Turkey and Bad Football
You may have heard Mike Schur’s epic rant about Thanksgiving — he’s probably done the whole thing a dozen times on the PosCast through the years, he’s unloaded it on Twitter at least that many times, he will happy to go through it if you happen to run into him at the grocery store. The basic theme is that everything about Thanksgiving is awful, the timing is awful, turkey is bland and terrible, mashed potatoes are bland and terrible, pie is obviously terrible being hot fruit, and the NFL games on Thanksgiving are always the worst, etc.
I have long had this theory that I will call “Badstalgia.” The theory is that as we get older, we can’t help but get deeply and illogically nostalgic for stuff that is vividly and unabashedly worse than what we have now. Like I am nostalgic for that time when we only had three television channels (plus whatever snowy programming you could pick up on that murky and mysterious ultra high frequency radio signal).
I fully realize that this was infinitely worse than today’s unlimited selection of television choices, but I miss it just the same, miss that we as a nation really watched Three’s Company — and its single plot of “Oh, he misheard her, ha ha, what kind of tomfoolery will this lead to?” — in numbers that would put Sunday Night Football to shame because there was NOTHING ELSE ON.
I miss old Cleveland Municipal Stadium, which was built on the premise that all views of the field should be obstructed by an asbestos-caked metal beam.
I miss video games that used one button or less, like Pong.
I miss my music on cassette tapes, which contained a rollicking 17 minutes of music per side, each song sounding as if it had been recorded in the middle of Boston traffic.
I miss local video stores with their grandiose names like “Movie Emporium” and their comically overpriced late fees and their uniquely weird "independent movie” sections which seemed to feature home movies of people trying to pet pigeons and their laughable shelving decisions (“Wait, so now ‘St. Elmo’s Fire is a comedy?’ How’s that possible? That movie was a tragedy on literally every level”).
I miss rotary phones, which stayed in one place — like furniture — and made you ask yourself each time: “Just how badly do I want to call this person?”
Each of these things is so much worse than what we have now, and each silly remembrance sounds like an Andy Rooney segment on 60 Minutes (yeah, I miss those too). This is what it means to get older, I suppose. There’s a line I think about from Neil Simon’s “Biloxi Blues” — I don’t remember anything else from the movie, but I remember the ending when Matthew Broderick is going home from training on the bus. I wrote it down in my journal this way:
“As I look back, years later, I realize that my time in the Army was the happiest of my life. God knows not because I liked the Army, and there sure was nothing to like about war. I liked it for the most selfish reason of all: Because I was young.”
All of which leads, oddly enough, to today’s NFL games.
The Lions play the Bears at 12:30 p.m. Eastern.
The Cowboys play the Raiders at 4:30 p.m. Eastern.
And then, tonight, the Bills play the Saints at 8:20 p.m. Eastern.
I don’t particularly care about the last game, even though it’s the best one, because there was no Thanksgiving night games when I was growing up.
But the first two … I must admit that I find myself almost giddy with anticipation. I honestly could not care less who wins the Bears-Lions game, and the Cowboys-Raiders game is even worse because I have a lifelong abhorrence of both. But there is something so wonderfully terrible about the Lions and Cowboys always playing the Thanksgiving game, that I cannot even begin to express my gratitude.
Finally, there’s a leftover from my childhood that hasn’t been improved.
The Lions apparently started the whole football on Thanksgiving tradition in 1934, when they blew a nine-point halftime lead against the Bears and lost 19-16. For the next five years, they played the Bears on Thanksgiving every year.
Then, in 1945, they picked up the tradition again, only this time the Lions would play a different team each year on Thanksgiving — the Cleveland Rams in ‘45, the Boston Yanks in ‘46, the Bears in ‘47, the Chicago Cardinals in ‘48, the Bears again in ‘49, each of these were titanic losses.
At this time, and all the way until 1966, the Lions were the only team to play annually on Thanksgiving. It’s been an unfortunate choice — both for the Lions players who annually lose on Thanksgiving and NFL fans everywhere who have to watch it — but it would break my heart if it ever changed. That’s Badstalgia at its finest. I have so many amazing memories of sitting on the couch on Thanksgiving, waiting for turkey to be done (we do Thanksgiving dinner at around 6 p.m. here), watching the Lions play atrocious football, being bored by the Lions, seeing my Dad fall asleep, walking away to do basically anything, coming back, seeing that the Lions game got no better, etc.
The Cowboys Thanksgiving tradition is much less charming — in 1966, they just decided to horn in on things and start playing on Thanksgiving themselves. I can’t imagine a more Dallas Cowboys thing than that. They beat the Cleveland Browns in their first Thanksgiving game because of course they did. More than 80,000 fans showed up at the Cotton Bowl to watch it. Apparently, people were willing to do ANYTHING to get out of the house on Thanksgiving so they didn’t have to watch the Lions.
