Football is as much a part of Thanksgiving as turkey and family are, and nearly as old as the holiday itself. It was President Abraham Lincoln who proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, saying that he hoped all Americans would carve out some time to bless the “widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged.”

In 1876, a little more than a decade after the end of that “civil strife,” students from Yale and Princeton met in Hoboken, New Jersey, to play what is believed to be the first football game held on Thanksgiving Day. Yale ended up besting its fellow Ivy League competitor, two “goals” to zero.

At the time, “football” still more closely resembled rugby than the sport we enjoy today. But a tradition was born. On subsequent Thanksgivings, the Yale-Princeton matchups generated so much cash in ticket sales that they funded the two universities’ athletic programs for the rest of the year.

The model was such a success that the National Football League (NFL) made sure to carry on the tradition upon its founding in 1920. Professional football has been played on Turkey Day ever since, except for those in the years from 1941 to 1945.

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