Thanksgiving postcard circa 1900 showing a turkey and football player.
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Thanksgiving Day football games in the United States are nearly as old as the game—and the organized holiday—themselves. The first Thanksgiving Day football game took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Thanksgiving Day of 1869, less than two weeks after Rutgers defeated Princeton in New Brunswick, New Jersey in what is widely recognized as the first intercollegiate football game in the United States, and only six years after Abraham Lincoln declared the first fixed national Thanksgiving holiday in 1863. On November 17, 1869, the Evening Telegraph newspaper of Philadelphia published the following announcement: "Foot Ball: A foot-ball match between twenty-two players of the Young America Cricket Club and the Germantown Cricket Club will take place on Thanksgiving Day at 12 1/2 o'clock, on the grounds of the Germantown Club." The proximity of Philadelphia to both Rutgers and Princeton invites speculation that this game may have been played under similar rules and perhaps involved some of the same participants, or at least people familiar with the game played at Rutgers, and a second match at Princeton, earlier that month.
Princeton played Yale in the New York City area on Thanksgiving Day from 1876 through 1881. The Thanksgiving Day football game became an institutionalized fixture of organized football in 1882, when the Intercollegiate Football Association determined to hold an annual collegiate championship game in New York City on Thanksgiving Day between the two leading teams in the association. Previously, the 'Champion' was to be determined by a team's records over the entire season against all members of the association. For at least the three previous years, the championship had been a matter of dispute as a result of Yale and Princeton playing to scoreless ties on three Thanksgiving Day games in a row.
The introduction of Thanksgiving football is credited with encouraging the Southern United States, which had historically rejected the celebration of Thanksgiving, to embrace the holiday. Robert Tracy McKenzie, a history professor at Wheaton College, remarked: "I joke—but also sort of mean it seriously—that one of the things that ultimately reconciles Southerners to Thanksgiving is the development of football (...) and well before 1900, the tradition of having football games on Thanksgiving Day is sweeping across the country. And Southerners find out that the holiday isn’t that bad after all."
The tradition of playing football games on Thanksgiving continues to this day. At the high school level, the tradition is declining rapidly as schools drop their Thanksgiving games and shorten their regular season in favor of playoff tournaments and allowing players to focus on winter sports such as basketball.
High school football games played on Thanksgiving are often called a Turkey Day Game or a Turkey Bowl (not to be confused with Turkey bowling), as Americans typically eat turkeys on Thanksgiving, although the title varies with each game. Most commonly these games are between high school football rivalries although in many cases, when poor weather requires a shorter season, the game can be the culmination of league play among a high-school league, in which the winners of this game will be the league champions for the year. (Statewide playoffs were generally rare until the 1970s and 1980s, which allowed for longer regular seasons.) The custom dates back more than 100 years and is particularly prevalent in the Northeast. In most cases, games are contested with kickoff times as early as 9 a.m., allowing the participants to have the rest of the holiday off.
This list is sorted alphabetically, first by state, and then by school, with team leading the series listed first wherever possible. State and regional championship tournaments are listed ahead of rivalries. If the rivalry involves two states, the rivalry is listed under the school whose state comes first alphabetically (e.g. a New Jersey-Pennsylvania rivalry is listed under New Jersey).
The only Thanksgiving high school rivalry game to be played west of the state of Missouri, this game dates to 1943 and is played in San Jose, California each Thanksgiving at 11 am. The game pits Abraham Lincoln High School against San Jose High School. The "Big Bone" in question is the femur of a cow that was retrieved from a butcher shop. Lincoln leads the series 38–24. The game is preceded the week prior with the "Little Bone Game", played between the two junior varsity teams. The game has been lopsided in recent years, with Lincoln on an active 22-game winning streak through 2019.
In the battle of two gritty, working-class Italian American towns each with a buzzing mascot, the Branford Hornets meet the East Haven Yellow Jackets in a rivalry that is must-see along the shoreline if for nothing more than East Haven marching band halftime performance.
