The annual Thanksgiving Day NFL tripleheader returns on Thursday, a tradition that began in 2006 when the league added a third game to the holiday schedule.

This year’s schedule begins with the Detroit Lions hosting the Green Bay Packers, followed by the Dallas Cowboys hosting the Washington Commanders, and culminates with an NFC West showdown between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers.

For years, the Cowboys and Lions were the only teams to host games on Thanksgiving, but have you ever wondered why?

It all started on Thanksgiving 1934 in Detroit, when the Lions, then known as the Detroit Spartans, hosted the Chicago Bears in an effort to attract fans during the team’s first season in Detroit after relocating from Portsmouth, Ohio. Detroit owner George A. Richards also owned a local radio station and used his connections in the industry to negotiate a media deal that included nationwide broadcasting through NBC and its affiliate networks.

Legendary Chicago head coach George Halas agreed to Richards’ proposal because of the national exposure it could provide for the sport.

The game drew 26,000 fans and was the first sellout in Lions history. Chicago pulled out a last-second 19-16 win as Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Bronko Nagurski completed a touchdown pass to Bill Hewitt late in the game.

Since then, the Lions have played on Thanksgiving every year, except during World War II.

Meanwhile, Dallas’ tradition began in 1966, the franchise’s seventh season. The Cowboys struggled to succeed on the field in their early years, with five losing seasons and a 7-7 1965 season as their best result.

However, the NFL was looking to add another Thanksgiving game to the slate, and then-general manager Tex Schramm saw the opportunity to highlight his team. So, in an effort to draw bigger crowds to the Cotton Bowl, he went to commissioner Pete Rozelle and secured the game for Dallas.

The plan worked, as over 80,000 fans watched a suddenly thriving 8-2-1 Dallas team take on the 1965 NFL runner-up Cleveland Browns, who had handed the Cowboys their first loss a month earlier and had only lost to Dallas once in previous games between the clubs.

Yet, the day belonged to Dallas as the defense fought tooth and nail through four quarters. Dallas came up with a crucial stop in the red zone, blocking a Lou Groza field goal attempt and allowing Don Meredith and the offense to drive for a late score to preserve a 26-14 win.

Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, the 1966 season ended up being a springboard for the Cowboys’ sustained success. The team finished the year 10-3-1, losing to eventual Super Bowl Champion Green Bay in the NFL Championship Game (now the NFC Championship game), and went on a run of 20 consecutive winning seasons.

The Cowboys are 32-22-1 all-time in Thanksgiving games, trailing only the Lions (37-44-2) for the most wins on the holiday, mainly because the Dallas tradition began more recently.

The Lions and Packers kick things off at 11:30 a.m. CT on Thursday, while the Cowboys game will begin at approximately 3:30 p.m. CT, and Seattle and San Francisco will play at 7:20 p.m. CT.

Additionally, the NFL has introduced a Black Friday game between the Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets at 2 p.m. CT. The additional game is part of a continually evolving NFL schedule that saw the addition of a Christmas Day tripleheader last season and an increase in game flexibility in 2023.