Thanksgiving Football: Play-by-Play with Dan Miller

The voice of the Detroit Lions Dan Miller joins Tim to talk about America’s Thanksgiving football tradition and life as a pro football play-by-play announcer. Dan is the Sports Director at Fox 2 TV in Detroit, and he’s been the play-by-play radio voice of the National Football League’s Detroit Lions since 2005. In this episode, Dan talks about a Thanksgiving tradition that dates back to 1934. The annual Thanksgiving Detroit Lions football game.

In 1934, baseball was America’s pastime, but American football was starting to gain momentum.

That’s the year that a Detroit radio executive named George Richards organized a group to buy a pro football team in Portsmouth, Ohio and move it to Detroit.  In order to generate interest and ticket sales, he came up with an idea.

So, he approached George Halas.  He was the owner of the Chicago Bears.

Richards wanted his newly christened Detroit Lions to play the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving morning. He was successful. Then, right after that, he convinced the NBC Radio Network to broadcast the game across the country to its 94 local radio stations.

That year, the Lions were 10 and 1, and the Bears were 11 and 0. The star players on the Bears were Red Grange and Bronko Nagurski.

The game was a sellout, with 26,000 fans in attendance in a stadium on the campus of the University of Detroit.

This was the largest crowd that had ever watched a game in Detroit.

The game was a hit. The national radio broadcast – also a first – was a hit as well.

The Bears won the game 19 to 16.

That game was the start of an American Thanksgiving tradition.

Dan Miller (left) with former Detroit Lion and Pittsburgh Steeler QB Charlie Batch. (Source: Dan Miller)

On most Thanksgiving days in the past 87 years, the Detroit Lions have played football. The only exceptions were from 1939 through 1944, which were the World War Two years.

The first nationally televised Thanksgiving game was the one between the Lions and the Green Bay Packers in 1953.

Still, the Lions weren’t the first pro football team to play on Thanksgiving. In 1920, the Elyria, Ohio Athletics took on the Columbus Panhandles for a scoreless tie.

And from 1922 through 1933, the Chicago Cardinals and the Chicago Bears had played each other on Thanksgiving.

In more recent times, the Dallas Cowboys threw their hat into the ring. In 1966, the NFL decided to add a second Thanksgiving game to the schedule, featuring the Dallas Cowboys.

Then in 2006, the league added a third game to the Thanksgiving schedule, though both participants in that game change from year to year.

As voice of the Detroit Lions, Dan Miller has been a part of America’s Thanksgiving football tradition since 2005.