Thanksgiving is one of the all-time great holidays, in our mind, because it’s the truest of trifectas, uniting family, food and as Mama Boucher calls it ... foosball.
In the spirit of giving thanks this week, we’re taking a trip down memory lane to pay homage to what we’ve deemed the very finest of the fine of the Green Bay Packers on Thanksgiving Day.
(Note: our statistical source stretches as far back as 1950, but Green Bay first appeared as a professional football team on Turkey Day in 1923, so you’ll have to pardon us for leaving out your grandfather’s favorite moments in the 27-year gap. Feel free to pester us with anecdotes.)
Although the Packers hold a subpar Thanksgiving record (14-20-2) and haven’t played in the NFL’s annual tripleheader since 2015 -- let’s not waste any precious holiday time reliving that 17-13 defeat to Chicago -- there’s a bank full of special memories worth sorting through.
From the 100-yard rushers and receivers and 300-yard passers, to touchdowns on defense and special teams and a player who couldn’t wait to feast on turkey so he feasted on a quarterback instead, let’s revisit some of the top Packers performances on the fourth Thursday of November.
We hope this buffet of ballers satiates your craving for cheesehead content until Sunday:
The only man to quarterback a team to championships in the NFL and AFL, Rote started 73 games for Green Bay from 1950-56. He was once described by the Packers in a news release as "the quarterback who runs like a fullback,” which is exactly what he did on Thanksgiving Day in 1951. Rote rumbled for 131 rushing yards and a touchdown on just 15 carries (8.73 ypc) in Green Bay’s 52-35 loss to Detroit. Rote led all rushers in that game, and if you didn’t know, led all NFL quarterbacks in rushing yards in six different seasons -- four times with the Packers.
Green Bay’s all-time rushing leader put on a spectacle at the Pontiac Silverdome in canvas-colored pants on Thanksgiving in 2001, rushing for 102 yards on 22 carries. Green scored the first Packers touchdown on the day -- a 26-yard rush -- and the last, on the receiving end of a 35-yard pass from Brett Favre. Green’s individual effort staved off a Detroit comeback in the 29-27 Packers win, and of equal joy, helped keep the Lions winless at 0-10.
Other Packers to eclipse 100 yards on the ground on Thanksgiving: Ryan Grant (101 yards; 2007 against DET); Eddie Lacy (105 yards; 2015 vs. CHI).
On Thanksgiving Day in 1952, Howton, a rookie wideout from Rice, caught three touchdown passes from Rote, his college quarterback. Green Bay ultimately was smothered 48-24 by future Hall of Fame quarterback Bobby Layne and the eventual NFL champion Detroit Lions, but Howton impressed. In front of 39,101 fans, the adept route runner secured seven catches for 123 yards. Howton wound up pacing the league with 1,231 receiving yards during his rookie campaign, which broke Don Hutson’s club record of 1,211 set 10 seasons earlier.
Boyd Dowler x2
Dowler, the rare 6-foot-5 receiver who could scoot in his day, registered four catches for 107 yards to aid Green Bay over Detroit 24-17 in Vince Lombardi’s first Thanksgiving Classic in 1959. Four years later, Dowler exploded for nine catches and 178 yards in the Turkey Day contest against the Lions -- because the sudden-death overtime period had yet to be introduced, the game resulted in a 13-13 tie. Dowler is one of just two Packers receivers to tally 100+ receiving yards on Thanksgiving twice. One of Bart Starr’s favorite targets and a starter on all five of Green Bay’s NFL championship teams (1961-62; ‘65-67), Lombardi once said of Dowler, “As far as I'm concerned, he’s the most underrated receiver in the league.”
Many call the Thanksgiving Day win over Detroit in 1986, “the Walter Stanley Game” -- for good reason. We’re saving the best of Stanley’s electrifying performance for a blurb below … but even before he immortalized himself in Packers Thanksgiving lore, he caught a pair of touchdowns and logged four receptions for 124 yards. Stanley scored Green Bay’s first offensive touchdown, and the first of his career -- a 21-yard pass from Randy Wright -- and later closed the Packers’ 37-23 deficit to seven points against Detroit with a 36-yard wide-open touchdown catch in the third quarter. Stanley’s 62-yard catch-and-run with less than five minutes remaining set the stage for Wright’s third touchdown toss of the game, an 11-yard swing pass to running back Paul Ott Carruth. Trailing 40-37 with under 60 seconds left, Green Bay opted to try and block a Lions punt. … It was unsuccessful. What transpired next … is the stuff of legend.
