Can the Lions slow the Vikings' momentum on Thanksgiving? John Niyo and Justin Rogers discuss the game, the Lions' playoff hopes and even explore biggest offseason needs. The Detroit News
Allen Park — Thanksgiving football in Detroit is a right of passage. It’s something that is worked into the fabric of the majority of homes in the area, and it’s something the players and coaches involved in the game can sense when they take the field.
The fact that an annual holiday game is also played in Dallas means Matthew Stafford has had the chance to grow up in another community where Thanksgiving means more than just food. It also means football.
Stafford, who is from Dallas, says he grew up watching the Cowboys and Lions every Thanksgiving.
“It’s tradition,” Stafford said. “It’s been happening here for a long time. So, the people in the city, they come out and support us, and we appreciate it. (It’s) just a little bit of a different vibe. You’re one of a couple games on TV that day, and everybody’s sitting around with family, eating a meal and watching football. It’s fun to be part of the show.”
The games have become more meaningful to Lions fans over the last six years due to the team routinely being in the hunt for a playoff spot.
That’s not something that’s lost on Stafford.
“Playing meaningful football on Thanksgiving is a whole lot of fun,” Stafford said. “And this year should be no different.”
Glover Quin will be playing in his sixth consecutive Thanksgiving Day game at Ford Field, and he boasted to reporters on Tuesday about being 5-0 in his first five contests.
“Winning,” Quin said when questioned about his favorite Thanksgiving Day memory. “I’m 5-0 right now.”
Quin was part of the 2012 Houston Texans team that came to Detroit and won in overtime. It’s a game that will always be remembered by Lions fans for then-head coach Jim Schwartz throwing a challenge flag on a Justin Forsett touchdown, thus negating any potential review.
Since he’s come to Detroit, Quin is 4-0 with the Lions on Thanksgiving Day, and he thinks the annual game is something locals should be proud of.
“If I was a Detroiter, I would take pride in it, too,” he said. “For something to be around this long, I think that’s huge. That’s a big deal. We try to show our appreciation to the fans by making sure we get a win on Thanksgiving, so don’t look for that to change this year.”
Jim Caldwell is undefeated (3-0) in Thanksgiving Day games as head coach of the Lions, and perhaps no turkey day contest holds more weight than this week’s with the Vikings.
Caldwell says he can remember being a kid and knowing that football and Thanksgiving were intertwined.
“It was a family affair,” he said. “You ate around that particular event. So, I remember those when I was growing up. It seems that always tied in with what you were doing. It was something that you could look forward to. Typically on that day we might go out in the yard and play either before or after that game and have a little cranberry bowl going on.”
Caldwell also acknowledged that Thanksgiving football in Detroit holds a deeper meaning.
“I think it’s more significant, you know,” he said. “This has been around here since 1934, there’s a little sense of I don’t know if you’d call it ownership. But I do think that with the added attention that’s given to this game, there’s a lot of things that go along with it that it’s pretty special.”
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer also has a great appreciation for the tradition.
Zimmer brings his Vikings into Ford Field for the second straight season, but his connection to Thanksgiving football goes deeper than that. He was a defensive coach in Dallas from 1994 to 2006, and he knows the meaning these games hold.
“To me it’s different than a normal Thursday night game,” Zimmer told reporters on Tuesday. “The atmosphere will be great. I think it’ll be a playoff atmosphere. I was fortunate enough in Dallas to play 13 Thanksgiving Day games.”
Thursday will be Zimmer’s 17th Thanksgiving Day game as a coach.
Lions rookie linebacker Jarrad Davis will get his first taste of Thanksgiving Day football in Detroit when he takes the field.
For him, it’s a chance to be a part of something that was always part of his holiday routine.
“I always watched Thanksgiving football,” he said. “Detroit has always been playing. No matter who they were playing, I always watched that game. Just because football, with a couple of games on, that’s just what I did. I love the game. I was excited to see them play and I’m excited to be in this game.”
Geoff Robinson is a freelance writer.