Looking Back on 12 Great Thanksgiving Day Football Memories

November 24, 2016 • Ben Heck • Features, Front Page, History, Lists

With Thanksgiving Day football upon us, this is the perfect time to revisit some of the best Turkey Day memories across the National Football League.

Here’s just 12 of the more memorable moments, in no particular order:

The Butt Fumble

2012: The date was November 22, 2012. The primetime Turkey Day match-up was between the Mark Sanchez-led New York Jets and the New England Patriots.

You should know the rest:

New York was already down 14-0 early in the second quarter, and the butt fumble allowed New England to jump ahead 21-0 and it’s a moment Sanchez has yet to live down.

The Har-bowl

2011: This Thanksgiving night match-up between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens marked the first time the Harbaugh brothers (John and Jim) faced off with each other as NFL head coaches. In what turned out to be a quick game (2:44), Baltimore captured a 16-6 victory while sacking Niners’ quarterback Alex Smith nine times. Linebacker Terrell Suggs led the way with 3.0 of those sacks, and Baltimore improved to 8-3 on the season while San Fran fell to 9-2.

The two Harbaugh’s met again in the Super Bowl a year later and John Harbaugh took that match-up as well.

Bob Griese throws 6 touchdowns

1977: Miami Dolphins’ Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese led the league with 22 touchdown passes in 1977. On Thanksgiving day against the St. Louis Cardinals, in a 55-14 victory, Griese threw for six of those TDs. Crazy glasses and all…

“The Coin Toss”

1998: Originally, this ordeal was thought to be the result of referee Phil Luckett being deaf and/or making a mistake in remembering whether Pittsburgh Steelers’ star RB called heads or tails during the overtime coin toss.

Looking back on it, however, it sounds as if Bettis says “head-tails.” In the video shown below, you can hear The Bus saying tails, but there have been additional videos with enhanced audio in which you can hear Bettis’ call a little more clearly.

Either way, that’s how this game gets remembered 20 years later, not the fact that Detroit drove down the field for the game-winning field goal on the opening drive.

Jason Garrett’s big day

1994: Dallas Cowboys’ backup quarterback Jason Garrett, who is better known as the ‘Boys’ current head coach, made just nine starts over his eight-year career in Dallas and New York. He appeared in a total of 25 games from 1993-2000. He went 6-3 in his nine career starts, but the only one that stands out is his performance on Turkey Day against Brett Favre’s Green Bay Packers.

This game marked just his second career NFL start, and thanks to his 311 yards and two touchdowns, he out-dueled Favre (257 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT) to defeat the Packers 42-31 and helped his team improve to 10-2 on the year. It’s Garrett’s only 300-yard game.

Lions sack Bart Starr 11 times

1962: While back in ’62 sacks weren’t officially registered in the box scores, the 11 sacks against Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr on November 22, 1962 have gone down in the history books.

Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers went into that match-up with a perfect 10-0 record, looking to win a second straight championship that year (ultimately they did accomplish this). But the Detroit Lions had no interest in just rolling over for their fierce rivals. The then-8-2 Lions limited Green Bay’s offense to just 122 total yards and five turnovers. Detroit’s stout defensive attack, which is directly responsible for the 26-14 victory over one of the best team’s in NFL history that day, was led by the Fearsome Foursome, middle linebacker Joe Schmidt and defensive backs Yale Lary, Night Train Lane and Dick LeBeau.

Longley saves the day

1974: Do you remember the name Clint Longley? If so, it’s probably for one thing and one thing only: his Thanksgiving day heroics as the great Roger Staubach’s backup quarterback. In ’74 against the Washington Redskins (oh hey, those two teams play each other this afternoon), the rookie Longley filled in for the injured Staubach.

Dallas, trailing 16-3 in the third quarter at the time of Longley’s appearance, was led down the field by Longley for two scoring drives. Down 23-17, Longley hit Drew Pearson for a 50-yard touchdown with less than 30 ticks remaining and no timeouts. Dallas had pulled off the 24-23 come-from-behind victory thanks to a little-known rookie quarterback.

Leon Lett’s FG blunder

Poor Leon Lett.

The Dallas Cowboys’ defensive tackle had a great 11-year career in Dallas and Denver, but he only ever gets remembered for his two, rather large, blunders. There’s that one where he nearly had a touchdown in the Super Bowl but was caught by Don Beebe right before the end zone and fumbled the ball for a Buffalo touchback. And then there’s this Thanksgiving Day blunder against Miami:

This still goes down as the most well-known Thanksgiving Day memory in recent time. Sorry, Leon.

Ndamukong Suh’s stomp

2011: This is likely where Ndamukong Suh’s fiery, borderline “dirty” reputation first started. At least, it’s the first thing I think of when I hear the name Ndamukong Suh. And probably the first thing Aaron Rodgers thinks of, too.

Randy Moss torches the Cowboys

1998: As a rookie, it was known from the very first game that Randy Moss was going to be something special.

The Moss legend further grew on Thanksgiving Day of his rookie season against Dallas that he was a special talent, as he torched Dallas defensive backs for three touchdowns. He had three catches all game, but they all went for touchdowns. His final stat-line: 3 receptions, 163 yards, 3 TD. His performance and his team’s 46-36 victory overshadowed Troy Aikman’s Thanksgiving record 455 passing yards.

Barry runs for 3

1997: In what proved to be his second-to-last season in the National Football League, all-time great Barry Sanders did what he does best: steam-rolled the Chicago Bears. In a 55-20 rout of the Bears, Sanders ran for 167 yards and three touchdowns. It’s his only three rushing TDs performance in his storied career. He did all of this on just 19 carries, too.

O.J. breaks free for single-game record 273 rushing yards

1976: While O.J. Simpson’s single-game rushing yards record doesn’t still stand, it was the greatest single-game rushing performance to date at the time. His 273 rushing yards––in a 27-14 losing effort against Detroit––was enough to overshadow one of the poorest efforts from a quarterback in league history. Buffalo’s Gary Marangi completed just four of his 21 pass attempts for 29 yards and an interception against a mediocre 6-6 Lions’ team. But hey, Simpson broke out for 273 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 29 carries.

Do you have any of your favorite NFL/Thanksgiving Day memories you’d like to share? Let us know in the comment section below!


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