The Darien vs. New Canaan Thanksgiving matchup is generally considered the most competitive and significant rivalry game in the state, pitting Connecticut's two best teams against each other. The Darien Blue Wave and the New Canaan Rams have been rivals since 1928, their first meeting. The game has been played on Thanksgiving since 1994, with New Canaan leading the Turkey Bowl series 14-9-1 and the overall series 51-38-2. Recently, New Canaan went undefeated for 11 straight years from 2002 to 2011, but Darien won 5 straight from 2012 to 2016. The 2017 matchup, marred by the arrests of three Darien starters the day before (all three did not play), was won by New Canaan 27-0. Due to the large crowds that attend the game (up to 10,000 people), it is usually played either in New Canaan's Dunning Stadium (which needs to be temporarily expanded in order to fit the crowds) or Stamford's Boyle Stadium, which can hold 10,000 spectators.
The two in-town rivals meet annually on Thanksgiving, often drawing the largest crowds of the season for each team, including students, families, and various town officials. The history of Fairfield Thanksgiving football dates back to 1975, when the two schools (then known as the Roger Ludlowe Flying Tigers and the Andrew Warde Crimson Eagles) fought to a 28-6 Warde victory. The rivalry endured a hiatus from 1985 to 2004, when the two schools merged, until they split again in 2005 to renew the matchup with a 20-14 victory for the newly-named Ludlowe Falcons over the Warde Mustangs.
Guilford vs. Daniel Hand (Madison)
Madison split out of what was East Guilford and since these two teams have begun playing annually Guilford has only won 7 of the match-ups, Guilford tends to be a below .500 team whereas Hand is typically a near perfect team. Hand is always favored, however Guilford always gets pumped up for this final game.
Hamden vs. Notre Dame West Haven
The annual Green Bowl game that takes place every Thanksgiving.
Is both the nation's oldest rivalry in the nation had the most games (155), if mergers are counted with their predecessors. The first game in what is now Ye Olde Ball Game was played in 1875 between NFA and the Bulkeley School for Boys in New London and continued until 1951 when Bulkeley merged with Chapman Tech to become New London High. NFA leads the series, NFA leads series, 78-65-11.
Shelton vs. Derby
Shelton and Derby have played each other since 1904.
Staples vs. Greenwich
Stonington vs. Westerly, Rhode Island
Tied with NFA-New London for the most games (155) with Stonington leading Westerly 73-67–17 as of 2016. However, when strictly looking at Thanksgiving Turkey day games Westerly leads 47–40–11.
This game has decided the winner of SWC championship the past two years, with Masuk winning by a combined score of 88–7.
Stratford vs. Bunnell
In town rivalry, annual attendance of 3,000 or more people. A number of players involved in this game have gone on to NFL careers. Including Marcus Easley and Mark Harrison
New Milford vs New Fairfield
Longtime rivals that have played each other for decades but have been playing each other on Thanksgiving morning since 2007. Winner of game is awarded the "Candlewood Cup" trophy which is named for the lake that separates the two towns. New Fairfield currently holds a 7-2 series lead on Thanksgiving.
Maryland is home to one of the Oldest rivalries nationally, also known to be two of the oldest rivalries in the Southeastern United States.
Participants in a Baltimore area TurkeyBowl included attorney Warren Brown and Curt Anderson
Loyola Blakefield vs. Calvert Hall College
Calvert Hall College and Loyola Blakefield, both private high schools in Towson, Maryland have played an annual football game on Thanksgiving Day known as the "Turkey Bowl." The 100-year-old tradition is the oldest continuous Catholic prep-school football rivalry in the United States. The game is currently held at Johnny Unitas Stadium at Towson University (However, Previously played at M&T Bank Stadium), home of the Baltimore Ravens. To date, The Loyola Dons have the overall lead over the Calvert Hall Cardinals in the Turkey Bowl, with a record of 49–42–8. It is televised on the local ABC affiliate, WMAR 2.
