Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.
Here are four wildest Thanksgiving NFL moments for you to enjoy while awaiting the inevitable political trigger word that ruins this federally mandated holiday for you and your loved ones.
1. Cowboys vs. Redskins, 1974: The legend of gun-slingin’, teammate-punchin’ Clint Longley
How can you not get fired up about this after hearing the NFL Films intro?
On Thanksgiving Day, 1974, Tom Landry and an obscure rookie quarterback witnessed what appeared to be a horrid chapter in Cowboy history. Trailing the Redskins 16–3, the Cowboys’ only hope was Roger Staubach, a savior of lost causes. But neither saviors nor saints could deter a man who knew the only sin was losing. When the Redskins knocked captain comeback unconscious in the third quarter, all that stood between them and victory was a baby-faced rookie quarterback named Clint Longley…
The segment, which will remain on YouTube until the end of Net Neutrality forces us to scramble for it on VHS, shows a retrospective Longley looking like a period-specific Kenny Powers/Pablo Escobar mashup detailing his heroic night. Despite the narrator’s insistence that Longley had no “concept of the Cowboys’ offensive system, ignoring keys and coverages” he chucked a 50-yard, game-winning touchdown to Drew Pearson in the fourth quarter.
There is so much incredible detail here. All of the players basically saying Longley came in and ran a backyard football offense for 30 minutes. All of the backhanded complements. But the reason this makes my list? According to Longley’s Wikipedia page (and a dated citation from the Dallas Morning News), he sucker punched Staubach while the legendary quarterback was putting on his shoulder pads during training camp the following summer. Cowboys exec Gil Brant traded Longley to the Chargers for the No. 2 pick in the 1977 NFL Draft (Tony Dorsett!) and, according to NFL Films, “the last thing we heard, (Longley) was selling carpet remnants out of the back of a van in Marfa, Texas.” Clint Longley forever!
2. Detroit Lions vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 1998: Head tails, the third side of a coin
Then 7–4, the Pittsburgh Steelers were taken to overtime by an underwhelming, Bobby Ross-led Lions team. What happened during that game is not important. What happened just before the Lions got the ball and scored in overtime is.
Referee Phil Luckett looks at both sets of captains and shows them the coin: Heads, tails, tails heads. Call it, please, in the air.
Jerome Bettis says “Head-Tails!”
Luckett, with beautifully unintentional comedic timing: “Heads is the call!”
Bettis: “I said tails.”
Luckett, on the microphone for everyone in the stadium to hear: “He said heads! It is a tails.”
Bettis looks over at the television camera, eyebrows raised. Luckett, for the rest of the season, is berated by players during the coin toss who scream their intended choice over and over again. The world continues to be an unfair place.
3. Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 1989: What is a kicker’s life worth?
Once upon a time, player bounties appeared quite common. Leading up to a ho-hum matchup between the 1989 Buddy Ryan-led Eagles and the Jimmy Johnson-led Cowboys, Ryan apparently wanted to ensure a few Cowboy players would not be making it through the game.
One was Troy Aikman. According to The Dallas Morning News, knocking the young quarterback out would result in payment of $500.
The other was kicker Luis Zendejas—Luis Zendejas!—who was worth $200. Poor Zendejas.
From the News:
“Afterward, in his news conference, Johnson claimed Ryan had placed a $200 bounty on Zendejas and a $500 bounty on Aikman. Zendejas told reporters Eagles special teams coach Al Roberts and Philadelphia punter John Teltschik warned him before the game he would be targeted. Once the Eagles put the finishing touches on their victory, Johnson wanted to confront Ryan and discuss the matter.
“I would have, but he wouldn’t stay on the field long enough,” Johnson said that day. “He got his fat rear end into the dressing room.”
A great line from the broadcast team of John Madden and Pat Summerall after Aikman was leveled by Britt Hager a few seconds after the whistle, leading to a massive brawl in the end zone (the whole broadcast is here):
Summerall: We need the Marquess of Queensberry here!
Madden: They need a cage to put these guys in. A cage match!
Summerall: Maybe they forgot it’s Thanksgiving.
4. Chicago Staleys vs. Buffalo All-Americans, 1921: Pre-Deflategate NFL stupidity
Back in 1921, the Buffalo All-Americans were rolling. They’d beaten everyone—the Columbus Panhandles, the New York Brickley Giants, the Rochester Jeffersons and the Dayton Triangles. They also beat the Chicago Staleys 7–6 on Thanksgiving in a game that broke wide open on Waddy Kuehl’s 40-yard reception.
The Staleys, sore that the game had broken up their perfect record, asked the All-Americans for a post-season exhibition rematch. The Staleys won said rematch and, according to “Who Really Won in 1921” by Ken Crippen, “Buffalo claimed that the second game was just a post-season ‘exhibition’ game, and it should not count in the final standings. Chicago claimed that the Association did not have a set date for the end of the season, therefore the second game could not have been held in the ‘post-season.’”
The Staleys essentially pulled out the Rustin Cohle “time is a flat circle” argument—what is the end anyway?—and leveraged the rematch victory to earn themselves the championship.
Imagine how much more complicated your drunk Thanksgiving uncle’s NFL takes would be without a clear dividing line between the regular season and playoffs. Thanks, Staleys.