Thanksgiving is a holiday that is sure to spark some lively discussions among those who enjoy the blessings laid out at the family table.
What about the cranberry sauce? Do you like the kind that actually has berries in it or the kind that is like opening a can of Jell-O?
Do you prefer cornbread dip or some kind of Yankee filling? Would you choose cake or tart? Pumpkin or apple?
Once those questions are resolved, do you stay in the dining room and talk, or do you retreat to the living room and watch the Dallas Cowboys?
In many families, the answer is split fairly evenly between men and women, but you can never be sure, because many East Texas grandmothers love their jeans.
Well, once upon a time, there was no Dallas game on Turkey Day. He would watch the Macy’s parade in black and white, then wait with anticipation for the Detroit Lions to play their traditional Thanksgiving game. Imagine soccer on a Thursday!
As it turns out, the Turkey Day game has been a tradition, since long before the tires were taken off the Motor City franchise. The Lions moved there in 1934 and began hosting another NFL team every November thereafter. Their first opponent was the Chicago Bears, who thrashed the Lions in front of a sold-out stadium with 26,000 cold fans.
One of the first Thanksgiving games that impressed me was the 1962 game against the Green Bay Packers. Lombardi’s team entered Detroit 10-0, only to be outscored by All-Pro defensive lineman Alex Karras and the Lions. Detroit won 26-14, sacking legendary Packer QB Bart Starr 11 times.
I enjoyed watching Green Bay lose that day so much that it still makes me smile. I didn’t know how much pain the Wisconsin boys would bring to Cowboys fans in ’66 and ’67,
If I had to pick one Thanksgiving game that I remember above all others, it would have to be the Dallas Cowboys’ introduction to Turkey Day afternoon in ’66. The NFL wanted to add a game to the end of the afternoon to his holiday menu and got Cowboys president Tex Schramm to agree to host.
Living in Mesquite, I was never able to catch a Cowboys home game on the subway, because NFL games were blacked out within a 75-mile radius of the stadium. But this day would be different. We were visiting my grandparents in Henderson County, where you could see a slightly better picture than snowfall on Channel 7.
So after Thanksgiving decorations and three or four slices of cake, we got ready to watch Dandy Don Meredith and the Pokes battle the Cleveland Browns, who had a nasty habit of whipping up the locals. They had an 11-1 all-time record against Dallas before that holiday game.
Cleveland led 14-13 at halftime, but Dallas became strangely efficient after the break. Meredith’s short passes and Don Perkins’ runs kept the ball moving and away from the Browns and star running back Lee Roy Kelly.
I still remember Perkins coming in from 9 yards in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach. Perkins finished with 111 yards and nearly kept up with Kelly’s 115.
Dallas’ 26-14 win put them safely ahead in the Eastern Conference and set them up to host Green Bay for the NFL title. After seven long seasons of waiting, Dallas would play for the title.
That historic Thanksgiving victory proved popular enough to begin the long tradition of celebrating with a little extra dessert and a Dallas Cowboys helping.
So, in honor of Dandy, Perk, Bob Lilly, Tom Landry, and the rest of those 66 Cowpokes, how about another slice of cake and maybe some whipped cream on top? That was a day the Cowboys didn’t turn into a pumpkin.