Baltimore Polytechnic Institute (Poly) vs. Baltimore City College (City)
In 1889, the game was played between City and Poly, then located on Courtland Street just a short distance from City. This led to one of the longest continuous public high school American football rivalry in the nation. In the early 1900s the game was played on Thanksgiving Day and when Memorial Stadium was built in 1954 the game was played there until the stadium was demolished in 2000. The games played at Memorial stadium during the 1960s drew an average of 25,000 fans. In 1965, 27,500 fans saw quarterback Kurt Schmoke and team captain Curt Anderson lead City to a 52–6 win over Poly. The Thanksgiving tradition ended in 1993 when both City and Poly joined the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association which held its playoffs during the Thanksgiving week, requiring both schools to move their rivalry to a date three weeks earlier. The game is now played at M&T Bank Stadium, in downtown Baltimore the first week of November. Anderson (City) and Baltimore attorney Warren Brown (Poly) have kept the Turkey Day tradition alive between the two schools by sponsoring a flag football game at 9 am every Thanksgiving morning at Baltimore's Herring Run Park. For the past 30 years any former Poly student, football player or not, faces off against a team made up of former City students. Brown and Anderson no longer play, but their sons do.
In Massachusetts, where high school football is not nearly the draw it is in other parts of the country, the Thanksgiving Day game is a long-standing tradition that brings out thousands of alumni and other fans. Virtually every school in the Bay State has a traditional rival and the holiday game is a focal point for all of them, no matter how unsuccessful the regular season may have been.
Leominster High School and Fitchburgh High School have played since 1894. As of 2008, it has been contested on Thanksgiving 103 times, out of 125 total matches.
Georgetown vs. Manchester-Essex Regional High School.
Gloucester vs. Danvers
Greenfield vs. Turners Falls
They have faced each other every Thanksgiving since 1926. As of 2013. Greenfield has won 59 of the match ups, and 8 of the 88 games have ended in a tie. Turners Falls has had the upper hand lately, winning 3 Turkey Day games in a row from 2011 to 2013. which has never happened before in the rivalry.
Hamilton-Wenham vs. Ipswich
Haverhill vs. Lowell
This game is one of the few to be broadcast live. It is carried on radio, and online, by WCAP, Lowell's radio station.
Since 1882, the Rockets and Raiders have been playing in the oldest public school football rivalry in the country.
Newburyport vs. Amesbury
These two teams have played each other 88 times as of 2010 with Newburyport holding the edge 46–36–6.
Newton North vs. Brookline
These two teams have been duking it out on Turkey Day since 1894, and is one of the oldest traditions in Massachusetts. As of 2013, Newton North leads the rivalry 57–54–6.
Newton South vs. Lincoln-Sudbury
Pentucket vs. Triton
Teams have played since the 1970s. Pentucket has won 11 of the last 13 contests, including on the way to winning the Super Bowl in 1999.
Plymouth North vs. Plymouth South
Quincy vs. North Quincy
This game has brought the people of Quincy out since 1932
Stoneham vs. Reading "The Turkey Bowl"
Teams have played since 1923. Reading leads the series 61–24–8. Stoneham last won in 2005 (21–7).
Taunton vs. Coyle & Cassidy
"The Game" between Taunton High School and Coyle and Cassidy High School has taken place since 1931. It was first contested on Thanksgiving Day in 1953. Thanksgiving play was suspended from 1982 through 1996, though the two schools continued to face each other on another date during the season. "The Game" was reinstated as a Thanksgiving Day tradition beginning in 1997. Taunton High School has won "The Game" 48 times, with Coyle & Cassidy triumphing on 36 occasions. "The Game" has twice ended in a tie.
Wayland vs. Weston
These two teams have played each other 85 times as of Thanksgiving 2019. By the end of the 2014 season, Wayland led the series 48–30–2.
Winchester High School and Woburn Memorial High School's football teams have played each other 117 times since their first meeting in 1891 in one of the oldest rivalries in the country, one that is largely a friendly one. Winchester leads the all-time 54-51-12. Interestingly, six of the twelve ties have been scoreless, occurring in 1911, 1929, 1931, 1932, 1935, and 1965.
The state's high school football championships fall on Black Friday and the Saturday after Thanksgiving at Ford Field in Detroit. This coincides with the Detroit Lions' annual Thanksgiving Day game (see below). Eight championship games are played, one for each division (Division 1–8). Prior to the institution of state playoffs in 1975, many schools played rivalry games on Thanksgiving Day or the Friday following. A very few schools would play Thanksgiving Saturday, but this was rare due to efforts to avoid conflicts with the Michigan-Ohio State college game which historically dominated sporting attention in the state.
Every Black Friday, the alumni of Adrian High School's varsity football program and other athletic teams meet at the center of the school track for an annual battle for (touch)football supremacy. This game has happened annually since November 1999.
The state championships of Missouri high school football are held on the Friday and Saturday following Thanksgiving under the name "Show Me Bowl." There are seven games, one to decide the championship for each class, ranging from "Class 1" to "Class 6" and an eight-man football class. Held at the Dome at America's Center in Saint Louis until that stadium's primary tenant (the Rams) abandoned the stadium in 2016, future versions of the Show-Me Bowl will be held at rotating venues, with Plaster Sports Complex on the campus of Missouri State University hosting the 2016 contest and Faurot Field on the campus of the University of Missouri hosting in 2017; the eight-man class will from that point forward be held at a separate site.
Excelsior Springs Mineral Water Bowl (no longer a high school game or played on Thanksgiving)
From 1948 to 1951, Excelsior Springs High School hosted other high school teams at its campus on Thanksgiving. As the state of Missouri did not officially sanction the contest out of concern for student-athletes' well-being, the event was forcibly canceled in 1951. These four games served as the beginning of the Mineral Water Bowl, which in 1954 was switched to a small college footballbowl game that continues to be played, in December, each year in Excelsior Springs.
Played annually on Thanksgiving Day since 1958 as this is the crosstown rivalry in Hamilton Township (Mercer County). The game in odd numbered years is played at Hamilton West, and at Steinert during even numbered years, and the game traditionally starts at 10:30 a.m.
Phillipsburg High School and Easton High School have been playing each other since 1905 in a rivalry billed as The State Line Game. The first Thanksgiving Day meeting was in 1916 and the schools have played each other annually ever since. The winner of the game is presented with the Forks of the Delaware Trophy, as both schools are located from different states (Phillipsburg from NJ, Easton from PA) on opposite sides of the Delaware River. The game is played each year at Fisher Field located on the campus of Lafayette College as a neutral site. The game was previously nationally televised (the 2006 contest was carried on ESPN's High School Showcase); as of 2015, it is carried on radio by WEEX and televised by WFMZ-TV. A rematch of the 1993 Easton-Phillipsburg Thanksgiving contest was the inaugural game in Gatorade's REPLAY the Series on April 26, 2009.
Ridgewood vs. Paramus
Ridgewood High School and Paramus High School was played every Thanksgiving morning annually from 1984 to 2013. Paramus had played continuously every Thanksgiving from 1962 onward until deciding after the 2013 season not to partake in any more games on the holiday. The school determined that the contest interfered with their participation in the state championship and refused to compromise the integrity of the match by resting the starters.
The state's oldest, this rivalry has been contested since 1893, with Vineland leading the series 64-63-19, heading into the 2017 game.WMGM-TV carried the 2016 contest live, and the 2017 and 2018 contests were carried by WACP and sister station WSNJ; the game went unbroadcast in 2019.
A game formally played the day before Thanksgiving, as the two rivals weren't in the same division for football. When they both became members of the same division in 2008, they began regular-season play. The venue alternated between the two schools' stadiums every year, with the last game in 2007 played at Ridge.
North Plainfield vs. South Plainfield
The game is played on Thanksgiving morning each year.
East Brunswick vs. Old Bridge
East Brunswick High School and Old Bridge High School compete annually in the Battle Of Route 18 football game. The rivalry began in 1994 when Cedar Ridge High School and Madison Central High School merged into Old Bridge High School, and has since played East Brunswick every year on Thanksgiving morning. The contests alternates home field advantage each year, and each side awards an offensive and defensive MVP.
have played on Thanksgiving since the 1930s; the rivalry began in 1908, and is one of the oldest high school rivalries in the Delaware Valley. Palmyra leads the series 52–45–12.
Salem vs. Woodstown
Played Thanksgiving Day every year at 10:30, started in 1911, next year will be the 100th anniversary.
Madison vs. Millburn (abolished)
Alternated fields each year. The mayors typically make bets, with the losing team providing the winners with a platter of sloppy joes. Also, the loser must wash the other team's cars without pants on. This contest ended after the 2017 competition.
