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Grant Cohn: Pro football is longstanding Thanksgiving Day tradition

  • Jerry Jones' Cowboys have played in Thanksgiving Day games for almost 50 years. (TONY GUITERREZ / Associated Press)

Football on Thanksgiving is a tradition and a burden.

Let's start with the tradition.

Thanksgiving football precedes the NFL by more than 40 years. Princeton and Yale played each other on Thanksgiving 1876, and the University of Michigan played every Thanksgiving from 1885 to 1905.

The Detriot Lions first played on Thanksgiving in 1934. Before them, all kinds of NFL teams played on Thanksgiving — the Staten Island Stapletons, the Pottsville Maroons, and the Dayton Triangles, just to name a few.

The American Football League had its own Thanksgiving games, and the Raiders played in four of those — 1963, 1966, 1967 and 1968. But in the NFL from 1945 to 1965, the only game on Thanksgiving was the annual game in Detroit. Period.

In 1966, the Dallas Cowboys finagled their way into hosting a second NFL Thanksgiving game, and they've been hosting that game ever since (except in 1975 and 1977 when the St. Louis Cardinals somehow finagled the game away from the Cowboys).

In 2006, the NFL added a third Thanksgiving game, a night game. It continues, but no one team gets to host it every year.

It's an honor to play on Thanksgiving with most of the country eating turkey and giblets and cranberry sauce, and watching. The Raiders get that honor today. Besides the Thanksgiving games in the defunct AFL, the Raiders had the honor twice before in the current NFL — 1970 and 2009. The 49ers have had the honor four times — 1966, 1969, 1972 and 2011.

But playing on Thanksgiving also is a burden.

The biggest burden is the soreness, especially for the older players. Many of the Raiders still were stiff and sore from last Sunday's game with Tennessee when they boarded the plane Wednesday for Dallas.

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