For the 39th straight year and 49th time in 51 seasons, the Dallas Cowboys will host a game on Thanksgiving Day. This year’s game (FOX, 4:30 ET) comes against a familiar foe in the Washington Redskins and will feature a red-hot Cowboys team looking to improve upon its franchise-record nine-game win streak. But that’s far from the only figure of note when it comes to the Cowboys’ tradition of playing on Thanksgiving. With that in mind, here’s a look at Dallas’ Thanksgiving Day history by the numbers:
1966 (first Thanksgiving Day game)
Though the concept of Thanksgiving games is as old as the NFL itself, Dallas’ first Turkey Day game wasn’t played until 1966, when the Cowboys hosted the Cleveland Browns at the Cotton Bowl. In the game, a 26-14 Dallas win, quarterback Don Meredith threw for 131 yards and had a touchdown pass to Dan Reeves, and another Don — the running back, Perkins — rushed for 111 yards and a score of his own. The game also saw kicker Danny Villanueva make four field goals, which is still a Cowboys Thanksgiving record.
2 (years without a Thanksgiving game)
For the most part, Cowboys games on Thanksgiving have been a yearly tradition, but twice during the Roger Staubach era, in 1975 and 1977, the team didn’t play on the fourth Thursday in November. That’s because the NFL, in response to complaints from other teams that Dallas’ annual home Thanksgiving tilt was unfair, gave one of the two Thanksgiving time slots to the St. Louis Cardinals instead. The experiment didn’t last long, however, and Dallas has played host to a Thanksgiving game every year since 1978.
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29-18-1 (Dallas’ Thanksgiving Day record)
All told, the Cowboys are 29-18-1 on Thanksgiving. During that time, Dallas has played in two overtime games — losses to the Vikings and Broncos in 1987, Tom Landry's next to last year as coach, and 2005, respectively — with the lone tie coming against the 49ers in 1969. In that game, Lance Rentzel caught a touchdown pass from Craig Morton to knot the score at 24-24 with three minutes left to play. Neither team scored again, and the Cowboys haven’t played in a tie game of any kind since.
44 (biggest margin of victory)
Of the Cowboys’ 29 Thanksgiving Day wins, none has come by a wider margin than the team’s 51-7 victory over the Seahawks in 1980. Led by Tony Dorsett’s 107 rushing yards and two touchdowns, Dallas ran out to a 30-0 halftime lead and a 51-0 fourth-quarter advantage before surrendering a lone Seattle touchdown in the final minutes. Impressively, Dallas only outgained Seattle by 93 yards, but the Cowboys forced seven turnovers, a franchise record in Thanksgiving game
27 (biggest margin of defeat)
Dallas has never endured a Thanksgiving beating like the one it gave Seattle in 1980, but in ‘89, the Cowboys were dominated 27-0 by Randall Cunningham and the Eagles, the most lopsided Thanksgiving defeat in team history. The loss also marked the only time Dallas has been shut out on Thanksgiving -- it beat Miami 20-0 in 1999 -- and the team’s 191 total yards are tied for its fewest in a Thanksgiving game. The Eagles loss dropped the Cowboys to 1-11 at the time, and they went on to finish the season 1-15.
23 (different opponents)
Across 48 Thanksgiving games, Dallas has faced 23 different opponents, leaving nine current NFL teams the Cowboys have never played in the holiday classic. One, of course, is the Lions, who have hosted their own Thanksgiving game virtually every year since 1934. Dallas has also never played the Ravens in the game, though it did play the old Cleveland Browns twice before the franchise moved to Baltimore. Rounding out the list are the Bengals, Colts, Jaguars, Bills, Chargers, Falcons and Texans, the last of whom faced the Cowboys in their inaugural game in 2002 but have played their in-state foe only three times since.
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7 (games vs. their most common opponent)
This Thursday's matchup with Washington will mark the eighth time the Cowboys have played host to the division rival Redskins on Thanksgiving, the most of any team in the league. In those games, Dallas is 6-1, the only loss coming in the two teams’ most recent Thanksgiving meeting, in 2012. The Cowboys have also played the Dolphins five times on Thanksgiving and have hosted the Cardinals four times, all while the franchise was in St. Louis from 1960-87.
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6 (longest winning streak)
If there were “glory years” in Dallas’ Thanksgiving history, they would be the early 1980s, when the Cowboys won six straight games from 1980-85, the longest Thanksgiving winning streak in series history. Across that span, Dallas beat Seattle, Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis (twice) and New England and never allowed more than 17 points in a game. During that six-game run, the Cowboys were led offensively by a pair of Tonys — Hill, who caught 23 passes for 489 yards and four touchdowns, and Dorsett, who had 118 carries for 519 yards and seven touchdowns.
4 (longest losing streak)
Dallas appropriately followed the longest Thanksgiving winning streak in franchise history with its longest losing streak, as it dropped four straight contests from 1986-89. Those games featured a redemptive win by Seattle, the overtime loss to Minnesota, the shutout against Philadelphia and a win by the Houston Oilers in 1988. On the bright side, the Cowboys responded by winning six of their next seven Thanksgiving Day games after the four-game slide, giving them a 12-5 overall mark between 1980 and 1996.
