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This Week in College Football History: Thanksgiving Edition
This Week in College Football History looks back at some of college football's landmark moments that took place on Thanksgiving.
Published: 11/21/2017 2:20:00 PM
(Pictured: The NFF highlights some of the landmark games that took place on Thanksgiving, including Hall of Fame coach Jimmy Johnson and the No. 1 Miami Hurricanes' win over East Carolina in 1986.)

The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame's This Week in College Football History looks back at some of college football's landmark moments that took place on Thanksgiving. If you choose to use this content in whole or in part, as a courtesy, please credit The National Football Foundation and use the NFF logo, which can be downloaded by clicking here.

Nov. 28, 1889
Princeton def. Yale, 10-0
New York, N.Y.

Thanksgiving 1889 featured a battle of unbeatens at Berkeley Oval in New York City. Yale had not posted a loss in its last 49 games, with just a scoreless tie against Princeton in 1886 keeping the Bulldogs’ record from being perfect. In fact, Princeton was the only reason Yale lacked a flawless record dating back to 1879, as the Tigers defeated the Bulldogs 6-5 in 1885 while the two teams posted scoreless ties on four other occasions. The Tigers meanwhile entered the game 8-0 on the season, seeking revenge after losing to Yale the last two years. Led by College Football Hall of Fame coach Walter Camp in just his second season, the Bulldogs featured Hall of Famers Pudge Heffelfinger, Amos Alonzo Stagg and Bum McClung, who led college football with 176 points that season. Princeton, captained by Edgar Allan Poe (not that one) and led by Hall of Famers Knowlton "Snake" Ames and Hector Cowan, would end Yale’s historic winless streak to finish the season 10-0, and the Tigers have since been retroactively named the national champions of 1889. Yale, whose bulldog Handsome Dan became the first college mascot in the nation that season, compiled a 16-1 record. The year also marked the first-ever college football All-America team, which featured 11 players all from Harvard, Princeton or Yale.


Nov. 24, 1898
Wisconsin def. Northwestern, 47–0
Evanston, Ill.

The legend of the “Kangaroo Kicker” was born during a lopsided win over Northwestern on Thanksgiving, as College Football Hall of Famer Pat O’Dea’s leg made history and captivated the country. An Australian native, O’Dea had become one of the Midwest’s first big football stars, gaining praise as one of the most celebrated kickers in the country during a time when kickers could take over a game. At the time, forward passes were illegal, and field goals were worth five points – one more than touchdowns. Subsequently, teams often punted on first down to try to improve their field position. No one had ever converted a field goal of more than 55 yards, but two minutes into the game against Northwestern, O’Dea gave the signal that he would attempt a 62 yard kick. Wisconsin end “Slam” Anderson almost ruined the play, as he took off down field assuming O’Dea had simply misspoken, and the defender he was supposed to guard almost blocked the kick. O’Dea dodged the defender and unloaded a dropkick, sending the ball through the uprights and nearly 10 yards past the goal line. The kick was the most remarkable play anyone in the stadium had ever seen, and the crowd erupted after the initial stunned silence. Wisconsin’s early 5-0 lead grew to a 47-0 win, and O’Dea’s record-breaking kick made nationwide headlines, giving credibility to Midwestern teams. At the end of the 1898 season, O’Dea became one of the first non-Eastern players to earn All-America honors while leading the Badgers to a 9-1 record. The Wildcats would end the season 9-4-1.


Nov. 4, 1938
No. 14 Southern California def. UCLA, 42-7
Los Angeles, Calif.

No. 14 USC hosted unranked UCLA in the battle for the “Victory Bell” in 1938, the last year the historic rivalry game occurred on Thanksgiving. Led by College Football Hall of Fame coach Howard Jones and Hall of Fame guard HarryBlack JackSmith, the Trojans dominated Hall of Fame half back Kenny Washington and the Bruins the entire game, leading to a 42-7 win. After defeating No. 1 Notre Dame the following week, USC would earn the No. 7 ranking before knocking off No. 3 Duke in the Rose Bowl to finish the season 9-2. UCLA would finish 7-4-1 after beating Hawaii in the Poi Bowl, 32-7, in Honolulu.


Nov. 28, 1963
Clemson def. South Carolina, 24-20
Columbia, S.C.

On Nov. 22, College Football Hall of Fame Head Coach Frank Howard and the Clemson Tigers traveled for three hours to prepare for their matchup against the South Carolina Gamecocks. Little did they know that tragedy had struck the nation. While the team was on the road, President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas while riding in his open motorcade. He was pronounced dead later that afternoon. The announcement shook the country, and many college football games were postponed, including the Tigers and Gamecocks who were forced to play for the first time on Thanksgiving. The game ended in a 24-20 win for Clemson, thanks to a game winning touchdown by Coach Howard’s son, Jimmy Howard. The victory capped off a five game winning streak for the Tigers, who ended the season with a 5-4-1 record. The Gamecocks finished their year 1-8-1.


Nov. 26, 1964
No. 2 Alabama def. Auburn, 21-14
Birmingham, Ala.

