What College Teams Played In The First Thanksgiving Day Football Game

What College Teams Played in the First Thanksgiving Day Football Game?

Last Updated on February 25, 2024 by Kimberlee Johnson

Despite the association of Thanksgiving with turkey, cranberries, and pilgrims, there is another equally significant tradition that often goes unnoticed: football.

Long before the NFL became a sporting event of our holiday traditions, college teams set the stage, introducing us to the first Thanksgiving Day football showdown.

But what college teams played in the first Thanksgiving Day football game? 

With that, I’ll share insights on what college teams played against each other and how it led to many more football games on this special day over the years. Keep reading. 

Which College Football Teams Participated In The First Thanksgiving Day Game?

Yale and Princeton's Football Game

The very first Thanksgiving Day football game featured Yale University and Princeton University. 

This historic match started the tradition of playing football on Thanksgiving, something many people look forward to each year. 

“Football is an art, like dancing is an art – but only when it’s well done does it become an art.” 

Arsene Wenger, French Former Soccer Manager

Yale and Princeton’s game on that special day began a tradition still alive today, making Thanksgiving even more exciting for many nationwide folks.

How Many People Watched The First College Thanksgiving Game?

The first Thanksgiving Day college football game, where Yale triumphed 2-0 in Hoboken, New Jersey, saw fewer than 1,000 spectators in attendance. 

Most of those in the crowd were alumni and students who witnessed a game more similar to rugby [1] than today’s modern version of football. 

This modest gathering marked the foundation of a tradition that would later captivate the hearts of millions as Thanksgiving Day football games grew in popularity nationwide.

Find out how long high school homecoming football games last here.

When Did Football Teams Start Playing On Thanksgiving?

The tradition of football teams competing on Thanksgiving can be traced back to 1876 when the Intercollegiate Football Association initiated their championship game on this holiday. 

However, it wasn’t until 1880, when the association relocated the end-of-season game to New York, that the Thanksgiving Day football tradition began to gain popularity. 

This strategic move to a major city marked the start of a cherished American tradition that has continued to captivate fans and families for generations, making Thanksgiving Day synonymous with football.

Find out when the Detroit Lions won on Thanksgiving game here.

Which College Football Games Are The Oldest?

The oldest recorded college football game occurred in 1869, featuring Rutgers University and the College of New Jersey, now known as Princeton University. 

This historic matchup marked the birth of college football and set the stage for the rich tradition and passionate fandom that would develop around the sport [2]. 

Over a century and a half later, college football thrives as a beloved American pastime, with countless teams and rivalries adding to the sport’s storied history.

But which football team will not participate in the Thanksgiving Day game?

What’s The Oldest High School Football Game Played On Thanksgiving?

Wellesley and Needham Football Game

The oldest high school football game on Thanksgiving is thought to have happened in 1882 when Wellesley and Needham faced off. 

This special game between two high schools started a tradition that many communities in the United States now cherish. 

“Yale and Princeton may not have realized it at the time, but that fateful Thanksgiving game planted the seeds for a sporting tradition that now unites millions around the dinner table and TV screen every year.”

Howkapow Gift Site

High school football on Thanksgiving has grown into something that brings people together and shows off local talent. 

Which College Football Game Has The Most Viewers Ever?

The Rose Bowl clash between the University of Southern California and the University of Texas has garnered a higher television rating (21.7) or a larger viewership (35.6 million) during 2006. 

This epic showdown, often dubbed the “Granddaddy of Them All,” showcased exceptional athletic prowess and captured the hearts of sports fans nationwide, solidifying its place as one of the most-watched and celebrated college football games in history.

Related Posts:


What is the oldest bowl game for college football?

The Rose Bowl is the most historical and oldest game in the history of college football’s history.

This historic game, originally known as the 1902 Tournament of Roses football game, marked the beginning of post-season college football contests.

What was the last year that the Cowboys didn’t play on Thanksgiving?

The Dallas Cowboys didn’t participate in Thanksgiving Day games between 1975 and 1977. 

Which university has the oldest football program?

Rutgers University boasts the oldest football program, with a rich history spanning 150 years. 

On November 6, 1869, Rutgers hosted in-state rival Princeton in a historic matchup that earned them the title of “The Birthplace of College Football.”

What is the only NFL team that has gone two seasons without a win?

The Arizona Cardinals are the sole NFL team to endure consecutive full seasons without a victory. 

Which team has never won a Thanksgiving game?

Three NFL teams, namely the Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Cleveland Browns, have never secured a victory on Thanksgiving Day. 

Final Remarks

As I reflect on the history of football teams playing on Thanksgiving, it becomes evident that this tradition has deep-rooted origins dating back to 1876. 

The Intercollegiate Football Association’s decision to hold their championship game on this holiday was pivotal, setting the stage for what would become a beloved American pastime. 

However, it wasn’t until 1880, when the association relocated the end-of-season game to New York, that Thanksgiving Day football took off.

These two key points illustrate how this tradition evolved and gained widespread popularity.


Kimberlee Johnson
Follow me

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *