Photo by Joseph Deering

It’s a holiday tradition: turkey, pumpkin pie, and the Cowboys playing at home on Thanksgiving Day. And for every fan that enjoys a Cowboys win to go with their extra helping of cranberry sauce, there’s one man to thank: Tex Schramm.

The late, great Tex Schramm was the Cowboys team president general manager for 29 seasons, from the team’s inaugural 1960 season all the way through 1989. He was a marketing genius who is most responsible for the Cowboys ‘brand’ or image which is known worldwide.

In the 1960’s the NFL wanted to expand their offerings on Thanksgiving Day. Yes, the league had played games on the holiday dating all the way back to the 1920’s. The Detroit Lions’ started hosting a Thanksgiving Day game in 1934 and have done so every year with the exception of 1939-1944 when the tradition was put on hold during World War II.

The Lions would continue host an early afternoon kickoff. But by the mid-1960’s, the league wanted to offer a second game. So Tex Schramm leapt at the opportunity, volunteering to host a game on Thanksgiving Day, 1966, as long as the league would guarantee that the Cowboys, like the Lions, would be assured a home game each year.

It was risky at the time because games on weekdays were uncommon (that’s before the days of Monday Night Football) and nobody could assume that fans would show up on a weekday/holiday.

But Schramm knew that playing on Thanksgiving Day would be a marketing bonanza and give his team increased national exposure. Also, playing at home on a Thursday gave his team a decided home field advantage. Not only does a Thursday game mean a shorter time for the teams to prepare and game plan for each other, but the visiting team would have to travel to Dallas on Wednesday. So that’s a half-day of travel that would otherwise be spent practicing or game planning.

And how did it go for Tex and the Cowboys during that inaugural game played November 24, 1966?   How many fans would actually show up at The Cotton Bowl to see the Cowboys host the Cleveland Browns?   How about a crowd of 82,259! That was a team record for attendance at the time. Plus, the Cowboys beat the Browns 26-14.

It didn’t take long for other NFL owners and general managers to figure out that playing at home on Thanksgiving Day was a good thing, not only for television ratings and national exposure, etc., but also for competitive advantage. It hurt the road team to travel on a short work week.
Other owners started to complain about the built-in advantage enjoyed by the Lions & Cowboys. The other owners now wanted a piece of the action. In 1975 and 1977, the NFL allowed the St. Louis Cardinals to host the Thanksgiving Day game instead of the Cowboys. But Tex didn’t take too kindly to that and those are the only two years since 1966 that the Cowboys have not played at home on Thanksgiving.

Overall the Cowboys’ record on Thanksgiving is 29 wins, 16 losses, and 1 tie. As for this year’s matchup at AT&T Stadium — Panthers & Cowboys – they have faced each other on Thanksgiving Day only once. It was an ugly game for the Cowboys in their awful 1-15 season in 1989; the Eagles dominated in a 27-0 win.

The most frequent opponent for the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day is the Washington Redskins with 7 turkey day meetings, followed by the Miami Dolphins with 5 meetings.

So this holiday, as you’re watching the Cowboys play in front of another sellout crowd on Thanksgiving Day, hold up your drumsticks to salute Tex Schramm. Without him, we might be stuck watching Tampa Bay versus Oakland, or some other less stellar matchup.

There’s a reason Tex Schramm is in the Hall of Fame. He knew what fans wanted, and he figured out how to give it to him. Even though Schramm did not come up with the Cowboys moniker of “America’s Team” (that was NFL Films who gave them the nickname), Schramm deserves a lot of the credit for helping the Cowboys fan base spread throughout the entire country.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!