Thanksgiving Day Advantage: Fair or Fowl (GOBBLE GOBBLE)?


The age old question of chicken v. egg or big v. perky may never be answered. Similarly, the Dallas Cowboys are embroiled in a yearly controversy about whether they receive an unfair advantage along with the Detroit Lions by annually hosting the Thanksgiving games. The great thing about math is that you can make the numbers mean what you want. 3% statistical anomaly… never heard of it. Regression to the mean… sell that junk to a recycling center.

The argument goes as follows – by playing at home on Thursday, the Cowboys have several advantages. First, they have developed a routine regarding the best way to set practice schedules leading up to the game. Secondly, they do not have to travel so they have extra time to recuperate from their injuries and more time to practice. Thirdly, they can spend the night at home spending time with family rather than having to travel and miss truly one of the most celebrated holidays for gluttons (offensive/defensive lineman – I’m looking at you).

After the game, they have an additional three days to rest for the next matchup. This very well could be a two game advantage, and not merely a one game advantage.

Statistically, you can make an argument either way. Some will say it affects the integrity of the game; others will say there is no advantage. I lean towards the latter.  According to the NY Times, there is not discernible advantage.

The advantage of a few extra days off has certainly not done much good for the Lions, whose winning percentage the week after Thanksgiving (8-22, .267) is worse than their overall winning percentage the last 30 years. Dallas (16-12) and the other teams (33-29) have fared better in their first game after Thanksgiving, but that does not necessarily reflect a post-Thanksgiving advantage. Dallas has been a good enough team to go to six Super Bowls in the last 30 years, and the league usually schedules good teams to play the Lions and the Cowboys on Thanksgiving.

Hunt has also suggested that Detroit and Dallas, by virtue of their annual Thanksgiving games, have an unfair advantage over their opponents because the home teams are more accustomed to preparing for the game on a short workweek. So many people share that opinion that it has become gospel among fans that Detroit and Dallas are harder to beat on Thanksgiving than they are the rest of the season. In reality, the league’s efforts to schedule good teams for the nationally televised games cancel out any such edge, and the Lions and the Cowboys have worse records on Thanksgiving than they do in their other home games.

After Thursday’s loss to the Broncos, Dallas has won 61.8 percent of its Thanksgiving games, compared with 69.4 percent of all home games since 1966.

After Thursday’s loss to the Falcons, Detroit has won 51.5 percent of its Thanksgiving games, compared with 55.7 percent of all home games since 1934.

Undoubtedly you will have a conversation with someone regarding the above.  Somewhere in the conversation they will throw out tradition shouldn’t affect who plays on Thanksgiving and there are certainly better teams to feature than the last place Lions and Cowboys.  Tell your “friends” that tradition is a veiled term for profit.

The Cowboys are without question, one of the best draws in the NFL.  Cowboys games are sold out on the road, viewers watch the games in droves on primetime (both fans of the Cowboys as well as those who hate the Cowboys), and there is only one other team that comes even close (the Pittsburgh Steelers).  Networks desirous for viewers would not even consider losing the annual Cowboys game.

Here is a spot of history that every Cowboys fan should know.

In the 60s, with the popularity of the NFL increasing on TV, the NFL looked around for another city to host a game on Thanksgiving Day, in order to give the NFL a Turkey Day Double Header.

None of the other NFL cities were willing to host the game, because of the potential disruption to their normal Sunday game schedule, especially coming late in the year when the playoffs were right around the corner (the NFL played only 14 games then, with the final regular season game coming in mid December).

But Tex Schramm, ever watchful for anything that would promote the popularity of the Cowboys, immediately saw the potential of Dallas hosting a Thanksgiving Day game, and how it might become a tradition like the Detroit Lions had established.

So Dallas agreed to host the game when no other NFL team would do it.  It immediately became a fan favorite on TV.

Ironically, a decade later other teams complained to the NFL that Dallas’ hosting the game, and the resultant 10-day break after the game, gave the Cowboys an advantage that other teams didn’t enjoy.

So the NFL moved the ’75 and ’76 games to St. Louis.  But fans responded with a lack of viewership, so CBS (the NFL’s TV network back in the 60s) and the NFL asked Dallas to once again agree to host the game.

After the NFL merged with the AFL, NBC (the TV network for the AFL / AFC) also wanted to host a Thanksgiving Day game, and split the double header with CBS.

So the NFL agreed that, although Dallas and Detroit would still host a game, one of the teams would host an AFC team, and one would host an NFC team.  NBC would broadcast the game in which either Dallas or Detroit hosted the AFC team.  So Dallas hosts an AFC team every other year.

By the way, Tex Schramm agreed that Dallas would once again host a Thanksgiving Day game on the condition that the NFL never again move it.  So despite the occasional complaint by other teams, Dallas has hosted a Thanksgiving Day game ever since.

The Cowboys play on Thanksgiving because of ratings.  The Lions play on Thanksgiving because the NFL cannot find a tactful way to replace them with the Steelers.  So on this great day of family, food, and meaningless sports arguments, come to the dinner table prepared to defend a great Cowboys “tradition”.

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