306 and 5 (best passing performance)
Though Troy Aikman holds the Cowboys’ Thanksgiving record with 455 passing yards in the team’s 1998 loss to Minnesota, the best overall game has to be from Tony Romo, who was nearly perfect in Dallas’ 38-10 win over Tampa Bay in 2006. In that game, Romo completed 22 of 29 passes for 306 yards and five touchdowns. To date, it’s the only five-touchdown performance by either Dallas or a Cowboys opponent in Thanksgiving history.
155 and 3 (best rushing performance)
Dallas has gotten several notable efforts on the ground over the years, but none were more complete than Emmitt Smith’s 155-yard, three-touchdown day in the Cowboys’ 21-10 win over Washington in 1996. The victory was one of six Thanksgiving games with at least 100 yards rushing for Smith, who also had three touchdowns (but just 44 rushing yards) against the Vikings in 1998. In 13 career Thanksgiving games, Smith totaled 270 carries for 1,178 yards and 13 scores, all franchise records.
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157 and 1 (best receiving performance)
Though Jason Witten is the Cowboys’ all-time leader with 776 total receiving yards on Thanksgiving Day and Mike Renfro once caught three touchdown passes in a Thanksgiving game, Michael Irvin had 722 total yards in three fewer games than Witten and had six total receiving touchdowns across his 10 holiday appearances, a Dallas franchise record. Overall, Irvin has four of the top 10 receiving games in Cowboys Thanksgiving history — no one else in the top 10 has more than one — and Irvin’s highest yardage total came in 1991, when he caught eight passes for 157 yards and a touchdown in a 20-10 win over the Steelers.
359 and 4 (best opponent passing performance)
Nine years after shutting out the Cowboys with the Eagles in 1989, Cunningham set a Thanksgiving opponent record for passing yards with 359 in the Vikings’ 46-36 win over Dallas in 1998. In addition, that game saw Cunningham tie Brett Favre’s 1994 opponent record with four passing touchdowns (a feat Robert Griffin III also matched in 2012). All told, Cunningham threw for 593 yards and six touchdowns, with just one interception in two Thanksgiving games against Dallas.
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195 and 2 (best opponent rushing performance)
In 1979, Oilers running back Earl Campbell had what was easily the most productive opponent rushing game in Cowboys Thanksgiving history, as the league MVP racked up 195 yards on 33 carries, with two touchdowns in Houston’s 30-24 win. The performance was one of five two-touchdown games by opposing running backs over the years, but the last three (Leroy Hoard in 1998, Chris Ivory in 2010 and Rashad Jennings in 2013) saw the ballcarrier held to 58 yards or fewer on the ground.
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163 and 3 (best opponent receiving performance)
Although Anthony Carter’s 184 receiving yards in 1987 are the most by a Cowboys opponent on Thanksgiving, it’s almost impossible to narrow it down to one “best” game. Instead, the easier solution might be to hand that award to the NFC North as a whole. After all, four of the top five opponent receiving games all-time were by Vikings, including Randy Moss’ incredible 1998 effort, which saw him catch three passes for 163 yards and three touchdowns (the scores came from 51, 56 and 56 yards). And in 1994, Packers wideout Sterling Sharpe had nine catches for 122 yards and four touchdowns, making him one of just two players (along with Harold Jackson of the Rams) to record four touchdown catches against Dallas, Thanksgiving Day or otherwise.
14 (biggest comeback)
In addition to the Hall of Famer Smith, DeMarco Murray is the only other Cowboys back to score three rushing touchdowns in a Thanksgiving game. And it was Murray who led the way with those three scores in 2013, when Dallas overcame a 21-7 first-half deficit to beat the Oakland Raiders, 31-24. The rally from 14 down to win is tied for the biggest comeback in Cowboys Thanksgiving history, as Dallas also overcame a 17-3 first-half deficit to beat Green Bay 42-31 in 1994.
11 (largest blown lead)
Historically, Dallas tends to stay ahead once it takes the lead in Thanksgiving games, but in 1979, the Cowboys watched a 21-10 second-quarter edge evaporate in a 30-24 loss to the Oilers. In addition to Earl Campbell’s monster game on the ground, Houston quarterback Dan Pastorini also threw two second-half touchdown passes to secure the comeback win — one to the future Cowboy Mike Renfro to give the Oilers a 23-21 advantage in the third, and one to Ken Burrough to give Houston the lead for good in the fourth.
76 (hottest game)
Weather has not been a factor in Dallas’ Thanksgiving games since AT&T Stadium opened in 2009, but prior to that, conditions ranged from absolutely frigid to downright balmy, depending on the year. The warmest of those games came in 2006 against Tampa, when the Bucs apparently brought the heat from Florida, with temperatures reaching 76 degrees for the 4:25 kickoff. And while this year’s game will be played inside, current projections for Thursday in Arlington put the temperature right around 70 degrees.
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32 (coldest game)
Few football fans can forget Dallas’ 1993 Thanksgiving Day classic against the Miami Dolphins. Playing on a snowy field amid wind chills in the 20s, the Cowboys led 14-13 late in the fourth and thought they’d sealed a victory by blocking Pete Stoyanovich’s 40-yard field goal attempt with less than 10 seconds to go. But Dallas defensive tackle Leon Lett, who infamously had a fumble return stripped late in the team’s Super Bowl XXVII victory 10 months earlier, inexplicably slid into the ball, which had come to a rest just outside the Cowboys’ end zone. With the ball once again live, Miami recovered at the 1 and Stoyanovich proceeded to kick a 19-yard game-winning field goal as time expired. When asked about the blunder in 2013, Lett appropriately called it a “brain freeze.”