By Christian S. Kohl
The Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions have hosted games on Thanksgiving Day for decades. Football has been played on this holiday for so many years, it is inextricably intertwined with all things Thanksgiving. The question is, who does football better on this holiday: The Cowboys or the Lions?
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To answer this question, first you have to decide why exactly it is enjoyable to watch football on Thanksgiving. After all, rather than an exhaustive examination of each team through the 20th century, it makes far more sense to evaluate these teams right now. They present entirely different experiences when watching a game. The Cowboys are an inconsistent, inexplicable and largely disappointing team whose talent is generally better than its record. On a good day, they execute well and have an entertaining quarterback who can extend plays throwing to an elite and temperamental wideout and an aging tight end. At their worst, they turn the ball over repeatedly, make far too many mistakes and find endless ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
The enjoyment of watching the Cowboys on Thanksgiving has more to do with nostalgia than modern day excitement. Polls show Dallas remains the most popular NFL team nationwide, still owning the “America’s Team” title that infuriates fans of all other franchises. Thinking back to Smith, Aikman, Irvin, Staubach and beyond can link fans to a happier past and enjoy football as both a game and an idea.
The Lions are big, fast, electric, and often dirty. Watching a Lions game on Thanksgiving means not remembering a past but staying glued to see what may happen next. Calvin John may catch a touchdown pass in triple coverage using only two fingers. Matthew Stafford might throw for 600 yards. Ndamukong Suh might attack a player long after a whistle that results in criminal charges. Their coach may challenge a rival coach to some kind of senseless duel. The Lions represent everything the modern day NFL wants from its teams: endless scoring on game days and enough controversy to fill the ensuing week’s news cycle. Not to mention enough fines to found and support a charity all on its own.
The excitement the Cowboys bring these days are more related to their meltdowns and sideline drama than their on-field heroics. The Lions provide big hits on defense and offer a host of offensive weapons who can score in an instant. The Cowboys make for the better Thanksgiving Day game on in the background. The Lions, these days at least, are the superior option for everyone who wants to spend the day with a plateful of dessert on their lap, glued to the action. Whichever team you prefer, football will be on all day long and that is something for which we can all give thanks.
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Christian S. Kohl is a sports contributor for CBS Local Digital Media.