By: Bob George/BosSports.net
November 24, 2010

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Bay Staters love their Thanksgiving football.

Out west, it's Westfield-Cathedral, Chicopee-Holyoke and Agawam-West Springfield (which may be cancelled this year due to a hazing scandal in Agawam). In the middle, it's Leominster-Fitchburg and Marlborough-Hudson. And in the Boston area, you have venerable matchups like Medford-Malden, Needham-Wellesley and Boston Latin-Boston English. Whereas high school football is much bigger in California, Ohio, Florida and Texas (where the only two sports are football and spring football), in Massachusetts they take their Thanksgiving football very seriously. It's like Harvard-Yale, in that nothing about the season matters unless you beat your big rival, and when it's Turkey Day in Massachusetts, big rival takes precedence over big dinner.

And once in a while, the football on the fourth Thursday in November turns pro. For the fourth time in history, and third time in the last decade, the Patriots will play on Thanksgiving Day. The Patriots will head to Ford Field to take on the woebegone Detroit Lions, who have hosted a Thanksgiving Day game every non-war year since 1934 (they missed 1939 and 1940 due to Thanksgiving being moved earlier in the year, and there was no game throughout the rest of World War II). So in 2010, Patriot Nation will sit down with their faves while the pass the stuffing and cranberry sauce, and will hopefully see the Patriots with a comfy lead as they settle into their comfy chair with some pumpkin or apple pie for dessert.

The Patriots are 1-2 on Thanksgiving Day in their history. In 1984, the Patriots travelled to the "other" Thanksgiving venue, that being Texas Stadium. Back when the thought of beating the Dallas Cowboys was right down there with the Red Sox ever winning a World Series again, the Patriots played the still-good-but-not-yet-time-for-the-Jerry-Jones-makeover Cowboys tough, losing 20-17 on a last-second field goal by Rafael Septien. The Patriots would not beat the Cowboys in the regular season until 1999, fifteen years in the future.

The last two games have been played in Motown. In 2000, during Bill Belichick's first season with the Patriots, the hometowners took a 34-9 pasting from a Lions team which missed the playoffs by only one game. This game is noteworthy in that Belichick rested Drew Bledsoe late in the game and inserted this rookie sixth round quarterback from Michigan named Tom Brady for his first taste of NFL action. He wound up completing his first ever NFL pass to Rod Rutledge, but the Patriots played like turkeys that whole day and most everyone forgets this little historical factoid.

The Patriots came back two years later as defending Super Bowl champs. The Patriots wore throwback jerseys, and it was strange to see Brady and his mates in red-dominant jerseys with Pat Patriot on the helmet snapping a football. In a game which featured a combined six field goals, the Patriots parlayed a Tedy Bruschi pick-six into a 20-12 win, the only Thanksgiving Day win in team history. This game was at then-new Ford Field, the other game being at the old Pontiac Silverdome.

Brady loves this game in that he gets to come back to his old college stomping grounds (he went to school 40 miles away in Ann Arbor). Since that 2000 mop-up job in relief of Bledsoe, Brady is 2-0 against the Lions, the other win being a chaotic 28-21 win at Gillette Stadium in 2006.

The Lions haven't won an NFL title since 1957 and have not made it to the playoffs since 1999. The Lions are more about tradition on Thanksgiving than they are good football. This game is more about pride in the Detroit area than anything else. Families will plan this game as part of their family traditions. They don't go to see their team win, they go because it's what the family does. Since Y2K, the Lions have won only twice on Thanksgiving, one of them being the aforementioned 2000 win over the Patriots. Families will go and hang out, then head home to dinner when the score gets enough out of hand.

Detroit is 2-8, seemingly on the rise from several years of basically bad football but still not where they'd like to be. Their two wins are over St. Louis and Washington, two teams who are also in the lower echelon of NFL teams. One of their losses was to Buffalo, giving them their first win of the year at the time after losing their first eight games. The Lions simply aren't yet a playoff contender, though they seem to be moving in the right direction.

The rebuilding of the Lions centers around second year quarterback Matthew Stafford, a guy with a big arm and huge upside. He has played in only three games for the Lions in 2010, all the while dealing with shoulder ailments. Stafford became somewhat of a brief and temporary NFL rock star last year when he led Detroit to a wildly exciting 38-37 win over Cleveland the week before Thanksgiving. Naturally, Fox was all over that game and Stafford going into the next game, a Thanksgiving tilt against Green Bay. But Stafford proved much ado about nothing as the Packers clobbered the Lions, 34-12, and all the fuss over Stafford died pretty quickly.

The rebuilding on defense centers around a new rock star in Ndamukong Suh, the rookie linebacker from Nebraska. The second overall selection in the 2010 draft has already done a commercial, but more than that he has injected life into the Lion defense which still has a ways to go to get the Lions into the playoffs. His parents are of Cameroon and Jamaican descent, and while you might not be able to spell his name now, chances are you will do just fine about two to three years from now.

Despite these two burgeoning stars, the Lions are still far away from challenging for NFC North superiority. This presents a problem for the Patriots, in that you could very well see a repeat of the debacle in Cleveland three weeks ago. The Lions don't have a punishing back like Peyton Hillis, but given the fact that this was a short week coming off a huge win at home against Indianapolis, the Patriots could be the real turkeys on Thursday instead of the dinner centerpieces. Without Stafford, the Lions seem less likely to catch the Patriots napping, but Bill Belichick isn't likely to take an unmotivated gang into Ford Field on Thanksgiving Day.

That said, the Patriots will go into Detroit, play their hearts out, then look forward to a delicious several days off before their next game a week from Monday night against the Jets which will decide the division and perhaps the one seed in the playoffs. With that sort of motivation, it will be a shocker if the Patriots come out flat on Thursday against a team they should beat easily.

So all of Patriot Nation will join Lion Nation for some good football to go along with good food and good company. What we all hope for is lots of happy people who are thankful for what they have and are in good health. But a Patriot win will really make everyone deliciously happy.

A Jet loss will taste even better, and they also play Thursday too. Raise your glasses to the good health of the Cincinnati Bengals later that night, folks, and enjoy your Thanksgiving wherever you may be.


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