Detroit Lions: The Thanksgiving mystique is back

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 24: Matt Prater
DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 24: Matt Prater /

The Detroit Lions Thanksgiving day game is quickly regaining its status as a must-watch event, especially with the NFC North race at stake this Thursday.

“The Detroit Lions are a different team on Thanksgiving.”

My 8th grade English teacher once pulled me aside in the hallway to tell me that. It was the day before the 2001 game. The Lions hadn’t won a single game yet. I wanted to believe him, but even back then I was slipping into some of the now fully-developed cynicism that you see me demonstrate at this site every Tuesday.

The Lions lost the next day to the Packers, 29-27. Mike McMahon came off the bench at QB and very nearly lead an improbable comeback. It came down to a failed two-point conversion though, and the team dropped to 0-10.

From that day forward though, it became a favorite quote of my friends and I every time the Thanksgiving day game rolled around. The Lions are a different team on Thanksgiving. Whether it was true or not was hardly the point. They went on to lose 10 of their next 11 Thanksgiving games.

A Different Team

Leading into Thursday’s game against the Vikings, it’s clear that the Lions actually are a vastly different team than the miserable decade that kicked off the new millennium. Not just on Thanksgiving, but pretty much every game these days. Are they a Super Bowl contender yet? No, no, and no. But what they are is a very solid team that has a fighting chance to win any game they play in.

To be clear, the Lions are a pretty big underdog heading into Thursday, despite a string of recent wins over Minnesota. The Vikings are sitting at 8-2, and haven’t lost since the defensive struggle in week 4 (a 14-7 Lions win). They’re coming off a thorough beat-down of the Rams’ top ranked offense, and are now 4th in the league in scoring defense.

A win for Minnesota would basically end the NFC North divisional race, giving them a three game lead with tie-breakers over everyone. Detroit, has been hot as well, taking care of business on a favorable three game stretch of the schedule. It’s yet another huge opportunity to make a statement with the eyes of the entire country watching.

As was the case last year, I can feel the buzz surrounding this game, even 700 miles away. No matter the result, it’s fun to have some legitimate big games happening in Detroit again.

Compared to the 2000s, that fact is something to celebrate and not to be taken for granted. I remember about a decade ago, the FOX analyst team would sit around at halftime and gripe about how the NFL should just take away the Thanksgiving game from Detroit. They’re an embarrassment year after year, it was said. Give someone else a turn, tradition or not.

The New Tradition

The new look Lions now have some real mojo going as far as Thanksgiving games are concerned. Ever since losing to the Texans in 2012 (highlights here, for you masochists), the Honolulu Blue have taken four straight.

First was the “Matt Flynn revenge game”, a 40-10 demolition of Green Bay. The 2014 edition was a ho-hum 34-17 win over Chicago.  The lost season of 2015 featured the “Where has THAT been all season??” curb stomping over Philly. Last year of course, was a plodding slug-fest for about 53 minutes. Then Stafford led a field goal drive, Big Play Slay made a big play, and the legend of Matt Prater wrote another verse with a clutch walk-off kick to give the Lions the division lead.

Next: Detroit Lions - Playoff hopes hinge on Thanksgiving day win

This Thursday gives us a hotly anticipated rematch, with each team considerably stronger than they were at this point a year ago. I know, the Lions have an identical 6-4 record. Trust me, this year’s team is a lot better, even if the standings don’t show it. A fifth consecutive Thanksgiving win would give the Lions their longest such streak in over 60 years (they took six in a row from 1950 to 1955).

Most importantly though, the Thanksgiving mystique is back in Detroit.