RG3’s Historic Day Among Greatest NFL Thanksgiving Day Moments originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Thanksgiving and the NFL have been a holiday tradition since the early days of the NFL. The league first began hosting Thanksgiving Day games each year in 1920 only halting during the early 1940s due to World War II.
The Detroit Lions have hosted a game on Thanksgiving Day every year since 1934 and the Dallas Cowboys joined them in the tradition in 1966.
The NFL added a primetime game to the Thanksgiving day slate in 2006, giving fans three games to watch throughout the day.
This year the Lions will face the Chicago Bears on Turkey Day for the second time in three years, the Cowboys will welcome the Las Vegas Raiders in the late afternoon window and the Buffalo Bills and New Orleans Saints will battle in primetime on NBC and Peacock.
Thanksgiving Day football games have also been full of memorable moments throughout the years. Before Thursday’s games, here’s a look at some of the most epic performances from the NFL’s best players of all time and some embarrassing moments that have aged perfectly.
10. Peyton Manning goes for six TDs vs. Lions
Peyton Manning feasted on the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day in 2004. The Hall of Fame quarterback threw six touchdown passes in just three quarters to make history in a 41-9 rout.
#tbt to Peyton Manning throwing 6 TD passes vs the Lions in the ’04 Thanksgiving game. http://t.co/gxVzusFnXY pic.twitter.com/rjjS5f5fzg
— SPORTalk (@SPORTalkApp) November 27, 2014
The game assured he would break Dan Marino’s single-season touchdown pass record of 48, giving Manning 41 on the season with five games left. He ended up with 49 in 2004.
Brandon Stokley and Marvin Harrison each caught three of Manning’s touchdowns in one of the most lopsided Thanksgiving games in recent history.
9. RG3 goes off vs. Cowboys
Robert Griffin III returned to his hometown and put on a show on Thanksgiving Day in 2012. Only a rookie at the time, Griffin captivated a national audience against the Cowboys in an electric 38-31 win. The 2011 Heisman Trophy winner threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns, leading a 28-point second quarter to give Washington the victory.
Griffin had finally become everything Washington fans had hoped for when they traded three first round picks and a second round pick to the St. Louis Rams and selected him with the No. 2 overall pick in 2012.
If Lamar is out, here’s a flashback to the last time RG3 played on Thanksgiving 👀
304 yards 4 tds pic.twitter.com/8ITRq40hG4
— Brian (@Bmore_Sports8) November 24, 2020
While Griffin’s career never really ended up being what everyone had hoped as he struggled with injuries throughout his seven seasons in the NFL, Nov. 22 2012 remains one of his best performances and an important day in Washington history.
8. Barry Sanders embarrassed the Bears
Hall of Fame Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders is known as an all-time Thanksgiving MVP, but perhaps his best performance came against the Chicago Bears in 1997. Sanders ran for 167 yards and three touchdowns in a 55-20 beatdown of the Bears.
Sanders had two touchdown runs of 25 and 15 yards in the third quarter to help Detroit win the game and keep their playoff hopes alive.
Barry Sanders on #Thanksgiving Day is a just a different animal… #Lions #Bears #NFL
— Christopher Reiss – Sports Bettor (@ChrisReissPicks) November 28, 2019
Sanders’ performance in the Thanksgiving game that year helped him win a share of the NFL’s MVP award with Brett Favre, after rushing for 2,053 and leading the Lions to the playoffs.
7. Tom Brady has vintage performance
Thanksgiving Day will always be special for Tom Brady.
Brady, who made his NFL debut for the New England Patriots on Thanksgiving 21 years ago, had a performance for the ages against the Detroit Lions in 2010.
Brady dominated the Lions’ secondary, throwing for 341 passing yards, four touchdowns with a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
Thanksgiving 2010 featured an all-time uniform matchup between the @Patriots & Lions…
And an all-time @TomBrady Turkey Day performance: 341 yards, 4 TDs, 158.3 (perfect) passer rating. #GoPats (Nov. 25, 2010) pic.twitter.com/oea10iEs1Y
— NFL Throwback (@nflthrowback) November 27, 2019
Highest-grade players on Thanksgiving since 2010:
1. Luke Kuechly 2015 v. Dallas – 97.1
2. Drew Brees 2010 v. Dallas – 94.9
3. Casey Hayward 2017 v. Dallas- 94.5
4. Ndamukong Suh 2013 v. GB – 94.2
5. Tom Brady 2010 v. Detroit – 93.1 pic.twitter.com/I3LWfiaxP1
— PFF (@PFF) November 26, 2020
Brady’s passer rating ranks as the highest on Thanksgiving Day in NFL history.
While the Patriots started off the game slowly, their offense couldn’t be stopped that day. BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for two touchdowns, Wes Welker and Deion Branch caught two touchdowns each and Devin McCourty intercepted Lions backup quarterback Shaun Hill twice in a 45-24 drubbing.
In a career full of memorable moments, the Thanksgiving Day performance is one that Patriots’ fans surely will not forget.
6. The HeadsTails game
One of the strangest coin flips in NFL history occurred during a Thanksgiving Day game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions in 1997. With the Steelers and Lions tied at 16 after regulation, head official Phil Luckett met both team captains at midfield for the overtime coin toss.
Steelers running back Jerome Bettis appeared to call tails as the coin was in mid-air, but as Luckett bent down to get the quarter, he announced to the crowd that Bettis had called heads instead while the coin showed tails.
Bettis and his teammate Carnell Lake immediately argued with the head official but Luckett insisted that the running back had called heads and confirmed with other officials.
