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Fun Facts: Thanksgiving and the NFL

11/25/2008
Red Grange was still at Illinois when he took $12,000 from the Bears to play on Thanksgiving in 1925. Getty Images

Thanksgiving Day means football, even if that routinely requires a healthy serving of the woeful Lions (they've played on Thanksgiving Day since 1934). Like any family gathering, Turkey Day can bring out the best, the worst and even the unexpected. So when you're passing the cranberry sauce this Thursday, be sure you know the storied history of this special day in NFL lore. And keep one eye on the tube or you might miss out on another tasty mishap. The day seems to bring 'em out.

1998: THE JEROME BETTIS COIN TOSS
It was a decade ago that the Lions rallied to force overtime against the Steelers. The captains for both teams met at midfield for the coin toss with referee Phil Luckett and his toss comes up tails. Steelers captain (and Detroit native) Jerome Bettis appeared to mumble "tails" but Luckett claims Bettis called "heads" and the ball is awarded to Detroit, which promptly marches in for the winning field goal. The Steelers are livid and the controversy sparks the NFL to rewrite its coin flip procedure. Luckett is then involved in another controversy 10 days later, when his crew blows a call that gives the Jets' Vinny Testaverde a game-winning touchdown against the Seahawks.

1993: LEON LETT'S ADVENTURE
The Dolphins line up for a game-winning 41-yard field goal attempt. It is blocked. Lett mistakenly slides through the snow and knocks the ball toward the end zone. The dead ball becomes a live one and Miami recovers. Given a second chance, Miami's Pete Stoyanovich kicks the game winner.

1986: CELEBRITY PROPOSAL
During the halftime show of a Thanksgiving Day game, sportscaster Ahmad Rashad proposes on air to Phylicia Ayers-Allen, best known for playing Claire Huxtable on The Cosby Show. They later marry, but divorce in 2001.

1980: WILLIAMS TO THE HOUSE
If you left the room for an extra dessert at the end of regulation, you likely missed it. Chicago's Dave Williams needed just 21 seconds to return the overtime kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown.

1976: THE JUICE IS UNDENIABLY LOOSE
O.J. Simpson ran for 273 yards in the Bills' 27-14 loss to the Lions.

1973: CLINT LONGLEY'S SHINING MOMENT
The Redskins held a comfortable 16-3 lead when rookie Cowboys backup Clint Longley took over for the injured Roger Staubach and threw two touchdown passes, including a 50-yard bomb to Drew Pearson, to give the Boys a 24-23 win in his NFL debut. It would be the only notable highlight for Longley, whose NFL career would last all of nine games.

1968: THE MUD BOWL
In a steady rain, which started the previous night and lasted almost 36 hours, the Lions were shut out, 12-0, by Philadelphia as Sam Hall kicked four field goals in what is now called the "Mud Bowl." Hall was rumored to have used dry balls to kick the field goals, as NFL rules at the time only permitted the home team to replace game balls. The Lions, meanwhile, were kicking wet footballs.

1962: STARR-BURST
The only loss for the eventual NFL champion Packers that season came on Thanksgiving Day when Bart Starr was sacked 11 times.

1925: THE GRANGE DEBUT
College football is still king when Red Grange takes $12,000 for a game (today that's about $140,000) from the Chicago Bears and makes his professional debut in a 0-0 tie with the Chicago Cardinals. The largest crowd on pro football history at the time, 36,000, shows up for the game at Wrigley Field.

1920: THE BEGINNING
In the NFL's first recognized season, six games were held on Thanksgiving Thursday (only three are being held this year). One of them had Fritz Pollard leading the Akron Pros to a 7-0 win over the Canton Bulldogs, whose roster included Jim Thorpe.