The Greatest Thanksgiving Day Moments in NFL History

  • Randy Moss gets revenge on Dallas

    Moss’s talent was never in doubt entering the NFL, but a number of off-the-field issues caused teams to shy away from the Marshall product. The Cowboys were poised to draft their childhood fan at pick No. 8 in 1998, but went back on an assurance to Moss, who fell all the way to the Vikings at 21.

    Much to Moss’s pleasure, he had the opportunity to play the team that snubbed him on Thanksgiving during his rookie year. He made them pay for not selecting him, putting up 163 yards and three touchdowns on his only three receptions for the day. They were all highlight reel catches, but the third and final catch was absolutely ridiculous. Watch as Moss fakes to the inside without losing any of his top-end speed, inciting a “he is incredible” claim from the usually reserved Pat Summerall.

    This won’t be the last time we hear from Mr. Moss.

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  • Leon Lett gives it away

    In a game featuring the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins, the first word you think of wouldn’t be “snow.” Their 1993 clash would have been memorable for the appearance of white powder alone. But thanks to an iconic blunder, Leon Lett’s name will forever be linked to Thanksgiving Day football.

    Down a point with time running down, the Dolphins had a potential winning field goal attempt blocked. The game was over as long as the Cowboys didn’t touch the ball, and everyone but one man was aware of that fact. After Lett came slip-sliding in, the Dolphins were awarded another chance to win the game, and they wouldn’t let their second opportunity go to waste. His tumble through the tundra is visually recognizable the moment it gets replayed — and networks make sure to do so every November.

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  • Brad Smith goes to the house in one shoe

    It’s hard enough to reach the end zone on a return with a full set of equipment, but Smith proved that he could accomplish the feat lacking shoes on both feet.

    Smith has always been a dangerous weapon by virtue of his versatility, but it would have been hard to predict this sort of moment. The “shoe-string” tackle that has tripped many a returner up failed to stop Smith on this one, who continued running in sock alone after losing his cleat around midfield. It’s not often you see play continue after a player’s equipment gets dislodged, so I salute the former Jet for going the extra mile.

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  • Phil Luckett botches the coin flip

    The act of a coin toss is in theory one of the simplest parts of a football game. This was not so clear in 1998, when official Phil Luckett influenced the outcome of a game by messing up the overtime flip.

    Steelers running back Jerome Bettis appeared to audibly call “tails” with the coin in midair, but Luckett attributed “heads” to The Bus, giving the Colts the ball to begin the extra period. They wouldn’t squander their chance, kicking the winning field goal on the opening drive. Later audio enhancement suggested that Bettis may have said “hea-tails,” hedging on his initial thought, but the damage was already done. NFL coin toss rules were altered following the incident.

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  • The Bounty Bowl

    Unlike the other parts of this list, the Eagles-Cowboys clash in 1989 is memorable for the surrounding drama rather than the on-field theatrics. A particularly violent affair that saw Philadelphia knock Dallas kicker Luis Zendejas out of the game, the first “Bounty Bowl” spawned a flurry of one-liners in the press between Jimmy Johnson and Buddy Ryan.

    As you can see in the above clip, Johnson was irate that Ryan wouldn’t face him after the game and took a shot at his weight in search of a response. Ever a showman, Ryan had a response laced with sarcasm: “I resent that. I’ve been on a diet, I lost a couple of pounds, and I thought I was looking good.” The battle between opposing coaches would continue, but Bounty Bowl I was the beginning.

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  • Randy Moss vs. the Cowboys pt. 2

    Two years after he terrorized the Cowboys to the tune of three touchdowns, Moss came back with the same mission in mind: torch Dallas. In his second trip to Texas Stadium, Moss showed off a different element of his greatness. The ballerina-like footwork it takes to haul in that catch is inhuman, and Moss manages to do it while continuing to move at terminal velocity. Seven catches for 144 yards and two TDs is a pretty nice encore.

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  • Peyton Manning drops six TDs on Detroit

    When your favorite team isn’t involved in the Thanksgiving festivities, sometimes it’s fun just to watch a dominant player massacre another team. That’s exactly what fans got to see on Thanksgiving Day 2004, when one of the league’s all-time greats made his holiday debut. The most remarkable thing about this evisceration of the hapless Lions? Manning threw more touchdowns than incompletions, turning the Lions into his own personal punching bag.

    You can find the highlights in this season-long recap video.

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  • Randy Moss
  • Leon Lett
  • Phil Luckett
  • Randy Moss
  • Peyton Manning

Football and Thanksgiving have been linked all the way back to the game’s inception. In what used to be one of the premier rivalries in sports, Yale and Princeton began playing each other on Thanksgiving day all the way back in 1876. That laid the groundwork for a continued tradition across all levels of football, the most prominent of which is the NFL’s annual Turkey Day showcase.

There’s not a more fitting accompaniment for eating a boatload of stuffing, cranberry sauce, and turkey legs than a full day of sitting on the couch watching football. When you’re feeling a little sleepy after gorging all afternoon, putting your feet up and watching some of the best athletes in the world is a great escape. It’s also the easiest sport to discuss with the family you’ll be celebrating the day with; America’s most popular sport resonates with people of all ages and backgrounds.

Of course, all of this would be moot without memorable games and moments, and the NFL’s Thanksgiving slate has had plenty of those over the years. Whether you have a stake in the game — financial or fandom — or just love rooting against the Dallas Cowboys year after year, there’s something to pique your interest.

A decorated history and a sport with mass appeal are a breeding ground for moments of athletic brilliance, though only a select few can be considered among the best in Thanksgiving Day history. We’ve got them all for you in one place.

The Greatest Thanksgiving Day Moments in NFL History.

Follow Kyle on Twitter at @kyleneubeck

image via Paul Buck/Getty Images