The NFL's top Thanksgiving performances: Remember that time...

The history of the NFL on Thanksgiving (1:30)

Ever wonder why the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys always play on Thanksgiving? We have the answer. (1:30)

There was a time, not too long ago in fact, when it was a special occasion for the NFL to play on Thursdays. It happened only on Thanksgiving, usually with games in Detroit and Dallas, and over time the event provided some of the greatest individual performances in NFL history.

As we prepare for the 2017 version, let's take a closer look at 10 of them. Research was aided by the database at Pro Football Reference and (mostly) limited to games played after the 1970 NFL/AFL merger.

1976: 273 yards for O.J. Simpson

In his seventh season with the Buffalo Bills, and two years removed from his 2,003-yard season, Simpson broke his own NFL record for rushing yards in a game. His longest run was a 48-yard touchdown in the third quarter of the Bills' 27-14 loss to the Detroit Lions. The NFL record stood for a year, until it was broken by the Chicago Bears' Walter Payton, and it now stands at No. 6 on the all-time list.

1945: Jim Benton has 303 receiving yards

Playing for the Cleveland Rams, Benton became the first professional football player to eclipse 300 receiving yards in a 28-21 victory over the Lions. He caught 10 passes from Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Waterfield, including a 70-yard touchdown, and for good measure had an interception while playing defense. The yardage record stood for 40 years and remains one of only four 300-yard receiving games in NFL history, a notable achievement given how the game has evolved in the modern era.

1994: Dave Krieg's perfect passer rating

Having replaced injured Lions starter Scott Mitchell earlier in the season, Krieg completed 20 of 25 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns, without an interception, in a 35-21 victory over the Bills. Based on the perfect 158.3 passer rating, at least, it was the best game of his career. (There have been 52 perfect passer ratings in NFL history, based on at least 10 attempts.) Krieg, 36 at the time, led the Lions to a 5-2 record and a spot in the NFC playoffs. He would go on to play for three more teams as a backup before retiring after the 1998 season.

2010: Tom Brady matches Krieg

Brady completed 21 of 27 passes for 341 yards and four touchdowns in the New England Patriots' 45-24 rout of the Lions. The Patriots actually trailed 24-17 midway through the third quarter before Brady threw three touchdown passes -- of 79 and 22 yards to Deion Branch, and 16 yards to Wes Welker -- in the span of 13 minutes, 30 seconds. It is one of two games that Brady has achieved a perfect passer rating. The other: A six-touchdown performance against the Miami Dolphins in 2007.

1977: Bob Griese throws 6 touchdown passes

Griese tied an NFL record at the time for scoring throws, which included three to Nat Moore, in the Miami Dolphins' 55-14 demolition of the St. Louis Cardinals. The game was played at St. Louis' Busch Stadium, on a 39-degree day that wouldn't have been predictive of such a scoring output. Griese made a total of 151 regular-season starts in his Hall of Fame career. This game was one of four in which he threw more than three touchdown passes.

2004: Peyton Manning matches Griese

Manning also threw six touchdown passes in a Thanksgiving game, this one a 41-9 victory for the Indianapolis Colts over the Lions. The scores accounted for more than a quarter of his 23 completions and represented one of nine games in which he threw at least five touchdown passes. He shares the current NFL record for scoring passes in a game (seven) with Nick Foles, and owns the record for career touchdown passes (539).

1998: Randy Moss catches three (long) touchdowns

As he continued his breakout rookie season, Moss caught touchdown passes of 51, 56 and 56 yards in the Minnesota Vikings' 46-36 victory over the Cowboys. They were his only catches of the game. The performance was one of six occasions in post-merger history when a player amassed at least 160 yards on three or fewer catches. No player has ever caught more than three touchdown passes on Thanksgiving, and Moss' 163 receiving yards ranks seventh among all turkey day performances.

1998: Troy Aikman throws for 455 yards to keep up

Down 21-6 to the Vikings thanks in large part to Moss, the Cowboys were in catch-up mode for most of this game. That led Aikman to set a Thanksgiving Day record, and establish a career high for passing yards. It was the only 400-yard game of his Hall of Fame career, and it came on a personal record for attempts (57) and completions (34). He managed only one touchdown pass, however, and the Cowboys never got closer than 10 points after the 21-6 deficit.

1979: Earl Campbell rumbles for 195 yards

Campbell was in his second season with the Houston Oilers when he made his only Thanksgiving appearance, and it was memorable. Even after logging 264 carries through the Oilers' first 12 games, Campbell ran 33 times for 195 yards, second only to Simpson's 273 yards on Thanksgiving, and two touchdowns in a 30-24 victory over the Cowboys. One of the scores came on a 61-yard run. This game was one of 20 in which Campbell had at least 30 carries.

2015: Ziggy Ansah has 3.5 sacks

Ansah was a singular terror to Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez in the Lions' 45-14 victory. He also exacted a measure of draft-day revenge, doing most of his damage against offensive tackle Lane Johnson -- whom the Eagles drafted one spot above him in 2013. (Johnson, now one of the NFL's best tackles, might have gotten the final laugh over Ansah, who has faded over the past two seasons.) Ansah remains one of two players to record more than three sacks in a Thanksgiving Day game, along with the Cowboys' Eric Ogbogu in 2004.