Hoods from Hollis to Hollywood equate Thanksgiving with food and football. It starts with a chomp of turkey, a slurp of cranberry and a sip of the chosen concrete jungle juice. The day usually culminates on the couch, geared-up, entering NFL warp zone and anticipating the next great play or player to emerge.
From the first NFL Thanksgiving Day game in 1920, when the Akron Pros stifled Jim Thorpe’s Canton Bulldogs 7-0, the holiday is wrapped in strong emotions which elevate football games we watch, from simple to life-defining moments.
Lawrence Taylor wreaking havoc on Thanksgiving Day in 1982 falls in the second category.
The greatest linebacker to ever get it on the gridiron was a menacing defender who wrecked shop, turned QBs into Mac-n-cheese and knocked the stuffing out of ball carriers. The legend of LT is now part of football lore, but in the early 80’s, he was a second-year linebacker trying to help change the culture of a downtrodden franchise.
The Giants were rebounding from the dead-end 70s, when they stunk up the joint with consecutive losing seasons from 1973-80. They hoped the addition of LT would change their luck.
Taylor accomplished that and more, leading the Giants to two Super Bowls and revolutionizing the linebacker position. He’s credited with altering offensive formations, offensive line duties and further glamorizing the art of pass rushing. LT played like a rabid dog and had an iconic Chief Jay Strongbow impact on the NFL. He racked up double-digit sacks each season from 1984 through 1990, including a career- high of 20.5 in 1986.
The Giants haven’t played on Thanksgiving often, but in 1982, Big Blue was playing (Detroit) in the Turkey Tussle for the first time since 1938. Unless you were a Giants fan who lived during WWII, this was something new and historic.
LT was the talk of the Thanksgiving table. Fathers, uncles, and grandpas that suffered through the lean years wore the eyes of optimism when mentioning LT and Big Blue football. They shook their heads in amazement and provoked heightened curiosity in novice fans.
Families swarmed the television, sitting in a wild spread formation around the color TV in the living room. If it got too crowded, some cousins would dip off into the kitchen, eat chocolate cake and watch the black-and-white.
These days, the Giants D-linemen are the chief rockers. But back in the day, Giants linebackers Taylor, “Hitman” Harry Carson and Brad Van Pelt, were considered three the hard way. The game was a defensive street fight and was tied 6-6 early in the fourth quarter. Sick with anticipation, fans stared, cheered and waited for that Kodak moment to pop. It could be a fumble or great catch to talk about all week at school and work. Or, even better, something to remember, for a lifetime. LT didn’t disappoint. Like other NFL greats, he chose the incomparable Thanksgiving Day stage to show why he’s Top 5 dead, doped, or alive.
With Detroit on the move inside the Giant’s 5-yard line, QB Gary Danielson dropped back to pass to Horace King in the left flat. A cat-like LT jumped King's route, picked off the pass and jetted 97 yards for the game-clinching score in a 13-6 win.
Talk about living up to your rep. The shorties watching that game became LT heads for life. When they lined up in front of the big pile of leaves in the backyard, they were LT. In Pee Wee league football, they wanted to rock No. 56. Plus, LT was unstoppable in Tecmo Bowl.
It’s one thing hearing about the myth. It’s another when the myth jumps off the screen into your living room and snatches the meat off the table. If Texans baller J.J. Watt goes H.A.M on Detroit today, he can thank LT for expanding the scope of dominating and versatile defenders in the NFL.
It ain't all about the D, though. Thanksgiving Day has also produced some of the greatest aerial performances. The Warren Moon-Scott Mitchell shootout in 1995 was a classic offensive slam dance.
Moon, the ex Canadian Football League stud, who beat racial discrimination to become the first black HOF QB and the second-leading passer in history, was battling the vaunted Lions’ Run and Shoot offense of Mitchell, Barry Sanders, Herman Moore, Brett Perriman and Johnny Morton.
It was like Holmes versus Cooney with a pigskin, as the two slingers combined for 794 yards and 7 TDs. Every time Moon played in the‘90-Now, he had the futures of Mike Vick, Steve McNair and Donovan McNabb in his hands. There was a stupid-serious vested interest. Most brothers living outside the Detroit area got real sour when Moon’s Hail Mary pass with no time left was picked and the Vikes lost 44-38.
If RG3 does something historic today, he owes some of that prop sauce to Moon’s Thanksgiving pop off.
Since we are talking aerial feats by great players, let’s stay with the Purple People Eaters and shout out Randy Moss’ coming-out-party in ’98. Moss proved he was the best in the business since Jerry Rice, smashing the Dallas secondary with a mean three-TD routine.
After that performance, Moss deserved a whole turkey to himself, but there’s always a hater in the fam that goes against the grain. It’s probably the cousin from O.T., sitting there with his Cowboy’s jersey on. He’s just stirring the pot when he says “Moss doesn’t have skills like teammate CC Carter. In fact, he’s not better than ex-Vikes burner Anthony Carter.”
Talk like that gets the cups spilling, the food particles flying and the facial expressions contorting. Auntie’s in the cut, getting such a kick out of it, she almost chokes on her apple pie. She wouldn’t know the difference between DeWayne Carter and Jimmy Carter, but she’s a victim of the NFL Thanksgiving bug that hits everybody in the house like cannibus contact in a car with the windows up.
Special teams studs provide fodder for the Thanksgiving memory mill, too. The Jets haven’t been excited about much since winning Super Bowl III in 1969. To such depraved Jets fans, Brad Smith’s 4th-quarter 89-yard kickoff return to ice the Bengals on Thanksgiving that year, was the ultimate.
Picture your pops feeling shaky about a 17-10 Jets lead and deciding to make a liqs run during the game. Then, just as he gets upstairs and grabs his boots, Smith breaks and it looks like it’s going for six. Everyone starts screaming. Pops grabs his boots, starts putting them on and run-hops downstairs to catch the action. When Smith crosses the 50-yard line his cleat flies off. Almost simultaneously, pops stumbles down the stairs and out of his left boot as Smith scampers into the end zone. Pops lands on the coach, puts two arms up and shouts, “Touchdown Jets!”
It’s the type of story you tell your kids about. The type of life imitating art scenario, that makes NFL games at the crib, everybody’s Thanksgiving holiday hot spot.