(RNN) - Thanksgiving and football go together like turkey and dressing. Not only is America's most exclusively American holiday a blank check to eat entirely too much, it's the perfect excuse to plop down in front of the TV and let the national sport wash over you like a sea of sweet tea.
The marriage began less than two weeks after the first football game, when the Thanksgiving Holiday was but 6 years old.
Princeton and Rutgers played the first football game in Rutgers, NJ, on Nov. 6, 1869. By Nov. 22, the Young America Cricket Club and the Germantown Cricket Club clashed in Philadelphia in the first Thanksgiving Day game.
The NFL jumped on board in 1920 and now the pro game dominates the fourth Thursday in November the way Vince Lombardi's Packers dominated fourth quarters. Since 2006, three NFL games are played on Thanksgiving.
The Cowboys and the Lions are the teams most closely associated with nationally broadcast games on Turkey Day. That began in 1934, when George A. Richards moved his team from Portsmouth, OH to Detroit and promoted the holiday kickoff as a gimmick to sell tickets and help establish his young franchise.
It worked. The Lions sold all 26,000 tickets two weeks before the game, and then edged the defending world champion Chicago Bears 19-16. Richards also set up a 96-station radio network to broadcast the game, and the Thanksgiving game in Detroit became a tradition.
It's hard to believe "America's Team" was once struggling to become "Dallas' Team," but the Cowboys' tradition had a similar genesis. In 1966, the Dallas franchise was only 6 years old and began hosting a Thanksgiving Day game in hopes of raising national awareness. The NFL wanted an NFC team to host a Thanksgiving because Detroit was in the AFC.
Dallas was the only taker, according to legend. The concern was that drawing a crowd on a Thursday would be difficult, since playing on Sunday was such a big part of the game.
Owner Tex Schramm talked the league into guaranteeing the gate revenue in case the game flopped, which proved unnecessary. The Cowboys drew a record crowd of 80,259 and beat the Cleveland Browns. The Cowboys have hosted a Thanksgiving Day game all but two years since then.
In 2006, the NFL opted for a third game featuring a revolving slate of host teams from either conference. That game is played at night.
This year, The Packers face the Lions at 12:30 p.m. ET, the Raiders face the Cowboys at 4:30 p.m. and the Ravens host the Steelers at 8:30 p.m. ET.
Copyright 2013 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.
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