In the first Iron Bowl broadcast on national television, and possibly the first to be called the Iron Bowl, No. 2 Alabama defeated Auburn, 21-14, on Thanksgiving at Legion Field despite being outgained 301 yards to 245. Hoping to end their rivals’ perfect season, the Tigers jumped out to a 7-6 lead in the second quarter after College Football Hall of Fame halfback Tucker Frederickson’s touchdown. However, Ray Ogden returned a second-half kickoff 107 yards for a touchdown to put Alabama up 14-7, the game’s last lead change. Two key defensive stops followed by a 23-yard touchdown pass by Joe Namath put the Tide up 21-7. Auburn narrowed the lead with a late score, but it was not enough as Hall of Fame coach "Bear" Bryant and Alabama remained perfect for one more week. The 10-1 Crimson Tide would win the first of back-to-back national championships in 1964 despite losing to Texas in the Orange Bowl after the national title was awarded. The Iron Bowl was the last game of the year for Hall of Fame coach Shug Jordan’s Tigers, who finished with a 6-4 record.


Nov. 25, 1971
No. 7 Georgia def. Georgia Tech, 28-24
Atlanta, Ga.

The No. 7 Georgia Bulldogs needed a late touchdown drive on Thanksgiving to snap a two-game losing streak to Georgia Tech in the rivalry series known as “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate.” Georgia Tech got the scoring started, taking a 14-0 lead after two long touchdown drives. A touchdown run and pass by Georgia quarterback Andy Johnson flanked a Yellow Jacket field goal, giving Georgia Tech a 17-14 lead at halftime. After trading scores throughout the fourth quarter, the Yellow Jackets remained ahead, 24-21. With 1:29 remaining in the game, Johnson led the Bulldogs on a drive to the one-yard line before tailback Jimmy Poulos dove in for the winning touchdown. College Football Hall of Fame coach Vince Dooley and Georgia would finish the 1971 season at No. 7 with an 11-1 record after defeating his brother Bill’s North Carolina Tar Heels in the Gator Bowl. Georgia Tech would end the season 6-6 after a loss to Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl.


Nov. 23, 1972
No. 4 Oklahoma def. No. 5 Nebraska, 17-14
Lincoln, Neb.

Following the previous year’s 35-31 home loss to Nebraska in the “Game of the Century,” Oklahoma was looking for revenge on the road in Lincoln against the two-time defending national champion Huskers. Once again, the two teams met as top-five-ranked opponents, vying for the Big Eight conference title. The game was originally billed as a duel between two future College Football Hall of Famers: the eventual 1972 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers (Nebraska) and Heisman runner-up Greg Pruitt (Oklahoma). However, after trailing 14-0, the Sooners began airing it out with quarterback Dave Robertson, who passed for 186 yards behind an offensive line that featured Hall of Fame center Tom Brahaney. The Sooners scored 17 straight unanswered points while cornerback Ken Pope was able to shut down Rodgers, allowing only 53 yards total to the wingback. Nebraska’s six turnovers led to their demise, and Oklahoma was able to avenge the 1971 loss with a final score of 17-14. The Sooners would finish the season 11-1 and ranked No. 2 overall after beating Penn State, 14-0, in the Sugar Bowl. The Huskers concluded Hall of Fame coach Bob Devaney’s final season 9-2-1, landing fourth in the final AP Poll after defeating No. 12 Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl, 40-6.


Nov. 27, 1986
No. 1 Miami (Fla.) def. East Carolina, 36-10
Miami, Fla.

Destined for a shot at the national title, College Football Hall of Fame coach Jimmy Johnson and the top ranked Miami Hurricanes had one last tune up game versus East Carolina before they played in the de-facto national title game against  No. 2 Penn State and Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno in the Fiesta Bowl. The Hurricanes came into the matchup riding a 10-game winning streak and were looking to continue their dominance. Wide receiver Michael Irvin and quarterback Geoff Torretta, who filled in for the injured Hall of Famer Vinny Testaverde, hooked up for 194 yards and two touchdowns. The outmatched Pirates did manage to score 10 points, but it was not enough as the Hurricanes would win the game, 36-10. The Hurricanes would finish the season as the No. 2 team in the country with an 11-1 record after a disappointing 14-10 loss to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl. East Carolina’s season ended that Thanksgiving Day with a final record of 2-9.  


About The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame
Founded in 1947 with early leadership from General Douglas MacArthur, legendary Army coach Earl "Red" Blaik and immortal journalist Grantland Rice, The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame is a non-profit educational organization that runs programs designed to use the power of amateur football in developing scholarship, citizenship and athletic achievement in young people. With 120 chapters and 12,000 members nationwide, NFF programs include Football Matters®, the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, The William V. Campbell Trophy® presented by Fidelity Investments, annual scholarships of more than $1.3 million and a series of initiatives to honor the legends of the past and inspire the leaders of the future. NFF corporate partners include Delta Air Lines, Fidelity Investments, Herff Jones, New York Athletic Club, Pasadena Tournament of Roses, PrimeSport, the Sports Business Journal, Under Armour and VICIS. Learn more at www.footballfoundation.org.

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