NFL's 2011 Thanksgiving Day Lineup: Grudge Matches, Not 'Turkeys' : The Two-Way The NFL's traditional Thanksgiving Day games have football fans excited. If the day has a theme, it could be "grudge match." The Dallas Cowboys have a shot at repairing their pride injured in 1993; Green Bay and Detroit's game has echoes of 1962; and in the final game, two brothers will coach opposing teams for the first time in NFL history.
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NFL's Thanksgiving Day Lineup: Grudge Matches, Not 'Turkeys'

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NFL's Thanksgiving Day Lineup: Grudge Matches, Not 'Turkeys'

NFL's Thanksgiving Day Lineup: Grudge Matches, Not 'Turkeys'

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Thanksgiving means feasts and football, and these days it means feasts of football. The NFL now plays three games on Thanksgiving Day, and here with a preview is NPR's sports correspondent, Mike Pesca. Mike, Dallas and Detroit always play on Thanksgiving, but they don't play each other. This year, for the first time in a very long time, it is the Detroit Lions who have the better record. How'd that happen?

MIKE PESCA: Well, Detroit as we know, three years ago, they were a winless team, but they did what they had to do, in terms of rebuilding through the draft, and acquiring talent, and now they're very good on defense. But an interesting thing has happened with Detroit. You would think that a team that was so bad, so recently, and from a town that really could use a boost would be the darlings of casual NFL fans, but they've actually established themselves as something of the wearers of black hats.

They get accused of being cheap. They slam other quarterbacks to the ground. So that's OK, the Lions are saying to themselves, fine, hate us, but fear us, we're now a good team. Here is the problem for them, today they play the Packers, by far the best team in the NFL. You'd have to certainly give the Packers the edge, but the Lions come into this game better than they have been in a decade.

WERTHEIMER: Now, in the next game today, the Cowboys host the Dolphins, and what makes this special is the memory of their 1993 Thanksgiving Day showdown. The Dolphins were kicking a field goal to win in the very last seconds of the game, and it was snowing.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Doug Peterson to hold. The Cowboys will win. Wait a minute. Wait a minute.

PESCA: Wait a minute indeed, because at that very moment the announcers and everyone in the stadium realized the huge gaff that had taken place. Leon Lett, who the season before had established himself as committing one of the greatest blunders in NFL history, allowing himself to get stripped in a meaningless play in the Super Bowl because he was showboating the end zone, went up to the ball, it was unclear whether he wanted to touch or just slipped in the snow. Anyway, he touched a ball, that if left alone, would've meant the game was over and the Cowboys had won. But he touched the ball, putting it back into play. That allowed the Dolphins another chance to make that kick and win.

Here is my bold prediction. This week we will not see a replay of that. Not only is Leon Lett retired, the new Dallas stadium is indoors, so there won't be any snow on the field.

WERTHEIMER: And we've got to talk about the Harbaugh Bowl. John Harbaugh, head coach of the Baltimore Ravens takes on his brother, Jim Harbaugh, who is coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Which of the Harbaugh boys is harder to beat?

PESCA: Yeah. It's hard out there for a Harbaugh. Actually, it's not. I mean, both of these guys have had big success in the NFL, and what Jim has done with the 49ers is really remarkable, because didn't think this was a good team. Jim came over from Stanford where he rehabilitated that program and people said well, he was so successful at Stanford because he had one of the great college quarterbacks of the last couple decades.

But, you know, in San Francisco, he has a quarterback who people have written off as a bust, but Jim Harbaugh has gotten everything he can out of Alex Smith. He's a very smart coach and a very good inspirer of men. The 49ers...

WERTHEIMER: He was also quite an exciting quarterback himself.

PESCA: That's right. He was a quarterback for the Bears and before that, a little bit for the Colts, and his dad was a coach and his brother is a coach, and his sister is married to the coach of Indiana. There's so much coaching and quarterbacking in that Harbaugh family. And if you've noticed, we've talked about a lot of good teams playing today, so except for those Miami Dolphins, five of the six teams today are really excellent, which could mean we'll have a bunch of good games today.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much, Mike.

PESCA: You got it.

WERTHEIMER: That's NPR's Mike Pesca.

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