Browns and Thanksgiving an infrequent pairing
By Thomas Moore
The Cleveland Browns have been infrequent participants on Thanksgiving Day, having appeared in just three games on the holiday since 1950.
The Cleveland Browns joined the NFL in 1950, and the league has played at least one game on Thanksgiving Day every year since.
But in all that time, the league has only deemed the Browns worthy of playing a game on Thanksgiving on three occasions.
The Browns are not alone in their lack of national exposure, of course, as the Jacksonville Jaguars are the only team in the league never to play on Thanksgiving. Other infrequent invitees include Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Houston Texans, New Orleans Saints and Cincinnati Bengals, with one appearance each; the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens, each with two;
It is understandable that the league would not want to showcase teams like the Jaguars, Buccaneers and Bengals, but for one of the NFL’s cornerstone franchises, at least until 1999, to have made so few appearances seems odd.
On the other hand, it is not as if the Browns have made the most of the limited opportunities as they are 0-3 in those three holiday games, which seems fitting for a team that is sitting at 0-10 for the second consecutive season under head coach Hue Jackson.
In honor of the most American of holidays, let’s take a quick look back at the times the NFL allowed the Browns take part in the annual tradition.
1966: Dallas Cowboys 26, Browns 14
The Browns traveled to the Cotton Bowl to take on the Dallas Cowboys in the first of what would become an annual tradition of the Cowboys playing at home on Thanksgiving.
Cleveland had taken care of Dallas earlier in the year, but fell behind 6-0 after the first quarter. Leroy Kelly gave the Browns the lead in the second quarter with a one-yard touchdown run, and after giving up a six-yard touchdown pass from Don Meredith to Dan Reeves, Cleveland retook the lead just before halftime as Frank Ryan hit Ernie Green with a 16-yard scoring strike.
The Cowboys pulled away in the second half, however, as they shutout the Browns will adding a pair of field goals by Danny Villaneuva and a Don Perkins nine-yard touchdown run.
The Browns came into the game having won six of their past seven games, but the loss to the Cowboys dropped them to 7-4 on the season, and despite winning two of their final three games, ultimately missed the playoffs.
1982: Cowboys 31, Browns 14
It wasn’t until the strike-shortened season of 1982 that the Browns made it back on the Thanksgiving schedule, once again facing the Cowboys on the road.
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The Browns allowed 496 yards of total offense and 299 rushing yards while watching the Cowboys roll to a 31-0 lead after three quarters. The Browns were their own worst enemy on the day as they turned the ball over five times, including three interceptions by quarterback Brian Sipe, and took four sacks.
Sipe was benched in the second half in favor of Paul McDonald, who lead the Browns to a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter to avoid the shutout. McDonald first hit Dino Hall with an 18-yard touchdown pass and Mike Pruitt added a two-yard touchdown run.
The loss dropped the Browns to 2-2 on the season and they would go on to finish 4-5 and join the Detroit Lions as the first teams to make the playoffs with losing records. Cleveland would lose to the Los Angeles Raiders, 27-10, in that playoff matchup.
1989: Detroit Lions 13, Browns 10
The third, and to this date final, time the Browns played on Thanksgiving came in head coach Bud Carson’s first season with the team.
Cleveland was just four days removed from a 10-10 with the Kansas City Chiefs, a game that marked the return of head coach Marty Schottenheimer to Cleveland and still the hardest-hitting Browns game we have ever seen.
The Browns were still feeling the impact of that game and it showed as they dropped a 13-10 decision to a Detroit team that entered the game at 2-9.
The game was tied at halftime, 10-10, as the Browns got on the board with a Matt Bahr 35-yard field goal and a 38-yard by Barry Redden. (Who?) But the Lions pitched a shutout in the second half and were able to pull out the win thanks to a 35-yard field goal by Eddie Murray in the third quarter.
The Browns also had no answer for rookie running back Barry Sanders, who finished with 145 rushing yards, the only time the Browns defense gave up a 100-yard rushing day that season.
The loss to Detroit was the first in a three-game losing streak, but the Browns rebounded to beat the Minnesota Vikings and Houston Oilers in the final two games of the regular season, before advancing to their third AFC Championship Game of the decade.
Next: Hue Jackson nearing 40-year record for futility
It has been 28 years since the last time the Browns played on Thanksgiving, and the way things are going it might be another 28 before they make it back.
But at least we don’t have to worry about the Browns potentially ruining the great feasts today across Browns Nation.
Happy Thanksgiving, Browns fans!