Sharpe was virtually unstoppable on Thanksgiving in what proved to be his final go-around in the NFL. It’s too bad for memory’s sake that his record-setting performance came in a loss to the same team that would later boot Green Bay in the divisional round of the playoffs. Jason Garrett, who quarterbacked Dallas in place of an injured Troy Aikman, and reigning league MVP Emmitt Smith -- who totaled 228 yards and two touchdowns on 38 touches -- may carry fond memories from their 42-31 shootout win over the Packers, but nobody held a candle to Sharpe on Nov. 24, 1994. The Green Bay superstar posted video-game numbers, reeling in nine of 13 passes from Favre for 122 yards. His four receiving touchdowns that day -- from 1, 36, 30 and five yards out -- are still the most by anyone on Thanksgiving.
Donald Driver x2
Driver stuffed himself on Thanksgiving and didn’t have a preference for the arm that fed him. The franchise’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards did his Turkey Day thing … twice. In 2007, Driver caught 10 passes from Favre for 147 yards in a 37-26 win over the Lions. Two years later, Driver plucked seven of 10 looks from Aaron Rodgers for 142 yards and a touchdown, helping Green Bay beat Detroit, again, to the tune of 34-12. Talk about an appetite.
Sidebar: At 34 years, 297 days, Driver remains the oldest Packers player with a TD on Thanksgiving.
Other Packers receivers to break the 100-yard threshold on Thanksgiving: Howie Ferguson (106 yards; 1956 against DET)
Rote roused a comeback trailing 13-3 to Detroit in the fourth quarter on Thanksgiving in 1956. The dual-threat quarterback drew the Packers within three on a goal-line rush and saved his best for last after the Lions retook a 20-10 advantage. Rote tossed two touchdowns from 14 and 13 yards out in the waning minutes to prevail 24-20. In his final Thanksgiving Day game for Green Bay -- he joined the enemy the next season -- Rote accounted for 346 total yards (301 passing) and three second-half touchdowns, gaudy numbers that belonged to a later era.
“I threw it. They caught it.” That’s what the ‘ole gunslinger said after completing 20 consecutive throws in Green Bay’s 37-26 win over Detroit on Thanksgiving in 2007. “Nothing spectacular.” Yeah, right. Favre was nothing short of spectacular on the holiday, completing 31 of 41 attempts for 381 yards and three scores. He targeted Driver the most, shared an effortless touchdown connection with Greg Jennings and wound up completing passes to eight different receivers en route to his seventh 300-yard game of the season. Afterwards, Lions quarterback Jon Kitna called the three-time MVP and 38-year-old quarterback, the “greatest ever.”
Aaron Rodgers x2
Rodgers has reached 300+-yard status twice on Thanksgiving. He followed up a 28-for-39 performance for 348 yards and three touchdowns against Detroit in 2009 by going 22-for-33 for 307 yards and two scores two seasons later versus the Lions. To recap: two games, two wins, zero interceptions. For comparison's sake, Lions QB Matthew Stafford went a combined 52-for-88 (59%) for 489 yards, two touchdowns and seven picks, and was outscored 61-27 across the two meetings.
Elliott’s size -- 6-foot-4, 230 pounds -- lended itself to position versatility. Even all the way back in the 1950s. The 160th overall pick in the 1950 NFL draft lined up as an end on both sides of the ball during his four seasons playing for Green Bay. On Thanksgiving in 1951, he caught touchdown passes from two separate Packers quarterbacks -- Tote and Bobby Thomason, who relieved the former in the 52-35 loss. Elliott ranked third on the ‘51 Packers with 317 receiving yards and tied for second with five touchdown receptions -- both career highs.
The “Golden Boy” ran for six two times in the first half of the 1959 Turkey Day contest. Hornung also capped his 11- and 6-yard touchdown runs by tacking on the point-after attempts and booted a 39-yard field goal -- one of 66 career makes for Hornung. In all, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound athlete was responsible for 18 of Green Bay’s 24 points in its win over Detroit.
Taylor carried 19 times for 94 yards and two touchdowns against the Lions on Thanksgiving in 1961. His two-tuddy effort in the 17-9 win was the second of three straight games with multiple scores. Taylor led the NFL that season with 16 touchdowns. A year later, he won MVP honors.
Driver more than doubled Jennings’ yards on Turkey Day in 2007, but the latter caught two of Favre’s three touchdown passes -- two more than Driver. The Michigan native scored from 11 yards out near the start of the second quarter, and again, from four yards out to extend Green Bay’s lead to double digits at the beginning of the third. Jennings ended the 2007 season, his second in the NFL, with 12 touchdown grabs, the high-water mark of his 10-year career.