Red Bank Catholic vs. Rumson Fair-Haven
Game played annually since 1921. Presents Peninsula Trophy to winner
New Providence vs. Berkeley Heights
This rivalry has been contested for only a few years, but is very popular in the surrounding areas of New Providence, Summit, and Berkeley Heights. The Turkey Bowl is usually saved by NPHS stand out athlete Vincent Fuschetto.
Middletown South vs. Middletown North
Middletown High School South and Middletown High School North varsity teams play annually, with the home team alternating every year. 2010 marked the 35th game played between the two schools, with Middletown South beating Middletown North 20–7. Middletown South leads the rivalry with a record of 23–11–1 over Middletown North.
Rancocas Valley Regional High School vs Burlington Township High School
Haddonfield Memorial High school vs Haddon Heights High School;
New York State
State championship weekend
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association, which sanctions all public high school football in the state, holds its statewide football championships over Thanksgiving weekend at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. Five divisions (ranging from the largest schools outside the five major cities to the smallest districts) each have their own state title decided on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Buffalo Public Schools, representing the second-largest city in the state, joined the NYSPHSAA beginning in 2009, allowing them to contend for state championships, but abolishing their local Thanksgiving Day city championship (see below).
The Xavier/Fordham Prep annual "Turkey Bowl" is one of the oldest high school football rivalries in New York history. Their very first game against one another took place in the late 1800s when the game was called due to darkness and ended in a tie. Xavier and Fordham Prep used to play many of their famed Thanksgiving Day "Turkey Bowl" Games at Manhattan's Polo Grounds until it was demolished following the construction of Shea Stadium in the borough of Queens. For many years, the game was played in Downing Stadium (now Icahn Stadium) on Randall's Island or on the campus of Fordham University in the Bronx. Most recently, in years Fordham has the home-field advantage, the game is played at Jack Coffey Field on the campus of Fordham University. When Xavier has the advantage, the game is played at the Aviator Sports and Events Center on the grounds of Floyd Bennett Field, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area in Brooklyn.
White Plains Turkey Bowl (abolished)
This game between the Catholic high school Archbishop Stepinac High School and public school White Plains High School was played continuously from 1971 to 2012; White Plains High School had played other teams from around the United States as an invitational contest from 1932 to 1970. The game was traditionally played at a "neutral" field in White Plains, Parker Stadium; the last five contests were held at Loucks Field on the campus of White Plains High School. White Plains, being a public school, forfeits any regional consolation playoff appearance it may have earned, due to a limit of 10 games for high school football teams in the NYSPHSAA, but does not have to forfeit its appearance in the state championship tournament. The game nonetheless had to be canceled if Stepinac advanced to their respective state championship game or White Plains won a section champions; this did not happen until 2013, when White Plains won a Section 1 title, and it happened again in 2014 and 2015 when Stepinac advanced to the Catholic State Championship both years; despite the repeated cancellations, the schools insisted the series would continue. A change in the state Catholic championship tournament, which opened a bye week during Thanksgiving weekend between the semifinals and the championship, allowed Stepinac to play the game in 2016 and continue to contest for the championship. Prior to the 2017 season, White Plains announced it would no longer play in the Turkey Bowl to allow its players to focus on winter sports, ending an over 90-year tradition of Thanksgiving football in Westchester County, New York.
Mt. St. Michael vs. Cardinal Hayes
Bronx Turkey Bowl: Mount St. Michael High School vs. Cardinal Hayes High School. It's been a tradition for the last 66 years. Since 1942 Mount St. Michael and Cardinal Hayes have met on each Thanksgiving Day a storied CHSFL rivalry showdown.
Iona Prep vs. New Rochelle (abolished)
Played on Thanksgiving from 1949 to 2002, this rivalry contest was televised on New York City television, first by WABC-TV, then WPIX. As with the White Plains contest, New Rochelle's advancing to the state championship in 2003 and 2004 was the primary reason for the contest's abolition.
Yonkers vs. Gorton (abolished)
The two schools were the first to play on Thanksgiving in Westchester County from the mid-1920s until 1984.
