Thanksgiving Day in the NFL can be seen as a reflection of the world we live in. Football has been played on Thanksgiving Day since 1934 when the Detroit Lions took on the Chicago Bears. Since then, games have been played on Thanksgiving Day as an American and NFL tradition. Families gather for food and then recline to the sound of football on their televisions.
In recent years, the NFL upped the schedule for Thanksgiving. They’ve had a 12:30 p.m. game, a 4:30 p.m. game and an 8:30 p.m. game to cap it all off. That’s what a normal Thanksgiving schedule looked like for the NFL in a normal season. This season, however, is anything but normal.
The United States and the world find themselves knee-deep in the COVID-19 pandemic. Cases continue to skyrocket across the country and within the NFL. In such a strange season, this Thanksgiving represented exactly where we find ourselves.
The NFL normally holds three games, and this season only two were played. The Baltimore Ravens had several positive tests, resulting in moving their game with the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers to Sunday night, Nov. 29. That has been postponed even further to Tuesday night, Dec. 1.
On Nov. 23, running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mark Ingram tested positive and linebacker Pernell McPhee the next day. Newly acquired Calais Campbell was added to the reserve/COVID-19 list after that. That was shortly followed by center Matt Skura and center Patrick Mekari. On Thursday, the initial game day, 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson became the latest to test positive.
The reason Thanksgiving Day in the NFL represents a microcosm of where the world is right now is for one simple reason: This is not over. The virus is not done, despite how done we are with it. And while it is still running rampant, even in the NFL, we are still smarter than we were in the beginning. The fact that the NFL was able to have two games on Thanksgiving Day and has been largely able to postpone and schedule accordingly to limit and alleviate outbreaks marks a stark difference from March when all sports (football was already in the offseason) ground to a halt.
Sports can happen now because of what we’ve learned and the commitments made for the safety of the players and personnel. MLB, NHL, NBA and (to a lesser extent) the NFL have accommodated for the virus and made changes to try and keep the league(s) going. The world is not in the same place that it was in the beginning of 2020, and sports represents the clearest illustration of that.
Fans across the country have lots of things to be thankful for: Steelers fans are certainly thankful to be 10-0, and Jets fans might be thankful to be the odds-on favorite for Trevor Lawrence in the 2021 draft. Titans fans are thankful the NFL rules allowed them to win in overtime without giving the ball back to Jackson and the Ravens. Washington Football Team fans are thankful to be on top of a historically bad division. The list goes on. But everyone — whether you’re a Cowboys fan or a Chiefs fan — has one thing to be thankful for: We can watch football every weekend. Before the pandemic, that was probably something that was largely taken for granted. Now, we can add that to the list of things we’re truly thankful for.