Tough Turkey: Thanksgiving Football During COVID-19


Football is persevering through the pandemic to give us something to watch this Thanksgiving. (Courtesy of Flickr)

Dylan Balsamo, Assistant Sports Editor

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday. We come home, we sit back, we relax, we stuff our mouths with food, we spend time with our families and we begin that time of year where we take the time to think about and care about each other as we should all year round. I love it. I even love the National Dog Show that usually airs after the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

And if you’re a sports fan, there is a whole other factor that makes the day great. Thanksgiving Thursday has become a staple for the National Football League, as they televise three Thanksgiving games each year for the whole country, and they usually get some of their highest ratings of the year. Astute football watchers and natives of Michigan and Texas will know that the lineup of games for years has consisted of a Detroit Lions home game, a Dallas Cowboys home game and a primetime game that occasionally features the reigning Super Bowl champion. Typically, there are halftime shows too. It’s a great day for football.

But look at your watch. Look at your calendar. Look at your face mask. The year is 2020, a year where Rick Moranis being punched in the face was not the most important news of the day. Thanksgiving is going to be very, very different for a lot of people this year, and the sport our nation watches most is no exception to that rule. Millions of people all across the country are going to have to sacrifice seeing their families in person this Nov. 26 due to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is seeing cases rise in all 50 states as I write this. The NFL has been taking some precautions all year, with fan attendance at games being limited and sometimes forbidden, but that has not stopped the league postponing a few games to dates we still don’t know. Football is a sport that gets most of us quite emotionally involved, and next Thursday will already be a rather emotional day.

Your usual Thanksgiving football traditions are likely going to have to be adjusted this season, but that in no way means that the day and the day’s games need to be void of their usual holiday spirit. Let’s discuss.

The first game on the docket for Thanksgiving Day is at 12:30 p.m. when the Lions will take on an inter-conference opponent in the Houston Texans. As the first game being played, watching this matchup might be incredibly sobering for Americans amidst our fight against the coronavirus. After recent increases in cases in the state of Michigan — and the rest of the country — the state’s Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced new restrictions for Michigan, meaning there will be no fans at the game. Your “incredible” touchdown catch during last Thanksgiving’s family football game will not be the only supposedly amazing play nobody sees in person. 

For Lions fans and their fellow Michiganites, these restrictions also mean there will be no Honolulu blue in the stands, no tailgating, no live Turkey Trot and no fans at the annual parade. While most will understand that these precautions are taken for the safety of all, it is nonetheless disappointing. Not to mention that the Lions are in last place in the NFC North, and the Texans only have two wins.

After that game concludes, America will turn to “America’s team” at 4:30 p.m. for the Dallas Cowboys, a team tied for last place in a division so bad that the pandemic isn’t even a reasonable enough excuse. This game will have some fans in the stadium wearing masks — the Cowboys are the only team in the division that has fans at all this year — but the real bummer is that Dallas will be playing the team that they’re tied with: the Washington Football Team. That name is so ridiculous, I giggle every time I say it out loud.

The fact that Washington, a team that changed its name after decades of having a Native American caricature as its mascot, is playing on the national stage of Thanksgiving Day is a stark reminder to the whole country of our treatment of Native Americans over the centuries and the origin of this holiday that unites us all in such a way. It’s a necessary post-toothpaste orange juice.

The primetime game is Ravens-Steelers in Pittsburgh. As of right now, the game will have fans, but regardless, that game should actually be very exciting to watch.

Needless to say, the Thanksgiving games themselves will be rather different this year, and where, how and with whom you will be watching them is likely going to be different too. But it doesn’t mean that Thanksgiving is a wash this year or that it won’t be worth any of your time. My hope for next Thursday is that, while the settings might be somewhat or incredibly different, we are still able to remain in the spirit of the holiday and enjoy the games with the people that we love, even in different ways. I know my family will be one of millions on multi-house, multi-generational Zoom calls on Thanksgiving, and there is no reason why watching the three games can’t have the same energy. Take the time to call, text or video chat the people you would normally watch the game with, and talk about football, or about anything. Talk about last year’s family football game and even plan for next year’s. Eat an inexcusable amount of chips and dip. This is Thanksgiving. There is no reason why we cannot remain in the mindset of “I am spending time with you because we are family and I care about you.”

So enjoy the games, and if your team is playing don’t get too emotionally involved (I know some Jets fans who still haven’t recovered from the butt fumble). Most importantly, enjoy each other, no matter how far away you are. Also, whatever you do, please don’t go to a crowded Black Friday sale.

Happy Thanksgiving!