He’ll gather with friends and family who have come to town for the game, eat dinner and hang out. Whether he’s smiling or not will depend on what occurs earlier that day, whether his Detroit Lions beat the Vikings and move within one game of the division lead or lose to Minnesota, putting the team in a precarious playoff position.
But Thanksgiving is a day of family and togetherness, so this year will be a little bit different for him. It’ll be his first time celebrating Thanksgiving as a dad.
“Yeah, it’ll be cool,” Stafford said. “I feel like all those firsts will be neat, Thanksgiving, Christmas, all that kind of stuff. They bring a lot of perspective to a lot of events that go on in life.”
Stafford has had 29 years of life events to use now to help shape his experiences, and most of them revolved around football. With the Lions, it goes back to a 337-yard, five-touchdown blowout of the Eagles in 2015 when Calvin Johnson had three touchdown catches.
It goes back to his first Thanksgiving experience with Detroit, when he injured his shoulder against Cleveland a few days before Thanksgiving. Stafford won that game against the Browns on a touchdown pass on the final play — but it didn’t seem like he’d be able to play his first Thanksgiving against Green Bay.
His head coach at the time, Jim Schwartz, had even said that Monday if his pain continued, he was “unlikely to play on Thursday,” but he didn’t rule it out. Stafford ended up playing. He struggled that day, 20 of 43 passing for 213 yards, a touchdown and four interceptions in a 34-12 loss to the Packers, but playing on Thanksgiving after growing up watching games for years in Dallas meant a lot.
“Man, I was beat up and all that, but playing in my first one was really cool, you know,” Stafford said. “Hurt my shoulder three days before and tried to go out there and gut it out and play the next game. I didn’t play great. We didn’t play great and got beat, but playing in the first one was pretty cool.”
Watching football on Thanksgiving was a longtime tradition for Stafford because he grew up in the other city that has traditionally had a Thanksgiving home game — Dallas. The Cowboys are likely the only team Stafford would be unable to play on Thanksgiving unless something changed — a game that Stafford told ESPN would “be a fun one.”
Before Stafford played on Thanksgiving, he imagined it in his backyard, pretending he was then-Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman, the same Aikman whom Stafford passed in career yardage against the Bears on Sunday. Aikman and Stafford will be at Ford Field on Thursday, when Aikman calls the game Stafford is playing in for FOX.
Until he got to Detroit, though, Aikman and the Cowboys was Thanksgiving for Stafford.
“Kid growing up, man, I just feel like I was probably in my Troy Aikman replica uniform eating turkey, throwing the ball around in the backyard at halftime,” Stafford said. “And running back in to watch the second half of the game.
“I just remember doing that every year. Loving every minute of it.”