Roosevelt vs. Saunders (abolished)
Another matchup in the city of Yonkers also took place from the mid-1920s to 1984. Roosevelt High School withdrew from the contest after the 1984 game, in which the team won the state title but was then upset in the Thanksgiving game.
The CFL (Competitive Football League) on Long Island, NY plays an annual Turkey Bowl every season at 8
Catasauqua High School and Northampton High School play a non-league game against each other every Thanksgiving dating back to 1925. The two schools are no longer within the same league, and thus the game is not sanctioned and does not count as a win/loss for official standings with regard to playoff consideration within the PIAA. The game is always considered to be Homecoming for Catasauqua, regardless of whether the game is played at home or away from their perspective.
Chichester vs. Sun Valley
These two high schools from Delaware County have played each other a total of 83 times, and now the rivals face each other every Thanksgiving. Sun Valley narrowly has more wins than Chichester as the series record is currently 42–41. Sun Valley has won the past three years.
East Stroudsburg vs. Stroudsburg
East Stroudsburg South High School (formerly East Stroudsburg High School) and Stroudsburg High School have been playing annually since 1945 and began their Turkey Day tradition in 1953. With the advent of district playoffs, the game was moved to the regular season for four years, then the schools agreed to play once during the season and again on Thanksgiving if neither team is in the playoffs. A little more than 2 miles separate these public high schools which allows the victor to walk home with the Little Brown Jug Trophy.
Emmaus vs. Whitehall (no longer played on Thanksgiving)
Emmaus High School and Whitehall High School played an annual game on Thanksgiving from 1927 until 1995. They still play each other annually, but the game is now contested during the regular season and not on Thanksgiving.
Mount Carmel vs. Shamokin (no longer played on Thanksgiving)
Mount Carmel High School and Shamokin High School first played each other in 1893, and annually since 1934. They began playing each other on Thanksgiving in 1951. The rivalry continues, but the game is no longer contested on Thanksgiving and is instead played during the regular season.
Nazareth vs. Wilson (no longer played on Thanksgiving)
Nazareth High School and Wilson High School played annually on Thanksgiving morning from 1926–1975. From 1945–68, the game was played at Easton's Cottingham Stadium as a neutral site, and from 1969–73 it was played at Taylor Stadium on the campus of Lehigh University. In 1974 the game was played at Nazareth High School, and in 1975 it was played at Wilson High. The game has not been played on Thanksgiving since 1975 and the two schools have not met at all since 1993. Discussions between the two schools are in the works to renew this rivalry.
Northeast vs. Central
This game pits two schools from the city of Philadelphia, Northeast High School and Central High School, against each other; the rivalry dates to 1892. The Central Lancers won the most recent Thanksgiving game (2013) by defeating the Northeast Vikings 6–3 in overtime. The Vikings hold a narrow all-time edge on the Lancers, 56–52–10.
Archbishop Ryan vs. George Washington High School
This game is a Northeast Philadelphia classic which pits the Ryan Raiders against the Washington Eagles. The two teams have met every Thanksgiving morning which can often be viewed as a second homecoming as so many alumni come back to watch the game. As of 2014, the Archbishop Ryan Raiders have a record of 28-9-1 in the series.
Ridley vs. Interboro
Ridley High School and Interboro High School play each other on Thanksgiving, alternating between each school as the home team. November 28, 2013 will be the 45th Thanksgiving Day football game played between these two schools This game is not held in years in which either team is currently in the playoffs on Thanksgiving Day.
Pottsville vs. Reading (no longer played on Thanksgiving)
Pottsville High School and Reading High School have been playing each other since 1893, and played annually on Thanksgiving from 1923 to 1977. They no longer play on Thanksgiving, but still play each other during the regular season.
This game was notable for being played at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, a venue primarily used for baseball. The two teams play their regular season games at a field adjacent to McCoy Stadium. The rivalry ended in 2001, after 73 years, but a Thanksgiving Eve game is still held inside the stadium. Currently Saint Raphael hosts Moses Brown School on the even number years and Tolman hosts Shea High School on the odd number years. Saint Raphael led the holiday series 38-31-4.
From 1907 to 1970, Hampton High School's Crabbers and Newport News High School's Typhoon faced off against each other in one of the Hampton Roads region's most heated high school football rivalries. The imposition of a state championship tournament, coupled with the federally-ordered closure of Newport News High School for the purpose of desegregation, brought an end to the rivalry.
