Thanksgiving Day Football: 5 Iconic NFL Moments
Thanksgiving Day, a yearly delight filled with the three Fs: Food, Family and Football. A long-standing NFL tradition, this Thursday in November is packed with some of the season’s best matchups, and usually offers at least one extremely memorable game that’s talked about for years to come. Here at SeatGeek, we’ve compiled our choices for some of the most iconic NFL moments from Turkey Days throughout history. Let’s take a look.
Peyton Manning vs. Detroit Lions (2004)
Call me slightly biased (lifelong Colts fan, right here) but Peyton Manning’s near-perfect performance against the Lions in 2004 is one of the best from a quarterback in any Thanksgiving Day game. He was absolutely lights out all game long, as was the Colts’ defense, who held Detroit to just nine points. However, it was Manning that was the talk of the town, completing 23-28 passes for 236 yards and six touchdowns, which tied the Thanksgiving Day TD record.
Brandon Stokley and Marvin Harrison both feasted that day, each catching three TDs from The Sheriff. The Colts never looked back in that game, rolling to a 41-9 victory and a very happy Thanksgiving for the organization.
Randy Moss vs. Dallas Cowboys (1998)
To this day, you won’t find many players (or former players) more bitter about a team passing on them on draft day than Randy Moss. You see, back in 1998, Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys made it clear they were highly interested in Moss, but ultimately passed on him due to his many off-field incidents. Instead of ending up in Dallas, Moss was taken 21st overall by the Minnesota Vikings, who wound up playing the Cowboys that Thanksgiving Day.
In Moss’ first-ever Thanksgiving Day game, he clearly played with a giant chip on his shoulder, absolutely demolishing the Cowboys’ defense in Texas Stadium. With Randall Cunningham handling the passing duties, Moss torched Dallas for 163 yards and three touchdowns, all coming on plays of 50 yards or more.
It’s safe to say that owner Jerry Jones didn’t have a pleasant Thanksgiving that year.
The Butt Fumble: New York Jets vs. New England Patriots (2012)
Sure, we could just focus on the iconic player performances like Moss and Manning, but it’d be wrong to leave off one of the most jaw-dropping and awful plays in NFL history that just so happened to occur on Thanksgiving. That’s right, the Butt Fumble.
To this day, it’s referenced as one of the worst plays in NFL history and is, unfortunately, the legacy that quarterback Mark Sanchez left on the league. On Turkey Day 2012, the New York Jets and Sanchez faced off against the New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium. During the second quarter, in front of over 79,000 fans, Sanchez snapped the ball and ran directly into the backside of teammate Brandon Moore, fumbling the ball. What was clearly a broken play that should have been a handoff to one of the Jets’ backs, Sanchez scrambled forward into his lineman, and well, he shouldn’t have done that.
Steve Gregory of the Pats scooped it up and returned it for a touchdown, solidifying one of the most horrendous quarters in NFL history (New England outscored the Jets 35-3).
Heads or Tails: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Detroit Lions (1998)
Not many Turkey Day moments result in NFL rule changes but Thanksgiving Day 1998 was the exception. Deadlocked and headed to overtime, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions took the field for a coin toss to decide who would get the ball first in the extra period. With the game on the line, Steeler running back Jerome Bettis called “tails,” but referee Phil Luckett heard “heads.” Even though, when you listen back, it’s clear Bettis said tails, Luckett awarded the ball to the Lions, who went on to score the game-winning touchdown.
Since then, the NFL has required that the player must make the heads or tails call before the coin is tossed and that there must be two referees present on the field to ensure that the correct call is heard.
Barry Sanders vs. Chicago Bears (1997)
At this point in the 1997 season, it was clear that Lions’ running back Barry Sanders was a clear favorite for the league MVP award. However, on Thanksgiving Day, he literally ran away from the pack. Despite playing a game against the Colts four days earlier (in which he rushed for 216 yards), Sanders was spectacular against the Bears. He rushed for 167 yards on 19 attempts and found the end zone three times. Thanks to his phenomenal performance, Chicago never stood a chance and the Lions went on to win 55-20 and Sanders went on the win that coveted league MVP trophy.