Pro football is longstanding Thanksgiving Day tradition

Here is my Thursday article on the Thanksgiving football. This article runs in the Thursday sports section of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Football on Thanksgiving is a tradition and a burden.

Let’s start with the tradition.

Thanksgiving football precedes the NFL by more than 40 years. Princeton and Yale played each other on Thanksgiving 1876, and the University of Michigan played every Thanksgiving from 1885 to 1905.

The Detriot Lions first played on Thanksgiving in 1934. Before them, all kinds of NFL teams played on Thanksgiving — the Staten Island Stapletons, the Pottsville Maroons, and the Dayton Triangles, just to name a few.

The American Football League had its own Thanksgiving games, and the Raiders played in four of those — 1963, 1966, 1967 and 1968. But in the NFL from 1945 to 1965, the only game on Thanksgiving was the annual game in Detroit. Period.

In 1966, the Dallas Cowboys finagled their way into hosting a second NFL Thanksgiving game, and they’ve been hosting that game ever since (except in 1975 and 1977 when the St. Louis Cardinals somehow finagled the game away from the Cowboys).

In 2006, the NFL added a third Thanksgiving game, a night game. It continues, but no one team gets to host it every year.

It’s an honor to play on Thanksgiving with most of the country eating turkey and giblets and cranberry sauce, and watching. The Raiders get that honor today. Besides the Thanksgiving games in the defunct AFL, the Raiders had the honor twice before in the current NFL — 1970 and 2009. The 49ers have had the honor four times — 1966, 1969, 1972 and 2011.

But playing on Thanksgiving also is a burden.

The biggest burden is the soreness, especially for the older players. Many of the Raiders still were stiff and sore from last Sunday’s game with Tennessee when they boarded the plane Wednesday for Dallas.

Forty-Niners’ fullback Bruce Miller knows what the Raiders are facing. “On Day 2 (after a game), I’m the sorest,” he said. “On Days 3 and 4, it’s still working its way out.”

“You sometimes play sore even on Sunday games,” said Raiders’ tailback Rashad Jennings. “Unless you’re not playing hard,” he added with a smile.

The Turkey Day burden goes beyond the soreness.

The Raiders didn’t have a single full practice this week. “You give up the full-speed reps,” said Raiders’ head coach Dennis Allen. “(Monday) was basically a walk-through. (Tuesday) was a little bit more uptempo, but still not a grind-it-out practice.”

During a typical week, the Raiders have full practices on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and a walk-through on Saturday. This week, the Raiders had one walk-through and one jog-through. If they’re lucky, that was enough time to get looks at the Cowboys’ blitz packages, and maybe their offensive and defensive schemes for third down and the red zone. All other onfield prep got cut.

In order to give the players accurate looks at the Cowboys’ blitzes and schemes, the Raiders had to assign coaches to start preparing for the Cowboys early last week while most of the coaching staff was preparing for Tennessee. Each NFL coaching staff now has offensive and defensive quality control assistants who are in charge of breaking down the opponent’s game video. Those are the people who do the advanced prep for a Thanksgiving game.

But they hardly have any time to relay their insights to the players because the teams cut short most of their meetings as well as their practices.

There are compensations. Now teams prepare players by putting the video breakdown and the game plan on iPads. Yes, iPads.

“It’s great now with the iPads to have the opportunity to leave the facility but still have your playbook and the computers with you to watch the film,” said 49ers fullback Miller. “We get them uploaded to the iPads right after the game, so we do film study on the way home. You can cut some drag and do a lot more on your own with the iPads.”

“I think that definitely helps,” said 49ers’ head coach Jim Harbaugh. “That technology advancing helps. It’s convenient. You want to chill at home, as the guys say, and be on the couch and watch the iPad.”

To help their players prepare for today’s game, Raiders coaches uploaded film of the Cowboys in the Raiders players’ iPads Sunday night. So, theoretically, the Raiders should know the Cowboys well enough by now.

If the Raiders looked unprepared today, chances are the players didn’t watch the film at home on their iPads. Maybe they watched a movie.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for the Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at

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  1. I really like this post, some of your best work, Grant. And best to you & all-y’all-Cohns this Thanksgiving. Bring a bottle of Williams-Selyem Russian River Valley Pinot Noir to dinner and Lowell will think you’re brilliant.

  2. I’ve watched Kaepernick this year and just like I tell everyone, football is a copycat sport, the Dolphins wildcat, Atlanta’s old run and gun, to the read option, to the physical running of a few old between the tackles teams. I helped a buddy coach for the first time this year for his youth football league, here and what you might call the inverted bone diamond or loaded pistol, we had a 3 headed running attack. Our only loss was to Indianapolis Lutheran in our 6th game. We finished 9-1 and faced their dreaded dbl wing offense. I pulled coach aside and told him, they will run these 4 basic plays.. He wont throw in any new wrinkles, but for us to stop it, we need to do a few things differently than last time.. He let m install a few plays I drew up from my own Playbook, and a couple Niners plays. My point is, if u ain’t changing anything other than your formations u will be figured out by a good coach!!

