Green Bay Packers on Thanksgiving Day: 5 memorable holiday games
This story appears in the November 2013 issue of Packerland Pride magazine. Subscribe to the magazine here.
Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday because it involves a great many things we love: overindulging on any and all of the food available; football on television, not to mention other sports like holiday college basketball tournaments; wearing sweats all day; lounging with family and thinking about making plans with friends until we realize we’re too full to move. You know, basic stuff.
In recent years, the holiday has also taken on a special significance because the Packers have played on it a lot. Counting last season’s meeting with Detroit, Green Bay has played on Thanksgiving six times since 2001. And almost from the start, the Packers have been a fixture right alongside stuffing and pumpkin pie. They played on Thanksgiving every season from 1922-1935, then again from 1951-1963. In short, there’s a lot to choose from, though some of the results weren’t always great. (See: A seven-game losing streak spanning between 1934-1955.) But here are five of the more memorable Thanksgiving Day contests in Packers history.
– 1956. We alluded to this above, but this was the Packers’ first win on Thanksgiving Day since 1932. (Technically, they defeated the Staten Island Stapletons 21-0 in 1933, but this was a non-league game and doesn’t count towards their overall record.) The Lions hosted Green Bay from 1951-55, defeating the Packers by an average score of about 37-21 in those seasons. But finally the Packers upset Detroit in ‘56, winning 24-20 in the first Thanksgiving game televised on CBS. Green Bay trailed 20-10 in the fourth quarter but exploded for 21 points in the final frame, scoring the last 14 points of the game – a pair of touchdown passes from Tobin Rote. The Packers finished 4-8 that season, the Lions 9-3.
– 1986. After the early ‘60s, the Packers played only sporadically on Thanksgiving. But, after a win in 1961 they lost three and tied once on the holiday, stretching out a 25-year gap between their last victory and 1986, when they again visited Detroit.
In a wild game of runs, Green Bay went from leading by 10 in the second quarter to trailing by 14 in the third. Down 10 again the fourth, the Packers edged closer with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Randy Wright to Paul Ott Carruth. Then Walter Stanley, a wide receiver drafted by Green Bay in 1985, returned a punt 83 yards for a touchdown in the final minute of the game and the Packers held on to win, 44-40. Stanley was unstoppable on this day for the Packers, adding four catches for 124 yards and two touchdowns along with his game-winning return.
– 2001. This was a tale of barely holding on to victory as it was sliding off the cliff of embarrassing defeat. This was also in the days when the Pontiac Silverdome – the Lions’ old home – was a house of disfigured football oddities and sometimes outright horrors for the Packers. Detroit came into the game winless at 0-9 and were down 29-13 in the fourth quarter with rookie quarterback Mike McMahon in the game after an injury to Charlie Batch. McMahon trimmed the lead to eight, running in a two-point conversion with a little over a minute in regulation left. Then, with the Packers firmly pinned under a stampede of outrageousness, Detroit hit on two implausible plays: first recovering an onside kick, following that up with a 29-yard touchdown pass from McMahon to wide receiver and fellow rookie Scotty Anderson on a fourth-and-eight with 10 seconds left in the game.
Down two, McMahon was flushed from the pocket and threw out of the end zone, missing the chance to tie. Green Bay’s gasping 29-27 win was their first in Detroit in five years. Heavy doses of tryptophan were required after this one.
– 2007. In his seemingly-charmed final season in Green Bay, Brett Favre produced one of those memorable Favre-ian games on Thanksgiving against the Lions. Beginning in the first half and continuing on into the second, Favre completed 20 consecutive passes – setting a Packers record previously held by Don Majkowski and Lynn Dickey (18) – and threw for 381 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 37-26 not-as-close-as-it-looks stomping of the Lions. The Packers went to 10-1 after Favre’s seventh 300-yard game of the season, a rather-insane indicator of the zone he was in that year. On the receiving end, Greg Jennings caught two of those touchdowns and Donald Driver, despite not getting in the end zone, snagged 10 receptions for 147 yards.
– 2011. This was supposed to be the chance for Detroit to right a whole bunch of wrongs they’d collected and hadn’t gotten rid of for years, just sort of storing them in their garage until they couldn’t get around the moldy pile when they eventually needed the shovel after that first heavy snowfall. The Packers were defending Super Bowl champions and undefeated and riding an overall 16-game winning streak. The Lions started the year 5-0 and were happy to remember sidelining Aaron Rodgers during the 2010 season with a concussion, winning that disgusting 7-3 flop and sending the Packers to, at the time, that season’s rock bottom.
History was getting pulled into the equation, too. Detroit’s Thanksgiving win over Green Bay in 1962 – the Packers’ lone loss of that season; they’d later win the NFL Championship – was almost 49 years to the day of 2011’s meeting of similar circumstances. The Lions had lost seven straight games on Thanksgiving. It was time to get rid of all this trash.
But the Lions were eventually further buried in the debris of their aggro-tough-guy tactics. The game was physical and chippy from the start. Green Bay finally drew first blood after a Clay Matthews interception led to a quick touchdown strike. It was on the opening drive of the second half, a grinding 11-play, 77-yard march that finished with a 1-yard touchdown run by John Kuhn, when Ndamukong Suh was ejected two plays before the score for stomping on Evan Dietrich-Smith’s right arm, cementing his status around the NFL at the time as an overly-angry cheap-shot artist who maybe can’t control himself very well on the field. The Lions were having a breakdown on their big day.
A 65-yard touchdown dart from Rodgers to James Jones made the score 21-0 and, after a Charles Woodson interception, Mason Crosby made the score 24-0 going into the fourth. The game ended 27-15. Afterwards, Lions center and noted verbal abuser of college students, Dominic Raiola, said: “It really does ruin the holiday. You put so much into this and to go out there and lay an egg like that, it’s disappointing. My day’s ruined.”
We hope you feel as badly about this as we do. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, Packers fans.