The first Thanksgiving rivalry game was Princeton vs. Yale, which was played on the holiday from 1876 to 1881, when the game was changed to become a “national” championship game. Considering the 1879, 1880 and 1881 Princeton-Yale games had all been for the same national championship — and all ended in scoreless ties — there really wasn’t much change.
Michigan started playing on Thanksgiving in 1885, usually against the University of Chicago, and Kansas-Missouri was a holiday tradition beginning in 1892.
The game’s Thanksgiving tradition carried over into the first pro leagues in the early part of the 20th century, and was part of the NFL from the time it was founded in 1920. The Chicago Bears and Chicago Cardinals played every year from 1922 to 1933, and the New York Giants usually played another New York team between 1929-1938.
In 1934, instead of the annual game in Chicago, the Bears came to Detroit to face the first-year Lions franchise while the Cardinals went to Green Bay. Detroit, which had a tradition of pro football on Thanksgiving dating back to 1917, hosted the Bears each year until 1938. Thanksgiving games stopped during World War II, and after the war ended, Detroit was the only team to keep the tradition alive.
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