  3. Yet part of it is on the players to execute and if they aren’t u figure out why or who and u change it… our Nightmare A league installed 20 plays, flip them left and right that’s 40 plays, and throwing in motion helped but again, coach ran his style and Indy figured it out, most coaches aren’t brave enough to go away from what they like.. for instance, we always had our huge 6th grader 6’3 234lbs pulling or trapping to the run side in our 32 package, he was leading them to the play, so how many coaches would have pulled sum1 else or didn’t pull at all? Most, I actually had him pulling and we ran a few counters

  4. Him pull the same way but ran counters and mis-direction plays away from him. Fooling them, then I had our best RB Isiah Meyers a blazer motion in jet and fly and either faked and passed or ran sum1 else. I would even pull a Harbaugh and yell run Isiah run. The whole defense follwed him. Yes its not the same in the disciplined NFL, where the defense reads first, but the point is the same. U have to keep changing and changing each week based on your matchups. We didn’t have to gameplan a whole Lott against Washington, but Roman has got to start calling more screens, misdirections that are quick, put James in the slot, haven’t seen many sweeps with Hunter or James, tosses, counter traps, even the crack sweep and wham play have been figured out. Sometimes u have to run something off the wall to get the defeñse thinking. Like grant said “they dbl Boldin and Davis and we have to run the ball.. that’s 4 vs 2. U don’t think a clearing route or dbl crossing route would open another te or RB in the flats or areas Davis and Boldin just created? Kaepernick has to find the reads but design some plays as 2nd and 3rd reads on purpose. Look off clear throw. Y do u think Miller is catching balls? Its the NFL and if u can’t exploit a dbl or blitz, u need to watch more film. Or your 2nd 3rd and 4th options need to run better routes. U don’t have to run a 4.3 to jukebox a Safetey or Lb or even some CBS.

  5. I’m not saying that I could out coach Roman, but some games this year, I believe I could have called a better play on a certain down. SB for one.. ha ouch.. Crabtree Crabtree Crabtree Crabtree.. we ran it well, I would have opened with a off tackle weak or bootleg, stretch, something, Davis on a sit route. Rice use to joke with Montana ” u threw a 3 yd slant and I took it 80 more for the score”

  6. hey Angus …
    you’ve already had your Thanksgiving … haven’t you ?
    (our turn, now .. lol ) … but …

    I will still miss seeing John Madden and his
    4-drumstick -turkey !

  7. Grant there is more of a burden to playing on a short week other than just soreness. Many Dr.’s believe that playing on a short week leads to more concussions. John Madden has said the NFL needs to cancel all thurs games for head injury concerns. We could replace pro games with the best college rivalry games, making sure all teams have a bye coming into the thanksgiving game. I would much rather watch Bama vs Auburn and Ohio St. vs. Mich than the weak match ups the NFL is offering. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

    1. Happy T-Day Old Coach-
      I don’t disagree with anything you say, but I’d be surprised if the NFL backed away from the Thursday money machine they’ve built. They get a higher percentage of revenues by cutting out the tv networks, and TNF is the centerpiece of their network. So we’ll see.
      The League talks about safety but then wants to go to 18 regular season games; contradictory. Thurs night games also aren’t always the best quality football for all the reasons mentioned. I watch the NFL because I buy in to the idea that it’s the best in the world. Not on short weeks.
      I could do without Thurs Pro games. Oh and just to throw it out there again, I don’t want to see a team based in London, no offense meant to our UK fans.

  8. Happy Thanksgiving Grant and all you Niner brothas! I’m at my kids fb practice now. They play in So Cal Jr. All-American Super Bowl Saturday. Corona Chargers vs Norco Bengals (jr pee wee division).
    Location/time 3pm at Yucaipa High School Sat.
    My kids on Chargers #66. He’s youngest on team (10) and plays O-line and D-line. Have a great turkey day fellas!

    1. I just drove from Calistoga to Corona in a one day round trip, nothing like a 940 mile day trip. I wish my boys pop warner league was in a bigger conference, they’ve gone undefeated for two years in a row but there is no tournament at the end.

    2. Hope he brings home a .. Jr. “Lombardi” … Crabs …

      Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours ..
      and also to all the faithful !! …

      (and yeah … even the trolls !)

    3. Thanks Coffee, Tuna, Jack, AES… appreciate it.
      ..I’ll let you know if they win. They are undefeated (12-0).
      Wow Coffee….That’s quite a long drive in 1 day.

  9. Hoferfan67 (wherever you are)
    If I was any good at photoshop I’d make a back of the milk .gif for missing Hofer.

  10. Hofer67, used to be the numbers and stats guy around here. Hammer has since taken on that role and has done a great job.

    Hofer and I, went many rounds over Alex Smith’ play as a 49er, but he was always cordial and respectful in his deliveries.

    Other notables MIA:
    Adam (49er helmet icon)
    Hope you guys are all doing good and hope to see you back.

      1. Hammer,
        I must have missed the connection MSC had with Bradford.
        I always found his posts to have strong support for the 49ers.

        In any case, I hope he and family are doing fine.

      2. No worries Hammer, but I do miss my old blog buddy.
        And again, I don’t recall MSC having any Bradford affiliation or leanings. Perhaps I should have read his posts a little more closely?

      3. Wasn’t Clem the one who coined the phrase The Precious? He was more critical of AS than I was, but he was almost always clever.

    1. Highpreist is probably in mourning over the Cal Bears sucky season. He’s also a big Kap fan and may not enjoy the sniping. I bet he’s still lurking.
      I miss Clem’s posts and hope he and his family are doing well.

      1. Brotha,
        You might be right about the Precious title coined by MSC.

        There were quite a few titles created here regarding Alex Smith.
        Glad that they are all behind us now.

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