Woodberry Forest vs. Episcopal
The longest-running high school football rivalry in the South takes place each year between Woodberry Forest and Episcopal High School of Alexandria, Virginia. The schools first played against each other in 1901 and have competed in over a hundred consecutive games. "The Game", as it is known, draws back many alumni and is considered the homecoming game for both schools. The 100th contest, which Woodberry won, took place in 2000, drew nearly 15,000 spectators, and was featured on ESPN.
While the games themselves are not generally nationally known, Turkey Bowls hold importance for those who participate and it is not uncommon for rivalries to last for decades. Turkey Bowls are played by a variety of people including extended families, college fraternities, volunteer fire departments, and local churches across the country which use the day and the game to have fun, exercise and renew old acquaintances.
Thanksgiving weekend historically marks the end of the college football regular season, before conference championships and bowl games begin play in December (the Army–Navy Game is the lone exception). Today, this is only true for the top-level NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, where it has become a tradition to play a fierce rival on the last week of the regular season. At levels below the Bowl Subdivision, the NCAA begins its championship tournaments either on Thanksgiving weekend (for the Division I FCS championship) or the week before (in the cases of Divisions II and III; the NAIA, a separate body, also begins its tournament at that time). Other college football sanctioning bodies end their seasons well before Thanksgiving.
The University of Kansas and University of Missouri played the first of nineteen consecutive Thanksgiving Day football games in Kansas City, Missouri in 1892. After new conference rules that required all games to be played on college campuses, the Thanksgiving Day tradition was temporarily suspended in 1911, but then reinstituted in spurts starting in 1916 and continuing through the 1940s.
The University of Michigan made it a tradition to play annual Thanksgiving games, holding 19 such games from 1885 to 1905. The Thanksgiving Day games between Michigan and the Chicago Maroons in the 1890s have been erroneously cited as "The Beginning of Thanksgiving Day Football." Since the Maroons no longer play at the Division I level, the Wolverines now play their modern-day archrivals, the Ohio State Buckeyes, during Thanksgiving weekend. Yale and Princeton began an annual tradition of playing against each other on Thanksgiving Day starting in 1876. From 1945 to 1956, the Burley Bowl pitted two small colleges against each other in an unofficial bowl game.
The Turkey Day Classic, a college football game between Alabama State University and Tuskegee University, has been played on Thanksgiving Day annually from 1924 to 2012 and again since 2016; as such, it has historically been known as the "Turkey Day Classic." It is also the oldest black college football classic, since the two colleges first played each other in 1901. Tuskegee University pulled out of the contest after 2012 (they were replaced by Stillman College in the 2013 contest), and Alabama State did the same from 2013 to 2015, deciding to move its homecoming to the Saturday before Thanksgiving; in both cases, the NCAA football tournaments prompted the schools to move the end of their seasons to before Thanksgiving so that they would be able to compete for the national championship should they qualify. The establishment of the Celebration Bowl for historically black schools allowed the Turkey Day Classic to resume; it was held against conference rivals Mississippi Valley State and Prairie View A&M in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Another popular black college football classic played on Thanksgiving weekend is the Bayou Classic between Grambling State University and Southern University, which is held the Saturday after Thanksgiving; for the 2017 season only, because of a hurricane earlier in the season, the Labor Day Classic between Texas Southern and Prairie View A&M was played on Thanksgiving weekend, and the two teams voluntarily agreed to hold that Classic on the same weekend in 2018. Alabama State, Mississippi Valley State, Prairie View A&M, Texas Southern, Southern and Grambling are all members of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Other prominent college football rivalries that take place over Thanksgiving weekend include:
Until 2015, Texas hosted a game on Thanksgiving night every year; after the end of the Lone Star Showdown, Texas played against TCU (for the Chancellor's Spurs) in even-numbered years and against Texas Tech in odd-numbered years.
