Unlike in the NBA and Christmas, Thanksgiving isn’t about putting on the best games. It’s about tradition – the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions hosting, with another game usually scheduled as well, and from time to time a very memorable performance is put on by the likes of Randy Moss, Peyton Manning or O.J. Simpson.
This year the Cowboys host the Raiders, the Lions host the Packers and the Ravens host the Steelers, as Tony Romo, the player with the most recent “great” Thanksgiving performance, hoping he can pull off another great game that pulls the Cowboys closer to their first playoff appearance since 2009.
Tony Romo, 2006
On Romo’s first Thanksgiving day he put on what was then his finest performance as a starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, leading them to the playoffs after coming in for Drew Bledsoe earlier in the season in a game against the New York Giants. Romo completed 22-of-29 passes for 306 yards, throwing five touchdown passes to Terry Glenn (twice), Marion Barber (twice) and Terrell Owens during his first year with the team.
Peyton Manning, 2004
The Detroit Lions have lost nine straight games on Thanksgiving, the streak beginning in 2004, when the Indianapolis Colts came to town and beat the Lions 41-9. Manning, who won the MVP that season, threw for “only” 236 yards, but completed 23-of-28 passes, including six of them for touchdowns – three to Brandon Stokley, three to Marvin Harrison. Manning set an NFL record that season, throwing for 49 touchdowns, later broken by Tom Brady.
Randy Moss, 1998
It’s hard to believe that the Minnesota Vikings of the 1998 season didn’t amount to anything. They did finish the year at 15-1, but were stunned by the Atlanta Falcons in the postseason. Moss, having a sensational rookie season, catching 17 touchdown passes, had an extremely efficient day in Dallas. He caught only three passes against the Cowboys, but all of them were for touchdowns for 51, 56 and 56 yards, as the Vikings won 46-36.
Sterling Sharpe, 1994
Sterling Sharpe could have had a lot more great moments in his NFL career if it wasn’t for a neck injury that ended it in 1994, but the Green Bay Packers receivers had his share of big moments. None of them were probably bigger than his performance against the Dallas Cowboys in 1994. The Packers lost 42-31, with Jason Garrett filling in for Troy Aikman, but Sharpe provided the perfect outlet to Brett Favre’s throws, catching nine passes for 124 yards, scoring all of Green Bay’s four touchdowns that day.
Walter Stanley, 1986
Stanley had a very unremarkable NFL career, playing for the Green Bay Packers from 1986 to 1988 before moving on to a few more teams, leaving the league after the 1992 season. However, on Thanksgiving 1986, he put on the best game of his career as the Packers played in Detroit against the Lions, winning 44-40. Stanley finished with 287 all-purpose yards, scoring three touchdowns. He caught four passes for 124 yards and a couple of scores, but his biggest play was an 83-yard punt return with 41 seconds left in the game to carry the Packers to victory.
O.J. Simpson, 1976
Simpson was the first player to rush for over 270 yards in one game or over 2000 yards in one season. He and the Buffalo Bills did lose to the Detroit Lions on that day, but Simpson himself turned in possibly the greatest running performance until that moment, running for 273 yards on 29 carries, scoring two touchdowns as well.