The idea of football being played on Thanksgiving Day reaches far back into American history, beginning shortly after the game itself was invented.
Nine years after the first game of football was played between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869, football began to be played on Thanksgiving Day. The reason for the day being selected was due to the fact that most people had that day off from work. Yale and Princeton kicked off a tradition by playing each year on Thanksgiving, starting that year.
The University of Michigan, who also made a tradition of playing football on Thanksgiving Day, played 19 Thanksgiving Day games between 1885 and 1905 and have been considered to be the origins of Thanksgiving Day football.
Football being played on Thanksgiving Day was a once long tradition among Colleges and High schools throughout history but became obscure in parts of the United States over time.
The NFL has carried on the tradition between the two franchises, the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions. They made Thanksgiving Day football a norm and a way of life. As a matter of fact, Dallas has only missed two years of Thanksgiving Day football, 1975 and 1977.
Detroit began playing football on Thanksgiving Day back in 1934 as a way of promoting a team that was being lost in the shadows of baseball. As a way to get fans to watch the Lions, George A. Richards opted for the Lions to play the World Champion Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving during their first NFL season.
The 11-0 undefeated Bears faced the 10-1 Detroit Lions in a sold-out University of Detroit Stadium. 26,000 tickets sold out two weeks ahead of the game, and it is rumored that 25,000 more would have been sold if the stadium had the extra seats. The Bears ultimately won the contest 19-16. However, the following year the Lions defeated the Bears 14-2 on Thanksgiving Day and won the championship. NFL games on Thanksgiving Day became a popular tradition from then on.
From the very first day it was played on Thanksgiving Day, through John Madden and his six-legged turkey, aka the Turducken, all the way to the present day, the NFL has forever established itself as a family tradition.