Detroit Lions clinch No. 1 spot in NFC North; their top Thanksgiving moments

Detroit Lions
Photo credit: Juli Hansen /

There are many things, besides stuffed stomachs, to be thankful for in Detroit this Thanksgiving season. A No. 1 ranking in the National Football Conference North for the Detroit Lions is one of them.

When the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings faced off at Ford Field, there were more than bragging rights on the line. Both teams came into Thursday’s match-up, 6-4 with hopes of cementing their place as #1 in the NFC North, a title that would make a push for the playoffs more of a reality. The last time the Lions went toe to toe with the Vikings was in 1995 during a Thanksgiving Day thriller, and yesterday was no exception.

“No. 1, Thanksgiving Day games are really special here, said Lions’ head coach, Jim Caldwell. There’s no question about that and I think that our fans have been absolutely outstanding.”

In the past, The Lions have nabbed some notable, attention grabbing highlights on “Turkey Day.” Thanks to what began as a publicity stunt in 1934 by George A. Richards, the Lions first owner of a newly relocated 10-1 Detroit Lions team, football and Thanksgiving has become as synonymous with Detroit as the name Barry Sanders. Let’s take a look back at some of the Lions’ top Thanksgiving  moments through the years. Enjoy! Gobble, gobble! 

1976: O.J. tops his record, Lions seal the win –  NFL sensation O. J. Simpson may have given the nation something to talk about, topping his own 250 rushing yard record with a record busting 273 rushing yards during the 1976 showdown between the Bills and Lions, but a win wasn’t in the forecast for the Bills. Aggressive play early on gave the Lions a 20-0 lead and although Simpson later scored touchdowns to rally for a comeback, the Lions ultimately roared on to a 27-14 victory.

1995: Scott Mitchell and the Lions offense shine – This classic throwback between NFC rivals could have easily been named “The Scott Mitchell Show.” Not only was this Turkey Day match-up an opportunity for Detroit’s offense to shine against Minnesota, it ended up being a highlight reel moment for starting quarterback Mitchell, who set a career best single game record of 410 passing yards and four touchdowns. After the battle of the offenses raged on for four quarters, the Lions took home the 44-38 win.

1998: Victory by coin toss – When the Steelers lined up to square off with the Lions, who knew a flubbed coin toss in overtime would cost them the win 19-16?  Perhaps one of the most controversial Thanksgiving moments began when Steelers’ star running back, Jerome Bettis called the coin toss for first possession of the ball.  Bettis argued that he called “Tails,” however, the referee heard “Heads.” Much to Bettis’ and Pittsburgh’s dismay, possession went to Detroit, resulting in a Lions’ field goal. To add insult to injury, Barry Sanders made the victory that much sweeter when he became the second running back in NFL history to reach 15,000 career-rushing yards. It’s safe to say that overtime has never been the same.

2013: Show no mercy – Plagued by their longest Thanksgiving losing streak in history, winning was mandatory for Detroit. With  the Packers star quarterback, Aaron Rodgers sidelined thanks to a broken collarbone, there was no stopping redemption. The Lions’ defense clobbered replacement quarterback, Matt Flynn, sacking him seven different times! An injury riddled Green Bay team proved to be the stroke of good luck the Lions’ needed. Despite Matthew Stafford throwing for two interceptions and four turnovers, Detroit mercilessly beat the almighty Packers 40-10, snapping their losing streak. They also started a new holiday tradition of three consecutive Thanksgiving wins by at least 17 points.

2015: Protest in Philly –  Dynamic duo, Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson seemed perfectly in sync making several big plays — namely a 25-yard pass into the end zone for a career high three touchdown receptions for Calvin. There was no stopping Stafford! He launched a total of five touchdown passes with remarkably no interceptions and the Lions’ assault on Philly continued on both sides of the ball. Detroit tied for a season high six sacks— 3 ½ of which came from defensive end Ezekiel Ansah.  Even the two animal rights activists that somehow managed to bypass security and rush the field couldn’t save Philadelphia from an embarrassing defeat 45-14.

What are some of your favorite classic Lions’ Thanksgiving moments? Share in the comments.

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