Other Packers to cross the goal line multiple times on Thanksgiving: Howton (3 TD; 1952 against DET); Stanley (3 TD; 1986 against DET); Sharpe (4 TD; 1994 against DAL); Green (2 TD; 2001 against DET).
Punt return TD
“I wanted to make something happen.” That’s what Stanley said immediately after Green Bay’s heart-stopping 44-40 victory over the Lions on Thanksgiving Day in 1986. The second-year wide receiver was explicitly told by Packers head coach Forrest Gregg to signal for the fair catch as Detroit punted the ball away with less than a minute to go -- Green Bay was running a punt block, meaning Stanley would have no convoy protecting him. A block-in-the-back penalty or poor starting field position down three points would have been catastrophic. Plus, preserving time for the offense was critical. Stanley gambled on himself, “took the chance,” fielded the punt at his own 17-yard line, ran left into a swarm of Lions, swiveled around and reversed course. He dusted nine Detroit players to the sideline, turned up field and transitioned into a fifth gear that seemed superhuman. Blocks from Eddie Lee Ivery and Mossy Cade catapulted Stanley 83 yards into the end zone, and simultaneously into Packers history.
Stanley went on to play two more seasons for Green Bay -- and lasted eight years in the NFL as a reserve receiver and contributor on special teams -- but never housed another punt return. His three total touchdowns on Thanksgiving in 1986 matched the number of times he reached paydirt the rest of his career. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a turducken-worthy performance.
The penultimate of 13 consecutive games played on Thanksgiving between Detroit and Green Bay -- the sole Thanksgiving Day contest back then -- was considered a massacre. In 1962, the 8-2 Lions hosted the 10-0 Packers, and the latter left Tiger Stadium bruised and battered. Buried beneath the club’s 26-14 loss -- Green Bay actually trailed at halftime 23-0 -- and 10, yes TEN, sacks of Starr, lay the first of four Packers defensive touchdowns scored on Thanksgiving. Willie “Dr. Feelgood” Davis, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame 19 years later, fell on a fumble in the end zone in the fourth quarter to finally put the Pack on the board. The defeat to their Western Conference rival may have been fodder … as Green Bay didn’t lose another game en route to winning its second straight NFL championship over the New York Giants.
Simmons’ fumble recovery for a touchdown predictably gets overshadowed by Stanley’s heroics in the 1986 Turkey Day win against Detroit -- but that doesn’t make it unimportant. In the first quarter, trailing 10-3, Packers rookie Tim Harris blocked a Lions punt that Simmons recovered in the end zone for Green Bay’s first of five touchdowns in the come-from-behind win. Simmons, the 64th overall selection in the 1981 NFL draft, was picked up on waivers after playing the first 10 games of the season for the Bengals. His stint with the Pack lasted a whole six games.
Woodson left his imprint on the Thanksgiving Day game against Detroit in 2009. He picked off two Matthew Stafford passes -- including one for a 38-yard house call -- defended four, recovered a fumble he forced and added a sack to go along with seven tackles. The focus of Woodson’s wrath was Lions top target Calvin Johnson, also known as “Megatron.” Woodson won the individual battle decisively -- Johnson finished with two catches for 12 yards, though one was a touchdown from a yard out. It was a landmark performance for the 33-year-old cornerback in a season that saw Woodson garner AP Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Burnett’s 1-yard scoop-and-score touchdown on a Matthew Stafford fumble in the 2013 Thanksgiving clash against the Lions jogs our memory for one reason: his celebration. Burnett reached the back of the end zone, flipped around, stuck his arms in the air and did his best rendition of the “funky chicken,” the dance made famous in the mid-’70s by former Oilers star Billy “White Shoes” Johnson. (Note: Johnson’s trademark celebration was inspired by Rufus Thomas’ hit track “Do the Funky Chicken” released in 1969.) The Packers didn’t score again that Thanksgiving -- they were boat raced by Detroit 40-10 -- but Burnett’s tribute to Johnson, in his sparkling white cleats, was a sight to see. The safety played four more seasons in Green Bay, but never scored another touchdown.
Kampman accounted for two of Green Bay’s four sacks of Lions quarterback Jon Kitna on Thanksgiving Day in 2007. It marked his third multi-sack game in 12 weeks and raised his tally on the year to 11 -- he finished the season with 12 quarterback takedowns, good for his second Pro Bowl nod. Kampman either was in a hurry to get home and carve the turkey or too hungry to wait. According to Stathead’s data coverage, he’s the lone Packer with multiple sacks on Thanksgiving (we apologize for overlooking any Turkey Day pass-rush wonders prior to 1950, but then again the sack wasn’t an official stat until 1982).