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Players, Coaches Reflect On Joy Of Thanksgiving Football

IRVING, Texas – Some players are used to it, others have never experienced it, but every year the Cowboys know they'll be playing football on Thanksgiving Day.

Veterans and newcomers both look forward to the annual holiday game in Dallas, which the Cowboys have won five of the last six years and all six times against the Redskins.

Perhaps no player or coach on the Cowboys cherishes the meaning of the Thanksgiving game more than head coach Jason Garrett. The former Cowboys backup quarterback was called off the bench on Nov. 24, 1994, and beat Brett Favre and the Packers, 42-31, throwing for 311 yards and two touchdowns.

Garrett appreciates the significance of the game and said he feels fortunate to be a part of it every year as the coach of the Cowboys.

"Anybody who loves football typically grew up on the playground or in the backyard playing Thanksgiving Day football, and then enjoys the great history and tradition that comes with the NFL games," Garrett said. "The Cowboys have been a big part of that for a long, long time. I've been fortunate as a player and as a coach to be a part of it. It's a great tradition. We embrace it as fully as you can embrace anything because I think football and Thanksgiving go together."

Garrett's not the only Cowboys quarterback to thrive in the annual contest. No Dallas quarterback has consistently demonstrated an ability to pull out the Turkey Day game better than Tony Romo, who has won all five of his Thanksgiving matchups, recording a 115.4 quarterback rating in the process. Romo was injured in 2010 when the Cowboys lost by three points to the Saints.

Tight end Jason Witten more than triples the amount of receiving yards of any other Cowboys player on Thanksgiving, catching 53 passes for 605 yards and three touchdowns in nine games.

"It's always special," Witten said. "It's a short week. It's a grind. But when you can win two games like this and have an opportunity like this going into December with that time off, it can help your team. But you can't look past it. It's going to be here quick. You've got to be mentally tough in these types of situations."

The Cowboys have won 20 of their 44 Thanksgiving games by double-digit points. Starting cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne weren't around for any of them, but they're thrilled to be a part of the festivities now.

Claiborne, who grew up in Shreveport, La., would get together with his family to watch the Cowboys play on Thanksgiving every year.

"You always dream of playing on Thanksgiving when you watch it on TV," Claiborne said. "The whole world is watching. There's not that many teams playing. It's a blessing."

Carr said he'll be able to enjoy the game more if the Cowboys can figure out a way to pull out a victory against the Redskins and increase their winning streak to a season-high three games.

"If we win, we can go from there and the rest of my day will go smooth," he said. "This is my job. This is my baby right here. This is my first time playing on Thanksgiving, so a win would be nice."

Other players, like Bruce Carter, were around for the game last year, though their roles will be different this time around. He'll have a much fuller plate this year studying film as a starter and the primary defensive caller, but that won't stop him from experiencing the added benefits of the holidays.

"I've got a lot of family coming into town," Carter said.  "I'm excited about that, to finally get a home cooked meal. It's been a long time."

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