The last time the Steelers lost to the Lions was on Thanksgiving Day in 1998, which is infamously remembered as The Jerome Bettis Overtime Coin Toss Game. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/sZ7QhVz3DM
— Steelers Depot 🦃 (@Steelersdepot) November 10, 2021
The Lions received the football to open the extra fame and proceeded to make a 42-yard field goal on their first possession. Since overtime was still sudden death at the time Detroit won the game 19-16 and the Steelers never had a chance to score.
The aftermath of Luckett’s coin toss gaffe was baffling. Bettis and head coach Bill Cowher openly criticized the official. Reporters told Bettis after the game that Luckett believed the running back said “heads-tails,” to which Bettis responded, “That’s a baldfaced lie.”
Less than a week after the game NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue changed the coin flip format so players were required to announce head or tails before the toss instead of while the coin was in the air.
While many sports fans don’t remember what happened during the game, the toss remains a topic of conversation among Steelers fans and Bettis each Thanksgiving to this day.
5. Randy Moss “Mosses” Cowboys
On Nov. 26, 1998, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss made the Cowboys’ defense look silly in one of the most electrifying Thanksgiving Day performances of all-time.
Moss opened the game with a 51-yard touchdown from Randall Cunningham on a flea-flicker.
He followed it up with two more 50-plus yard touchdowns to give him three on the day.
On this day 22 years ago, a rookie named Randy Moss cooked the Cowboys:
🦃 3 rec
🦃 163 yds
🦃 3 TDs
Thanksgiving day legend @RandyMoss 🙌
(via @nflthrowback) pic.twitter.com/mX6EiNrpVJ
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 26, 2020
Moss, only a rookie at the time, became a Thanksgiving Day legend, giving NFL fans just a taste of what was to come in his Hall of Fame career.
4. O.J. Simpson rushes for 273 yards
Hall of Fame running back O.J. Simpson ran wild on the Lions on Thanksgiving Day in 1976.
The Buffalo Bills, in the midst of one of their worst seasons in franchise history, ran their offense entirely through Simpson and the running back set the single-game rushing record in front of a nationally televised audience. Simpson rushed for 273 yards and two touchdowns, currently ranking as the fifth most in a single game in NFL history today.
It was the fifth 200-yard game of his nine-year career, breaking Jim Brown’s previous record. The performance would help Simpson reach the 1,000-yard mark for the fifth straight season and final time in his career.
OJ Simpson ran for a then NFL record of 273 yards in a 27-14 loss against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving in 1976. OJ was a one man band during his day #GoBills pic.twitter.com/aC4yFQYpAS
— Moving The Chains Podcast 🎙 (@_MTCPodcast) November 28, 2019
After the game Simpson didn’t seem to care much about the record, stating his goal was to win the game. The Bills went on to finish the season 2-12.
3. Clint Longley becomes Cowboys comeback hero
Clint Longley led the Cowboys to one of the most famous comebacks in Thanksgiving Day history.
Longley was just a rookie when he was thrust into action to replace Roger Staubach in the second half of Dallas’ game against Washington in 1974.
With the Cowboys trailing by 13 points in the third quarter Longley launched a 35-yard touchdown pass to Billy Joe Dupree to give Dallas a chance.
Trailing by six points with less than a minute left in the game, Longley threw a 28-yard touchdown to Drew Pearson to give the Cowboys an incredible 24-23 comeback victory.
Longley never went on to do much after that Thanksgiving Day game in ’74 but Washington and Cowboys fans certainly remember his name when Turkey day comes around each year.
2. Leon Lett’s Thanksgiving turnover
Cowboys defensive tackle Leon Lett was forever immortalized after he committed one of the biggest premature celebration fails of all time during Super Bowl XXVII in 1993.
Just ten months later on Thanksgiving Day in 1994, Lett made another blunder while trying to protect a Cowboys lead against the Miami Dolphins.
When Jimmie Johnson blocked Pete Stoyanovich’s game-winning field goal attempt, Lett decided to pick up the ball and score only to miss the wet pigskin in a snow-filled Texas Stadium.
The Dolphins recovered the blocked field goal and Stoyanovich made his second attempt with three seconds left to give the Dolphins the win.
While the November loss didn’t matter in the long run as the Cowboys still secured the No.1 seed in the playoffs and won their second straight Super Bowl. Lett will always remember his famous fumble on Thanksgiving.
1. The ‘Butt Fumble’
Mark Sanchez’s Thanksgiving night blunder on Nov. 22, 2012 will forever live in infamy among sports fans. The New York Jets trailed the Patriots 14-0 in the second quarter after Tom Brady connected on two quick touchdowns earlier in the game.
On first down, from the Jets 31-yard line, Sanchez took the snap under center and proceeded to fake a handoff to fullback Lex Hillard. The play was immediately broken and with no other options, Sanchez attempted to run upfield to try and gain some yards. Instead, the quarterback ran into the back of his own offensive lineman, Brandon Moore and fumbled the ball near the line of scrimmage. The fumble was scooped up by Patriots safety Steve Gregory and returned 32 yards for a touchdown.
On this day, 8 years ago… #ButtFumble
— FanDuel (@FanDuel) November 22, 2020
Nearly seconds after the blooper Jets kick returner Joe McKnight fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Julian Edelman returned it 22 yards to give the Patriots two touchdowns in the span of 10 seconds.
The Patriots went on to outscore the Jets 45-19. To this day, Sanchez is still reminded of his role in one of the worst football follies in NFL history and the game’s modern-day fans, a Thanksgiving never passes without a reminder of the butt fumble.
This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.