FRISCO, Texas – Think about this, 52 years ago, Nov. 24, 1966, the Dallas Cowboys, with a 7-2-1 record, already having assured themselves of their first winning record in the seven-year history of the expansion franchise, were set to play host to Cleveland for their first Thanksgiving Day game.
Now here we are, Cowboys-Redskins, Thursday at AT&T Stadium, and this will be 51st Thanksgiving Day game for the Cowboys, a tradition that began at the Cotton Bowl, carried on to Texas Stadium and now over to AT&T Stadium. Only the Detroit Lions have played more games on Thanksgiving Day, a tradition the Lions owner at the time, George A. Richards began in 1934 attempting to attract more fans to their games.
So, in honor of that 26-14 victory over the Browns in 1966 when Don Perkins ran 23 times for 111 yards and one touchdowns, let's start going down memory lane, the Cowboys' Thanksgiving Day record standing at 30-19-1, the NFL experimenting with St. Louis Cardinals playing host in 1975 and 1977 but never again.
· Uncluttered Mind: Maybe the most memorable Thanksgiving Day game in Cowboys history occurred on Nov. 28, 1974, yes, Cowboys-Redskins, meeting for the second time in 11 days. And how about this symmetry for the 5-5 Cowboys meeting the 6-4 Redskins on Thursday with the Redskins having to start backup quarterback Colt McCoy: Prior to that 1974 game, Redskins linebacker Diron Talbert, knowing the Cowboys had already traded backup Craig Morton to the Giants, leaving them with untested rookie Clint Longley backing up Roger Staubach, said, "If you knock Staubach out, you got that rookie facing you. That's one of our goals. If you do that, that's great. (Staubach) is all they have." Can you imagine someone saying that before Thursday's game? Fine? Suspension? Well, in the third quarter, with the Cowboys trailing 16-3, true to their word, the Redskins knocked Staubach out of the game, the Cowboys quarterback suffering a concussion. In comes Longley, leaving WR Bob Hayes saying, "Clint's eyes were big as half dollars." But all Longley does is complete 11 of 20 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns, the second one a 50-yarder to Drew Pearson for the 24-23 victory. All leading Cowboys starting guard Blaine Nye to coin the phrase referring to the kind of off-center Longley as a "triumph of the uncluttered mind."
· Bounty Bowl: Then there was the 1989 Thanksgiving Day game against Philadelphia, the Eagles shutting out the Cowboys 27-0 for their 11th of 15 losses that season. But afterward the Cowboys were accusing the Eagles of head-hunting Troy Aikman and taking a shot at kicker Luis Zendejas, contending that there would be bonuses paid for knocking players out of the game. When head coach Jimmy Johnson heard about it, and asked if had said anything to Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan after the game, Johnson said, "Oh I would have said something to Buddy, but he wouldn't stand on the field long enough. He put his big, fat rear end in the dressing room."
· Turkey Days: Here are a couple of other memorable games. There's the 1993 Sleet Bowl game, when the overnight storm caused the tarp covering the Texas Stadium field to freeze, having to be ripped off strip by strip, and ending with Leon Lett famously sliding haphazardly into the Dolphins field-goal attempt the Cowboys blocked to seemingly win the game. But Lett, not needing to touch the ball, slides on the slick field, making the ball eligible for the Dolphins to recover and then kicking the winning 19-yard field goal as time expired for the 16-14 victory. Or this one: Aikman was out. Backup Rodney Peete was out. The Cowboys were forced to start a third stringer by the name of Jason Garrett. All Garrett does is complete 15 of 26 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns, one of those to Alvin Harper, who had three catches for 91 yards, leading the Cowboys to a 42-31 victory.
· Beware The Backup: So as they say, don't be counting your chickens before they hatch just because the Redskins are starting backup quarterback Colt McCoy in place of injured starter Alex Smith. Let the Garrett and Longley stories be cautionary tales. Plus, McCoy, starting for the injured Kirk Cousins on Oct. 27, 2014, at AT&T Stadium, completed 25 of 30 passes for 299 yards to beat the Cowboys 20-17 in overtime. Yep, beware.
· All-State: No, not the high school honor designation. The insurance company. Because after the Redskins' 23-21 loss to Houston on Sunday when McCoy took over for the injured Alex Smith, leading them into a 21-20 lead before the Texans kicked the winning field at the end, McCoy told the team in the locker room afterward, "You're in good hands with me," even though this will be his first start since the 2014 season.
· Texas Bred: This occurred to me with McCoy, from Tuscola, Texas, having played his high School ball at Jim Ned. How many Texas bred quarterbacks are there in the NFL today? Come with me, because everybody loves a list, these are quarterbacks and where they played their high school ball in Texas:
Drew Brees: Austin Westlake.
Andrew Luck: Startford, Houston.
Matthew Stafford: Highland Park, Dallas.
Derek Carr: Clements, Sugarland.
Andy Dalton: Katy.
Nick Foles: Austin Westlake.
Case Keenum: Wylie, Abilene.
Josh McCown: Jacksonville.
Ryan Tannehill: Big Spring.
Baker Mayfield: Lake Travis.
Chase Daniel: Southlake Carroll.
Patrick Mahomes: Whitehouse.
Robert Griffin III: Copperas Cove.
Accepting reminders if I've missed someone currently on an NFL roster.
· Feed Zeke: In the past two games, Ezekiel Elliott has run the ball 42 times for 273 yards, averaging 6.5 yards a carry. He's also caught 13 passes for 115 yards, averaging 8.8 yards a reception. Totaling from scrimmage on 55 touches, 388 yards. The 953 yards rushing leaves Zeke just 90 yards behind the NFL's leading rusher Todd Gurley, who already has played 11 games, 1,043. Meaning Zeke needs just 47 yards to put up his second 1,000-yard season.
· Turkey Shots: Redskins running back Chris Thompson recognizes the Texas QBs, saying this in reference to McCoy, "He's got that Texas quarterback magic in him or something. Quarterbacks from Texas, they are just tough, they're going to do everything to win a game." . . . The Cowboys gave up just two sacks Sunday in Atlanta, the fewest in the past five games and matching the second fewest (Houston, 2) this year to the goose egg posted against the Giants in Week 2 . . . Not really total Thanksgiving Day magic of late for the Cowboys, just 3-5 since 2010 after having won four straight from 2006-09, then losing to the Saints, 30-27, in 2010 after Garrett had won two straight taking over for Wade Phillips in Game 9 . . . While most are focusing on the NFC East Division race, seems as though the teams in NFC wild-card contention are backing up some. The current fifth seed is Carolina at 6-4, one game better than the Cowboys but would win the head-to-head tiebreaker based on the season-opening win. Then Minnesota is next at 5-4-1, just a half-game ahead of the Cowboys, currently tied with Seattle at 5-5. But the Seahawks own the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Week 3 win over the Cowboys.
And finally, when Garrett was asked what's the meaning to him playing and coaching on Thanksgiving Day, he said, "It's an incredible privilege to be a part of this game, both as a player and a coach. I think that's where it starts." And let me concur, because it has been a privilege to cover the past 33 of 34 Thanksgiving Day games.