Cowboys Thanksgiving Game Tradition: History, record, and who they play in 2021

Why do the Dallas Cowboys play on Thanksgiving, when did the tradition begin, and what is their record when playing on the holiday?

The Dallas Cowboys playing football on Thanksgiving has become ingrained as part of the tradition of the holiday itself. Let’s take a look at why the Cowboys play on Thanksgiving, who they play in 2021, and their record on the holiday.

Why do the Cowboys play on Thanksgiving?

The Dallas Cowboys entered the NFL in 1960 and were at the time the southernmost team in the league. Starting a franchise in the college football-heavy South made it difficult for the Cowboys to attract fans in their early seasons. The situation was not helped by their poor start to life in the NFL. Between 1960 and 1965, the Cowboys went 25-43-4, with only their 1965 season seeing them hit a .500 record in a single season.

In an attempt to boost attendance, Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm signed up the Cowboys to host a second Thanksgiving game that would be played after the Lions’ traditional Thanksgiving game. The decision was an interesting one as the NFL had traditionally been playing one game on Thanksgiving, with the AFL playing their own game. The NFL guaranteed the Cowboys a certain revenue for the game because they were so worried about the attendance.

However, the NFL needn’t have worried. The Cowboys had their breakout season in 1966, entering the game with a 7-2-1 record. A reported 80,295 fans piled in to watch the Cowboys’ first-ever Thanksgiving football game. Dallas would go on to finish the season 10-3-1 before losing in the championship game to the Packers. That would be the first of eight straight seasons in which they made the postseason.

The NFL briefly took the rights to the second Thanksgiving game away from the Cowboys in 1975 and 1977, handing it to the St. Louis Cardinals, who had traditionally played on Thanksgiving as the Chicago Cardinals during the 1920s and 1930s. However, when that proved to be unpopular for many reasons, the Cowboys were given back the hosting duties of the second Thanksgiving game beginning in 1978, with a commitment from then-commissioner Pete Rozelle that Dallas could keep the game forever.

Who do the Cowboys play on Thanksgiving in 2021?

In 2021, the Cowboys will face the Las Vegas Raiders on Thanksgiving. This will be the third time that the two sides have met on Thanksgiving since 2009. In the first two games, the Cowboys came out on top. In 2009, they beat the then-Oakland Raiders 24-7 before emerging victorious in a come from behind 31-24 victory in the 2013 matchup.

This will be the eighth time that the Raiders have played on Thanksgiving. They have a 3-4 record overall and hosted two Thanksgiving games as part of the AFL in 1966 and 1968. The 1966 game is what makes this game significant on Thanksgiving. That was the AFL game the Cowboys essentially went up against when agreeing to host the second NFL Thanksgiving game that season.

Cowboys Thanksgiving Day record

Of the franchises to have played 10 or more games on Thanksgiving, no team has had more success than the Cowboys’ .594 record. From the inception of the game, until the end of the 2000s, the Cowboys had a winning record in each decade. Their overall record during that stretch was 27-14-1.

Since 2010, the Cowboys have struggled on Thanksgiving. They have a 4-7 record in their last 11 games to leave their record at 31-21-1. Dallas has lost their last two Thanksgiving games by double digits. They lost 26-15 to the Buffalo Bills in 2019 and were embarrassed 41-16 by the Washington Football Team in 2020.

Ben Rolfe is a Senior Managing Editor at Pro Football Network and is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can find him on Twitter @BenRolfePFN.




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