Texas A&M plays LSU during Thanksgiving week beginning in 2014, with the game being played on Thanksgiving night in 2014 and 2016. (see also: LSU–Texas A&M football rivalry)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. USC Trojans (the Jeweled Shillelagh); rivalry is played every year but only scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend when Southern Cal hosts; Southern Cal has hosted on Thanksgiving in even-numbered years since the 1960s. In odd-numbered years, USC typically plays UCLA, while Notre Dame typically plays Stanford.
Army Black Knights vs. Navy Midshipmen (the Army–Navy Game; by 2006, it had moved one week, then eventually two weeks after Thanksgiving weekend beginning in 2009, to maintain its status as the last game of the college football regular season)
While collegiate games have been played on Thanksgiving Day itself (with perhaps the most notable being the Nebraska-Oklahoma game of 1971), the majority of the current traditional Thanksgiving weekend college football games listed above are played on the Friday or Saturday after the holiday, in part to avoid conflicts with the NFL. Texas, as previously mentioned, has had more or less of a permanent spot on the night of the holiday itself since at least 2008.
Professional football teams and leagues have played on Thanksgiving from the start, with pro leagues and teams having played on Thanksgiving since the 1890s. It carried over when Buffalo and Rochester, two members of the New York Pro Football League which had held its championship on Thanksgiving 1919, and the Ohio League, which traditionally held its marquee matchups on Thanksgiving, combined into the NFL upon its founding in 1920, and as such, the NFL has played on Thanksgiving ever since. The Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys have played home games on Thanksgiving since 1934 and 1966, respectively, in a traditional series of NFL games. Beginning in 2006, the NFL added a third game on Thanksgiving night with a rotating host team.
In the Canadian Football League, where games are played on Canadian Thanksgiving, the CFL hosts two games in the Thanksgiving Day Classic; it is one of only two weeks each year in which the CFL plays on a Monday, the other being the Labour Day Classic. The difference between the Thanksgiving and Labour Day games is that the Thanksgiving Day games do not have the same matchups each year; however, like its American counterpart, one of the games has a regular host (in the CFL's case, the Montreal Alouettes). Coincidentally, both the Grey Cup, the CFL's championship game, and the Vanier Cup, the championship of Canadian college football, are both traditionally played on the fourth weekend in November, which amounts to the week before or the week after American Thanksgiving.
The World Football League originally planned to hold its 1974 championship game, World Bowl 1, the day after Thanksgiving in 1974; the business failures of the 1974 season led to the league reorganizing the playoff structure and pushing the World Bowl one week back (although the WFL regularly played on Thursdays during the regular season, it instead split its semifinals between the day before Thanksgiving and the day after). Had the United States Football League completed its move to autumn for the 1986 season, it would have played one of its games on Thanksgiving (a game featuring the Tampa Bay Bandits at the Memphis Showboats was scheduled for that night), but the league suspended operations prior to the season and, even if it had survived, the Bandits went bankrupt before the season would have been played. Similarly, the United Football League, which began play in 2009, held its first two UFL Championship Games over Thanksgiving weekend; both the truncated 2011 UFL season and the 2012 UFL season were cut short well before the Thanksgiving holiday due to financial shortfalls. The Fall Experimental Football League had scheduled its championship for the day before Thanksgiving Day 2014, in Brooklyn, but the game was cancelled after the season was shortened.
^"Foot Ball". The Evening Telegraph (Fifth ed.). Philadelphia. November 17, 1869. Retrieved November 23, 2012.
^Amos, Darius. "From the Sidelines: Comets' senior moments", Hackensack Chronicle, December 1, 2010. Accessed March 27, 2012. "EIGHTEEN placards hung along the north fence at Della Torre Field, each marked in Hackensack gold with the name and number of a senior football player. The 79th annual Thanksgiving Day game against Teaneck was supposed to be a triumphant sendoff for one of the finest groups of seniors that Comets football has seen."
^Evans, Bill. "Millville vs. Vineland: Division title, stellar seniors and N.J.'s longest Thanksgiving rivalry", NJ Advance media, November 21, 2017. Accessed November 21, 2017. "The season isn’t ending the way the Millville and Vineland High School football teams hoped back in August.... And in addition to the division crown, there’s the honor of playing in the state’s longest Thanksgiving rivalry – one that dates back to 1893 and in which Vineland took a one-game lead, 64-63-19, with a win last year."