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Wednesday, November 27
Hey NFL, how about changing the Thanksgiving menu?

By Mark Kreidler
Special to

Searching the back files over at Simple Truth Inc. during a recent down moment, we discovered that not every tradition endures. That genetically modified turkey that John Madden always rolled out on the Thanksgiving Day football telecasts, for example: Gone.

And, for that matter, so goes Madden. Now sentenced to life on Monday nights, more than two decades of NFL Sunday work officially behind him, the big man this week will spend his first Thanksgiving at home in forever. Madden jokes that he won't know where to sit.

Twin Turkeys
Tracing the Thanksgiving traditions of the two regular hosts:
Detroit Lions
First Thanksgiving game: 1934, a 19-16 loss to the Bears.
The tradition: Have played in 62 consecutive Thanksgiving games (series was interrupted from 1939-44 during WWII).
Record: 32-28-2.
Last 10: 6-4.
Most common opponents: Packers, 16 (10-5-1) and Bears, 15 (7-8-0).
This year (record/most recent result): vs. Patriots (1-0/34-9 in 2000).
Dallas Cowboys
First Thanksgiving game: 1966, a 26-14 victory over the Browns.
The tradition: Have played on 34 of the last 36 Thanksgivings (missing 1975 and 1977).
Record: 21-12-1.
Last 10: 5-5.
Most common opponents: Redskins, 5 (5-0-0) and St. Louis Cardinals, 4 (4-0-0).
This year (record/most recent result): vs. Redskins (5-0/21-10 in 1996).
He will, however, know what to watch, because even the great Madden gets no choice whatsoever on Thursday. He will receive the same Twin Turkey parade we've been witnessing for eons now.

It is, and stop us if you've heard this before, the Detroit Lions in one game and the Dallas Cowboys in another. And while we're on the subject of holiday changes, mightn't this be the most wonderful opportunity to consider another couple?

To paraphrase the late Hawkeye Pierce, we've had crates-full of Cowboys and truckloads of Lions. We've done Dallas more times than -- never mind, old joke. We've seen Detroit go from Pontiac to Ford.

And, not to put too fine a point on it, we also have seen the same two teams play Thanksgiving Day games for as long as we've been around to watch them -- lousy games, forgettable games, great games, forgettable games, overtime games, forgettable games. We could go on, but we'd be mostly forgetting along the way.

Hello, NFL! Time to choose up new sides and start over.

It's hard to actually hold anything against the Lions, who (a) have a Thanksgiving game tradition that dates back 63 years and (b) do such a great job lately of holding things against themselves. And it isn't that we haven't been riveted by the whole Fontes to Ross to Mornhinweg transition over the years; but how does Tampa Bay at New Orleans grab you instead? That game is on the Sunday schedule this week, after all. Shift that baby to Thursday and you've got a great intra-divisional game and a Turkey Day by the French Quarter, which if nothing else would be a distinctly new look for the NFL.

Surely it is permissible, within the acknowledged structure here, to plead for a little wiggle room. Our spies tell us NFL officials have in the recent past contemplated a Thanksgiving programming change. We're here to heartily encourage it.

All of which brings us to Exhibit B: There is no America's Team. And even if there were, it sure wouldn't be the one that currently claims to be such, which is what a combined 14-29 in Jerry Jonesville over the past three seasons will get you.

Again, no malice toward Dallas; it seems like as good a place as any to spend "family time" at a stadium with a 40-ouncer in one hand and a giant foam finger covering the other. But how does Denver at San Diego grab you instead? That's another Sunday game this week. Pop that sucker into the T'Day game slot and you've suddenly got Thanksgiving by the Pacific, with an important game played out against the kind of brilliant warm-weather vistas that dragged a lot of us from our cold home states and into California in the first place.

(Note: The preceding is for entertainment purposes only. Do not actually come to California. All full. No room at the inn. Just to repeat: Stay put.)

You say no to the Broncos-Chargers, a battle for first place in the AFC West? Fine, fine. We can give you an honestly traditional rivalry between Chicago and Green Bay, direct from Lambeau Field. We can give you Miami at Buffalo, with the Dolphins' AFC East lead and the Bills' fading playoff hope on the line. We can give you Pittsburgh-Jacksonville, or the Rams-Eagles, or Michael Vick at Minnesota.

We can give you any of these games this week, just none on Thursday. On Thursday, you'll get the 3-8 Lions vs. New England and the 4-7 Cowboys vs. Washington. Dallas and the Redskins at least have their shared histories to bind them, but Lions-Patriots? Kind of hard to spot the tradition.

There are, of course, a million things in the world to be more worried about right now, which is precisely why we'll be focusing on this little relatively meaningless scrap for the next few days. You get to Thanksgiving in a year like this, and perhaps one of the things to be most thankful for is an absurd and wholly engrossing diversion -- the intricacies of sports scheduling, to select just one example.

And, so, engrossed we are. We will push away from the table in our tryptophan-drip haze and lumber to the couch -- both extremely traditional measures in our self-contained universe -- and we will flip on the TV only to be reminded that John Madden doesn't work Thanksgiving anymore. That makes it official: It's a changing season. Time to give some other NFL turkeys their Thursday in the sun.

Mark Kreidler is a columnist with the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to

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