For many Americans, Thanksgiving tradition doesn’t simply mean a feast of turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie, but also a steady diet of NFL football.
With that in mind, we take a look back at the 5 greatest plays ever made in Thanksgiving Day football.
5) David Williams Overtime Kickoff Return in 1980
In a game in which the Chicago Bears struggled to gain yards – despite the great Walter Payton at running back – the Detroit Lions looked well on their way to victory with a 17-3 lead entering the fourth quarter.
But the Bears would not go quietly.
Two fourth quarter touchdowns tied the game, setting the stage for what would become the shortest overtime game in NFL history.
Reserve running back David Williams fielded the overtime opening kick at the 5-yard line and quickly found a hole in the Lions special teams unit on the left side. Williams, who had up until that point gained 4 yards on a single rushing attempt, and 8 yards on two receptions, scampered 95-yards to the end zone and gave the Bears a dramatic 23-17 win.
4) Jim Benton’s 10th Catch in 1945
Jim Benton of the Cleveland Rams hauled in 10 catches during the first Thanksgiving Day game featuring the Detroit Lions, helping his team to a 28-21 victory. His tenth catch however, was a record-setting grab, as Benton became the first receiver ever to eclipse the 300-yard mark. Benton ended with 303 yards receiving on the day, a record that stood for 40 years.
Benton’s offensive efforts weren’t the only highlight of the day, however. In an era where most players played on both sides of the ball, Benton made his mark on defense as well. On the first play of the game, he picked off the Lions quarterback setting up their first score.
The performance helped clinch the NFL’s Western Division title for the Rams.
3) Randy Moss’ 51-Yard Touchdown Catch In 1998
After passing on Randy Moss’ considerable talent due to questions regarding his character, the Dallas Cowboys v. Moss headline was the main focus of a Thanksgiving Day game in 1998.
The Cowboys defense held Moss to 3 catches during the game. The problem? Those three receptions went for 163 yards and three touchdowns.
The first grab by Moss was actually the shortest of the day at 51 yards, but with less than two minutes off the clock it was a clear statement to the Dallas front office – this is what you could have had.
2) Lawrence Taylor’s 97-Yard Interception Return in 1982
In just his second season in the league, New York Giant Lawrence Taylor had already started laying the groundwork for a Hall of Fame career. Taylor won the Defensive Player of the Year the year before, recording 9.5 sacks and putting together what many consider the best rookie season in NFL history.
But what happened on Thanksgiving in 1982 helped move Taylor’s star from that of all-time great, to the stuff of legend.
With the Giants and Lions tied at 6 in the fourth quarter, Taylor stepped in front of a pass by Quarterback Gary Danielson, and made a rare interception for a linebacker. But he wasn’t finished there. Taylor’s unusual level of speed for a man of his power resulted in the pick being returned for a touchdown … a 97-yard touchdown.
The touchdown was the only one scored for either team, and proved to be the game winner.
1) Pete Stoyanovich’s Game-Winning Field Goal in 1993
Some of you may be scratching your heads on this one, but the theme for our list has been the best plays on Thanksgiving, and with that we focus on positivity. Stoyanovich won the 1993 game against the Dallas Cowboys with a last-second field goal, but it was the chaos that proceeded the play that fans will always remember.
With 15 seconds left in a game marked by a rare sleet and snow storm in Dallas, Stoyanovich lined up for a 41-yard game-winning attempt. The kick was blocked, and per NFL rules would have been Cowboy ball, game over. Unless …
Cowboys defensive tackle Leon Lett had what would be the biggest (albeit not the only one) mental lapse of his NFL career, sliding feet first in the direction of the football while the rest of his teammates avoided the ball like the plague. Lett would end up sliding right into the ball, making it a live play. Dolphins players wise to the rules converged on the ball, and number 65 recovered it at the 1-yard line.
With Lett’s gift of gaffe squarely in hand, the Dolphins lined up with 3 seconds left and Stoyanovich nailed the kick as time expired. The Cowboys lost 16-14, and Lett would forever be synonymous with Thanksgiving Day football highlights.
Lett and the Cowboys would have the last laugh by season’s end, winning every game thereafter, including a second straight Super Bowl victory over the Buffalo Bills.
Maybe there will be an amazing play this Thanksgiving Day that we’ll be referencing for years to come?!