game has no traditional host: whichever matchup looks juiciest in the eyes of the NFL takes the honor. The Browns have been turned down for that game for 17 years.
The Browns were in the AAFC from 1946 to 1949. That behemoth, conference champions all four years, went 3-0 on Thanksgiving.
The game played on November 24, 1966 in Dallas was the first time the NFL’s Browns played on Thanksgiving Day. It was the first season that Jim Brown was retired.
The Cowboys won, 26-14. The Browns took a 7-6 lead in the second quarter on a one-yard run by Leroy Kelly and a PAT by Lou Groza. The Vaqueros scored their first six points on a pair of Danny Villanueva field goals.
Dallas regained the lead later in the second quarter on a six-yard touchdown pass from Don Meredith to Dan Reeves and a Villanueva kick. Ernie Green caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from Frank Ryan to put the Browns back on top before halftime, 14-13, but the second half belonged to the Cowboys. Villanueva kicked field goals of 12 and 13 yards and Don Perkins scored on a 9-yard run.
The Browns did not play again on Thanksgiving Day until November 25, 1982. Sam Rutigliano was the head coach. A players’ strike that season lasted 57 days. The teams played a nine-game schedule. The Browns reached the playoffs with a 4-5 record and were defeated by the Los Angeles Raiders in the first round of the postseason, 27-10.
The Thanksgiving loss to the Cowboys was the second game after the strike ended. Four days earlier, the Browns beat the Patriots, 10-7, at Cleveland Stadium. They were in no condition to board a plane three days later for an away game, and it showed.
The Cowboys took a 31-0 lead as Danny White threw two touchdown passes and Tony Dorsett scored two rushing touchdowns.
The Browns scored twice in the fourth quarter, first on Paul McDonald’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Dino Hall and then on Mike Pruitt’s two-yard run. Matt Bahr added the PAT after both touchdowns.
Kevin Stefanski was 7 years old the last time the Browns played on Thanksgiving. Bud Carson coached the Browns to a 13-10 loss to the Lions on November 23, 1989 at the Pontiac Silverdome.
The Browns won four straight games and tied the Chiefs, 10-10, before facing the Lions. They were seven-point favorites to continue their unbeaten streak, but the Lions delivered the upset when Eddie Murray kicked a 35-yard field goal in the third quarter to break a 10-10 tie.
A 27-yard touchdown pass from Bob Gaglaino to Richard Johnson gave Detroit a 10-3 lead. A 38-yard run by Browns running back Barry Redden and a PAT by Matt Bahr made it 10-10 at halftime.
The star of the game was Lions running back Barry Sanders. He carried the ball 28 times for 145 yards and caught two passes for 44 yards. Bernie Kosar completed 28 of 38 passes for 298 yards with one interception for the Browns.
The 1989 team wasn’t just the last Browns team to play on Thanksgiving. It was also the last Browns team to play for the AFC championship. The Broncos won the game, 37-21, to end a five-year streak in which the Browns made the playoffs every year. They have made the playoffs just three times since then.