The Lions have played more on Thanksgiving than any other team in the NFL. We figured, in honor of the Holiday, we’d do a Throwback Thursday looking back on some of their biggest and best wins. So, with apologies to Billy Sims and a few dozen other great Lions whose big moments didn’t quite crack our countdown, here’s a few of our favorites:
1951- Before the Curse
The highest scoring Thanksgiving game in history was a showcase for the not-yet-cursed Lions and the not-yet-cursing them Bobby Layne. The Lions were on the come-up, just about to enter their peak years (they’d go on to win the championship in ’52, ’53, and ’57).
Taking on the Packers—themselves taking a short break from contention a the time—the Lions uncorked a Hall of Fame butt kicking on the cheeseheads, racking up 52 points. It wasn’t just the monstrous final score, though… it was how they got there.
Bobby Layne threw 4 TDs and 296 yards, sure, but they barely even needed him. Jack Christiansen returned two punts for touchdown (72 and 89 yards, respectively). Not to be outdone, running back Bob Hoernschemeyer broke loose for his own 85 yard touchdown run, too.
It was the first of 13 straight Thanksgiving duels between Detroit and the Packers, and Detroit certainly got the series off to a strong start. Ultimately, the Lions got the better of that stretch as a whole, going 9-3-1 against the Packers, including…
1962- The Thanksgiving Day Massacre
In 1961, Lombardi’s the Packers won the title. In 1962, they didn’t lose a game before Thanksgiving… though they came close, barely beating the Lions early in the season with a late field goal.
The Lions remembered that game, felt like they should have won it, and were waiting for Green Bay to prove it in November. When the time came, Detroit absolutely demolished the undefeated Packers.
They completely neutered Green Bay’s vaunted offense, including sacking stud quarterback Bart Starr eleven times, including both a safety and a strip-sack returned for a defensive touchdown. Heck, defensive tackle Roger Brown got Starr six times by himself.
The final score makes things look more competitive than they were—the Packers added two useless garbage time TDs after pulling their QB—but the Lions had the game won by halftime, up 23-0.
The Packers wouldn’t lose a game for the rest of the season, but Detroit claimed the moral victory, knowing that they kept Lombardi away from a perfect season, and did it in resounding, pounding, embarrassing fashion.
1997- Barry Gets Three
Any list of “best Lions whatever” is pretty likely to have a Barry Sanders appearance, and this one is no different. Lining up against the Bears, Barry absolutely torched an overmatched defense for not only a massive 175 yards from scrimmage, but three touchdowns as well.
While by no means Barry’s only big game, that it came on Thanksgiving—and against a division rival (albeit in a down year for Chicago) made that much more special.
The 90s maybe weren’t a great time for the Lions in terms of wins or playoff success, but they were an incredible time to be a Lions fan, as Barry gave you something to be thankful for almost every week of the season… and then doubled up on Thanksgiving.
2014- Megatron Sets the Record
Just like with Barry, there had to be a Calvin Johnson entry on this list. In Megatron’s case, we were spoiled for choice; after all, the guy holds the record for Thanksgiving touchdowns.
And really, with that in mind, the choice was clear: the game where he set the record. Lining up against the Bears (a favorite Lions victim in November), Calvin busted loose for 11 receptions, 146 yards, and 2 record-breaking touchdowns, bringing his Thanksgiving career total to eight.
He was far from alone in hanging that whopping on the Bears; Golden Tate had just under ninety yards, Darius Slay tipped a pass into a Glover Quin interception, and Ndamukong Suh ate Matt Forte’s lunch pretty much every time he touched the ball. And of course, if Calvin and Golden had big games, so did Matt Stafford, throwing almost 400 yards on the day.
In the end, though, the memories of that day begin and end with Calvin Johnson. Nearer than we could have guessed to the end of an unbelievable career, Megatron put an absolute exclamation point on the 34-17 beatdown, on Thanksgiving, and on an incredible run of Turkey Day gamesmanship.
2016- Slay Saves the Day
With the NFC North on the line (just like this year) against the Minnesota Vikings (just like this year), the Lions were saved at the last second by Big Play Slay (just like this year?).
After a brutal defensive rock fight that saw each time score only one touchdown (and a couple field goals) and several big plays and turnovers reversed by penalties, the Viking had the ball deep in Detroit territory with thirty seconds left.
That’s when Darius Slay made his move, coming up with yet another clutch interception in a career increasingly defined by them, and setting the Lions up for one last chance at victory. Detroit only managed to get close enough for a forty yard field goal attempt, but with Matt Prater and his glorious dad-bod on the roster, that may as well be a chippy.
Prater aced the kick with no real time left on the clock, and Detroit escaped with the victory and, eventually, the NFC crown…
…just like this year?