November 23, 2008, - 1:30 pm

Another Detroit Entity That Wants a Bailout: Should Detroit Lions Lose Thanksgiving Day Game?

By Debbie Schlussel
**** SCROLL DOWN FOR UPDATE/Correction ****
It’s football Sunday in the latter third of the NFL season, and as I write this the Zero (wins) and Ten (losses) Detroit Lions are the losingest team in the NFL and on their way to becoming the most losing team in NFL history. Their likely only shot for a win is today against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
So, should the Detroit Lions lose their traditional Thanksgiving Day game? It’s been a tradition for many years, and one of the least exciting football games for almost all of those years, too.
The Lions’ performance over the last couple of decades–especially abysmal now–has led to talk of the Lions giving up that game in favor of more exciting, well-matched teams.
A few weeks ago, on FOX NFL Sunday, comedian Frank Caliendo joked,

Hey, Detroit Lions, the Pilgrims called, and they want their day back.

detroitlions.jpgpilgrims.jpg Jedi Master of Photoshop David Lunde asks:

How do Detroit (Lions) football fans put up with such a lousy football team year after year? They do seem like the most loyal fans on the planet.

But that loyalty is starting to wane for the men in silver and Honolulu blue (or as I call it, “Hono-loser blue”).
And it’s not just the team’s very bad record, this season, on top of losers most years before.
Detroit-area interest in the Lions has been affected not just by the team’s historic losing status, but by the horrid depression-like economy we have here. In fact, in many ways, the history of the Lions is emblematic of the history of Detroit and the failing auto industry. It’s a fitting coincidence that the team is owned by the Ford Family, which has managed and run the team the same way they did Ford Motor Company: into the ground. Lions part-owner and VP William Clay Ford was recently a failed Chairman of the company and the family–major shareholders in Ford–still calls a lot of the shots.
Until now, the Lions have maintained a stranglehold on the Turkey Day game. When Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones initially tried to wrest it away, he didn’t manage to and only got an also-ran game out of it. [CORRECTION, 11/24/08: I’m wrong on this, see update, below.] But sports fans and commentators are calling for an end to the Lions Thanksgiving Day game.
We, here in Detroit, wouldn’t really care much. Detroit Lions fans–the few who are left–are forsaking the games in droves. They’ve been blacked out by the NFL policy of not televising games that aren’t sold out or mostly sold out. Our economy is very bad, and we don’t have the money to waste to prop up overpaid billionaire owners (the Fords) and their multi-millionaire mercenary employees (the Lions players who mostly don’t live here in the off-season and will play for whomever pays them more) in their tax-funded, Ford-owned half-a-billion castle (Ford Field), on which Michigan taxpayers got and continue to get no return, since we funded it and they own and play in it.
It’s kind of funny to see the Fords struggling to sell out Ford Field, even though its capacity is significantly reduced from the Pontiac Silverdome, a move that was done so that games would more easily sell out and be televised.
The NFL is going to have to start talking tough to players and paying lower salaries with the next draft. Fans don’t have the money to pay $20 for parking, $60 per person per ticket, and $12 per person for a hot dog and a Coke. I envision certain NFL teams having to resort to the common marketing tactics of minor league baseball teams and failing NHL hockey teams: packages of nosebleed section tickets coupled with a hot dog and a coke for $15 or less. With parking, that’s still expensive in this economy, especially for a losing team in a boring lopsided game.
On the other hand, we Michigan taxpayers gave the Fords a free stadium, and they make so much money in NFL TV and licensing rights, they really don’t care much about winning. For them, it’s a toy, a place to have a cool suite to entertain their friends in on Sundays in the fall.


So will the NFL finally dump the Lions T-Day game and forgo an unearned pro football bailout for Detroit? Well, the Fords still have their claws firmly in the NFL–with their “Built Ford Tough” sponsorship of FOX’s NFL Sunday pregame show–and thus, they still have a significant amount of juice to keep the game.
In fact, their reach is so strong that FOX used to do their pregame show live from here for the Thanksgiving Day game. My friend, the brilliant orchestrator Scott Ackerson, who produces the show, used to invite me to hang with him and the crew of Terry, Howie, etc. (but I always declined–I hate big traffic and big crowds, and with the Detroit Thanksgiving Day Parade, there’s a lot of it). But this year, Scott told me they’re not coming to town, and they didn’t last year, either. With the Lions having as much talent as a WNBA team, it’s simply not a game they want to helm live from the rustbelt capital. It’s just a ratings loser–for both them and for the NFL.
I hear the suits at NFL HQ on Park Avenue are, at least, considering pulling it, though, again, it’s not likely anytime soon because of the Ford Family pull.
So, should the Lions lose the Thanksgiving Day game? Do these turkeys still deserve a Turkey Day showcase? Or is Detroit so down in the dumps that yanking the Lions Thanksgiving Day gridiron contest of flak jackets, would be piling on?
What do you think?
**** UPDATE/Correction, 11/24/08: Reader Menachem’s football knowledge trumps mine, indeed, and I stand corrected:

Dear Debbie,
I have been reading you for many years (10+) First time I had to correct you. The Cowboys Thanksgiving tradition goes back 40 + years and was the Idea of the legendary Tex Schramm, GM of the Dallas Cowboys. The Lions afternoon game has something to do with a parade / celebration a yearly tradition in Motown . I guess he wanted to replace the Lions and the game was added.

