Whether you center your entire day around the game or it is what is on in the background while you mindlessly scroll on your phone after dinner, football is as much of a Thanksgiving tradition as turkey in many households.

But, why?

Thanksgiving Day Games Started With College Football

Long before Thanksgiving football was an NFL thing, it was a tradition among college teams.

According to CNN, the Intercollegiate Football Association started hosting its championship game on Thanksgiving Day in 1876. Four years later, the association named New York as the permanent home of its final game of the season, helping cement football as a holiday tradition.

"That took football from a sporting even to a social one," CNN reported.

Buffalo Bills v Dallas Cowboys
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Not everyone was quick to embrace football as a Thanksgiving tradition. Some thought the game tarnished the holiday.

"In 1893, the New York Herald condemned the rise of football on Thanksgiving, arguing that the sport was ruining the holiday," CNN said.

The Thanksgiving Day football would eventually win over more fans as the pros adopted the tradition.

How The NFL Started Playing Every Thanksgiving

The National Football League fired up in 1920 and immediately targeted Thanksgiving as a day of pigskin. It would take 14 years for the game to catch on as a tradition for NFL teams.

According to NFL.com, "it became an every-year tradition from 1934 when then-Detroit Lions owner George A Richards set up a game against the Chicago Bears to boost flagging attendances."

Houston Texans v Detroit Lions
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The Lions have continued to play annually Thanksgiving Day since that year. The Dallas Cowboys joined them as a team that plays every year on turkey day in 1966.

"In every season since 1978, the Lions have played the early slot and the Cowboys in the late afternoon slot," NFL.com reported. "A third game was added to the Thanksgiving Day slate in 2006 and can feature any other teams from around the league.

How Many People Watch Football On Thanksgiving?

While the faces at dinner tables might change each year, the desire to watch football on Thanksgiving continues to grow.

According to numbers released by Axios, 138 million people tuned in during the three Thanksgiving Day games in 2022. That was up from 108 million in 2021.

Part of that year-over-year surge was due to a game that pitted the Cowboys against the New York Giants. Not only was it the most-watched Thanksgiving game of all time, it was also the most-watched regular season game of all time with an audience of 42 million viewers.

LOOK: The story behind every NFL team name

Stacker delved into the story behind every NFL football team name. Overall team records, also included, are reflective of NFL regular-season games. There are some football teams with well-known nicknames—the Jets, for instance, are often referred to as Gang Green—but we also divulge how some teams’ official names are sparingly used (the Jets’ neighbors, the Giants, are actually known as the New York Football Giants). Sometimes a team name can tell you a lot about local history: The Vikings of Minnesota draw upon the area’s strong ties to Scandinavia, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are dripping in local legend related to Florida’s pirate past.

Let’s kick off the countdown with the folks who earned their nickname by buying boxes of used team jerseys.

Gallery Credit: Seth Berkman

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To uncover the richest NFL players, Stacker consulted Celebrity Net Worth and ranked them by their 2022 net worth, calculated using a proprietary formula. 

Gallery Credit: Katrina Sirotta

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