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Local Thanksgiving pro football roots remembered

Published: Nov. 25, 2021 at 9:53 PM EST
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IRONTON, Ohio (WSAZ) - For many Americans, professional football is as much a Thanksgiving staple as “It’s a Wonderful Life” is to Christmas.

One man is sharing the story of how the Detroit Lions’ tradition of playing on the holiday has roots in Ironton.

Local sports history fanatic Jim Ridgeway wrote an article after years of research on the history of the Ironton Tanks, a semi-pro football team from the years before the sport attracted millions of fans.

The Tanks, struggling to draw crowds, decided to try playing a game on Thanksgiving in 1920, and the idea worked.

“It would be the key marquee game, which would get a bigger crowd,” he said. “Thanksgiving was always a wide open day after people would eat. Football provided a form of relief. People had the day off. It always gave them a chance to get extra money at the gate for the teams.”

One of the Tanks’ Thanksgiving opponents was the NFL’s Portsmouth Spartans, who relocated to Michigan in 1934 and became the Detroit Lions.

“It was the middle of the depression,” Ridgeway said. “They couldn’t get crowds in.”

Ridgeway says several Lions players, including Glenn Presnell, who’d previously played for the Tanks, told the new owner how popular the Thanksgiving games were and suggested they try it there, and the tradition that carries on nearly a century later was born.

“While everyone is eating their turkey and enjoying their dressing, they should really sit back and realize pro football has strong roots in the area,” he said. “Thanksgiving-day games is a local tradition.”

You can find Ridgeway’s article here: https://irontongridironlegends.files.wordpress.com/2019/09/rememberingtheirontontanks.pdf

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