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Why do the Cowboys play on Thanksgiving Day? Explaining Dallas’ yearly tradition

Why do the Cowboys play on Thanksgiving every year? Is the Dallas Cowboys tradition a result of their stellar Thanksgiving record?

Why do the Cowboys play on Thanksgiving Day? Explaining Dallas’ yearly tradition
ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 22: Dallas Cowboys Running Back Ezekiel Elliott (21) runs with the ball during the Thanksgiving Day game between the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys on November 22, 2018 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. (Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Every year, football fans gather to celebrate Thanksgiving while also watching some of their favorite teams battle it out on the gridiron. However, most fans at one point or another find themselves asking, “Why do the Dallas Cowboys play on Thanksgiving every year?” Is it because of the Cowboys’ stellar Thanksgiving record? Well, in truth, the Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving tradition is the result of a team that needed more fans to stay afloat.

Why do the Cowboys play on Thanksgiving?

The Cowboys came into the league in 1960. They were the first NFL team south of Washington D.C., making it difficult for them to attract fans initially. It didn’t help that they were off to a terrible start as a franchise. The Cowboys finished below .500 in each of their first five seasons and reached .500 in their sixth. Their poor play on the field wasn’t attracting the fans and media attention that the franchise needed.

So, their general manager Tex Schramm took things into his own hands. He signed up the Cowboys to play on Thanksgiving in 1966, knowing the game would be nationally televised. The hope was the Cowboys would be able to gain media attention with the game and draw more fans in. The NFL was so worried about attendance for the game that they guaranteed the Cowboys a certain revenue for the game.

Related | NFL Thanksgiving Day Picks, Predictions: Opening betting lines, odds, and scores

The Cowboys didn’t need the guaranteed revenue. They had a great season in 1966, finishing 10-3-1 and losing in the NFL Championship game to the Green Bay Packers. Fans fell in love with the team that year, and when Thanksgiving came around, the Cowboys shattered their record attendance when 80,295 fans showed up to the stadium, proving that football could be successful in Texas.

That Thanksgiving game, and the 1966 season, made the Cowboys one of the most popular teams in the NFL. The Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving tradition is a big reason why they later became America’s team. A large part of their future success was a result of their failures. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Thanksgiving saved the Cowboys and football in Texas.

Who plays the Cowboys on Thanksgiving this year?

The Cowboys are set to play the Washington Football Team on Thanksgiving. A rivalry that stems all the way back to the Cowboys’ founding. When the Cowboys were looking to become the NFL’s first true southern team, Washington got in the way. Washington’s owner George Preston Marshall had enjoyed a monopoly over the southern market for decades, and he wasn’t looking to share.

So, in response, the Cowboys perspective owner, Clint Murchison Jr., bought the copyright for Washington’s fight song “Hail to the Chief.” He used the copyright as a bargaining chip to secure Marshall’s vote for the franchise. So, the Dallas and Washington rivalry was born.

Related | Why do the Lions play on Thanksgiving Day? Explaining Detroit’s yearly tradition

This year it takes on even more meaning as the winner of Thanksgiving’s game will take first place in the NFC East. It’s rare for a Thanksgiving game to have serious divisional implications, but it could decide a playoff team in 2020.

The Cowboys and Washington have played on Thanksgiving eight other times. The Cowboys are 7-1 in those matchups. Washington’s only win came in 2012.

Cowboys Thanksgiving record

The Cowboys have dominated Thanksgiving in their history. According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Thanksgiving day records, the Dallas Cowboys have only had a single decade in team existence where they didn’t have a record better than .500. In total, they’re 36-23-1 on Thanksgiving. So next time someone asks you, “Why do the Cowboys play on Thanksgiving” just tell them it’s because they dominate the holiday.

Related | Time, TV channels, schedule for Thanksgiving Day games

That stellar record comes with some bad news. The one decade the Cowboys had a record under .500 on Thanksgiving was the 2010s. The Cowboys are just 1-5 in their last six Thanksgiving games. The good news is that one win came against the Washington Football Team in 2016.

1960s: 3-0-1
1970s: 5-3
1980s: 6-4
1990s: 7-3
2000s: 6-4
2010s: 4-6

That could all change this year. The 3-7 Cowboys have not had a good season, but they face a team struggling as much as they are. The Washington Football team also sit 3-7 and have to travel to Dallas. This Thanksgiving could be the year that the Cowboys turn their fortunes back around, or it could be the revenge of the Washington Football Team.

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