14 Responses

If the NFL even wants to pretend that it cares the least bit about its history or tradition this shouldn’t even be a topic of discussion.

stormhit on November 23, 2008 at 3:43 pm

The Fords should sell the Lions to someone who will run a decent football team. It’s this kind of management that has ruined the US auto industry as well. The year after year poor performance of Detroit’s football and baseball teams contributes to the depressing atmosphere in this state. Michigans top politicians and other powerful people need to pay the Fords a visit and tell them that we have an image problem here and that they had better start doing a better job with the Lions or sell them to someone that will. If the Fords don’t want to help, then put the squeeze on. Maybe the Fords should go to California and take some of those gypsy moth caterpillars with them. They deserve each other.

rtaylor174 on November 23, 2008 at 4:54 pm

Totally off-topic, but I want your help exposing the significance of Obama choosing Linda Darling-Hammond as his leading education advisor. Here is the link:
Here are some passages from an article by Steve Diamond (Global Labor and Politics Blogspot) about the significance of Obamaís choice (and the possible involvement of Ayers in making the decision):
ìAyers played a significant role in the recruitment of Darling-Hammond as an advisor to the Obama campaign, Global Labor learned from an individual who played a senior role in the campaign, and that likely helped cement her latest appointment. ….Darling-Hammond is a prominent and widely respected, though controversial, Professor of Education at Stanford. She shares with Ayers long time support for what I consider an authoritarian and ideological approach to education that includes advocacy of “social justice” teaching (not to be confused with support for social justice itself, mind you) and so-called “small schools.”Ö ÖAyers and Darling-Hammond share a deeply held view that race is critical to explaining problems in education. Darling-Hammond has argued that American schools resemble those under South African apartheid, where discrimination was mandated by a racist white governmentÖÖ.Ayers has also endorsed Darling-Hammond’s call for whites to repay the “education debt” to people of color that has allegedly accumulated for centuries.î
Here is the link:
Here is a pasage from an article by Van Schoales (Edcation News) who is also unhappy with the decisiÛn, even though he is an Obama supporter:
ìSchool autonomy, high-performing charters, new ways of looking at teacher compensation, high levels of accountability, Teach for America, New Leaders for New Schools, New Teacher Project are some of the means by which weíve seen measurable change and opportunity for disadvantaged kids. This is the kind of opportunity that Obama promises. And changing the way we educate inner-city kids is the most powerful way for him to fulfill that promise. Offering financial aid for college is meaningless if our seniors are reading at a 5th grade levelÖÖYet Darling-Hammond has not indicated that she will lead or embrace any of these mechanisms. Here are a few reasons Iím worriedÖÖJust a few reasons why I may want a refund from the Obama campaign if my worst fears play out and she ends up designing our federal education policy.î
Here is the link:
Ms. Darling-Hensarling also wrote an article for a book edited by Ayers. You can find her name among the contributors (in the product description). Here is the link:

Pavlov's dog on November 23, 2008 at 5:17 pm

If Thursdays ticket sales are as abysmal as they have been recently- will the Thanksgiving game be blacked out in Detroit? They are practically giving tickets away on Ebay.

MarySJ on November 24, 2008 at 9:28 am

Detroit needs to do what they always do, draft another bust receiver in the first round!….well, okaaaaaaaaaay, they finally got one right in Calvin Johnson.
We here in Nashville, TN are grateful our Titans are playing you guys next as we need to get back on track after losing our 1st game vs. Jets.
Funny, I was telling someone this morning how they need to take the game from the Lambs….er, Lions.

Jeff_W on November 24, 2008 at 10:22 am

You’re sounding like a Cubs fan

dm60462 on November 24, 2008 at 10:46 am

Well written … a great article Debbie!!! I believe that the only thing that held this game to Detroit was the Ford Family. And now that the auto industry is deep into its dark days of uncertainty, that this will be the last of a great NFL and Detroit tradition.
Following an earlier loss this season (which came on the heels of the election) , I wrote an article on both defeats … if interested you can find it at (cut & paste):
Frankly, I’m rooting for 0 and 16 …
Jimmy Lewis
SCS, Michigan

Jimmy on November 24, 2008 at 12:18 pm

Punishing the Ford family by taking the turkey day game will also punish whatever fans are left. Living out west i would rarely if ever have been able to watch Barry Sanders, one of the greatest running backs in history, play were it not for the Lions playing on Thanksgiving. In spite of the pain of fielding a loser year after year after year, the Lions are something like 33-32-2 on Thanksgiving Day and have regularily stepped up their game day performances in this classic in spite of stinking it up the remainder of the season. Sure they have been blown out a couple times in recent years. Hasn’t everyone? A few short years ago no one wanted to play Detroit on Thanksgiving because unlike the rest of the year, they likely were going to lose.
Yes, the Lions are pathetic. Yes, the Ford family has done nothing to help. However, this is a tradition that dates back to 1934, and unlike alot of people who have no respect for it, I am not a fair weathered fan who is willing to chuck 74 years down the toilet because William Clay Ford is a self centered scumbag. I remember a lot of good games by the Lions in this Thanksgiving Day game.
The following link is a history of the better games-

rone on November 24, 2008 at 1:01 pm

I believe Detroit should keep the game. Yes, I am a traditionalist.
I am a Chicago Bears fan, and some of my best Thanksgiving memories involve Bears/Lions or Packers/Lions games.
The Bears used to play well on Thanksgiving even when they had awful teams. I remember one Bears/Lions Thanksgiving Day game that went into overtime. The only reason the game went into overtime was because the Bears scored on the last play of both the first half and regulation. Then when Detroit kicked the ball off to start the overtime, the Bears return man scored a touchdown. This was (perhaps still is) the shortest overtime game in history.

i_am_me on November 24, 2008 at 11:45 pm

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