Anyway, the Cowboys then made Thanksgiving games their tradition too because the Cowboys are the worst. In the mid-70s, the NFL tried to take the game away from Dallas and give it to, of all teams, the St. Louis Cardinals, probably in an effort to save that franchise from oblivion. Let’s just say it didn’t work.* And the Cowboys took Thanksgiving back for good in 1978.
*The Cardinals lost both of their Thanksgiving games in triumphant blowout style. Their 32-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills in 1975 was special because it featured 264 rushing yards for the Bills … if you are a fan of NFL history, you know who the Bills running back was in 1975. So you can guess that the running back who carried 34 times for 160 yards and three touchdowns that day was … Jim Braxton.
In 1977, the Cardinals lost to the Dolphins 55-17 — the Dolphins ran for 295 yards led by the unforgettable Gary Davis and Leroy Harris. After seeing the Lions give up 559 rushing yards in two Thanksgiving games, the NFL decided maybe it was a good idea not to give the Cardinals too much exposure.
The Cowboys offer a different Thanksgiving challenge. Unlike the Lions, they are often good and their Thanksgiving games are often good. The problem is: I hate the Cowboys. If you’re not from Texas, you are supposed to hate the Cowboys. So every Thanksgiving for more than 40 years has been about rooting against the Cowboys before dinner, which might not jibe entirely with the whole gratitude mood of the holiday, but we deal with what is given us.
This year, because they’re playing the loathsome Las Vegas Raiders — who you are supposed to hate no matter where you are from — we can’t even root against the Cowboys.
All of this is to say that I’m so glad that the NFL sticks to this musty, pointless tradition rather than do the more obvious thing of giving us blockbuster matchups every Thanksgiving. To me, that’s what Thanksgiving is all about — musty, pointless traditions. I’m thankful for the few that survive.
I’m thankful that they still measure first downs with chains.
I’m thankful that we still call baseball locker rooms “clubhouses,” even though that’s not what they are at all, and the term comes from an ancient time when baseball teams really were clubs.
I’m thankful that Jim Nantz still calls us all “friends.”
I’m thankful that they still show the Macy’s Day Parade on television even though the idea of a parade on television has never made any sense whatsoever.
I’m thankful that the Lions and Cowboys are playing football today.
For years, I used to do a Thanksgiving column for the Kansas City Star, and I would always finish it with a big, sweeping rundown of stuff that I was thankful for. And I would always start them flurry by writing: As always, I’m thankful for Margo Ann.
So here goes: I’m thankful for the Marvel Universe, which has brought our family close for countless hours; I’m thankful for firm grapes, good lemonade, Colson Whitehead, independent bookstores, and Joe Firestone’s “Good Timing,” where she teaches senior citizens comedy; I’m thankful for Arthur Bryant’s burnt ends (been including them in the Thanksgiving column for 25 years), Skyline Chili (been loving it for 30 years) and the Water Sort Puzzle game on my phone; I’m so thankful for my editor Larry that I’m giving him the day off, so, yes, this will undoubtedly have many typos and misspellings.
I’m thankful for Vin Scully (“Pull up a chair and spend the afternoon with us), Brie Larson (even in those car commercials), Kenan Thompson (“I’m your Hellavator operator, Mark!”), Eric Rosen (forever in search of dubious chess gambits) and Linda Holmes (the PosCast Special Pop Culture correspondent!); I’m thankful for keyless entry cars, bi-weekly new Taylor Swift albums, the good folks at the Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame, the way my daughter Katie’s face lights up when she listens to Olivia Rodrigo, Roberto Clemente’s arm, Aaron Rodgers arm (though not his toe or anything else about him), the fact my daughter Elizabeth can recite word for word John Mulaney’s entire Kid Gorgeous set.
I’m thankful that Buck O’Neil is back on the ballot for the Hall of Fame, and he might get in, I hope he gets in, but even if he doesn’t I’m thankful that we are talking about him again, 15 years after his death.
I’m thankful for those rare moments when I yell “shut up” at our dog Westley and he actually shuts up. Well, I would be thankful for such moments if they ever happened.
And, yes, it’s pandering, but I’m thankful for you — thankful you got to the bottom of this essay, thankful that you found this little corner of the internet, thankful that you made “The Baseball 100” the surprise bestseller of 2021, thankful that you have helped me live this dream of a life writing about stuff.
Now let’s go eat some turkey and watch some bad football. It’s the only way to live.
Hey, tomorrow’s Black Friday, which means special deals, right? Well, here’s one — you can give Joe Blogs as a gift and get 20% off! I mean, just think of the look on the faces of your loved ones when you give them an internet subscription!
I can tell you that there’s a lot of really fun content coming up related to my next super-secret book, which I will tell you all about shortly. I think you’ll really like it.