Thanksgiving morning I woke up bright and early and made the three-hour drive up to Detroit. Once I arrived in the city I looked for parking, accidentally turning down a street to enter Canada instead of a hotel lot. Was not carrying my passport and border patrol gave me a bit of a hard time as I tried to turn around before going through customs. Sorry Canada, not today! It ended turning me around a bit and taking me down Chrysler St where I found you can park for free. Detroit having the reputation it does, I was a little nervous leaving my car, but I saw so many police, I doubt anyone was committing any crimes in the city. I walked about ten minutes to the stadium and passed by a few tailgate lots that were fairly full. There were a significant amount of Eagles fans in town for this game and they were mingling with Lions fans, probably bonding over disappointing seasons.
On my long list of things to be thankful for, I was thankful Ford Field was inside because it was lightly raining and dreary outside. I walked down the Pride Plaza in-between the stadium and Comerica Park. It was packed with fans jamming to live music and drinking. There were some tents set up with giveaways, but not much in terms of games and interactive activities. I passed through the plaza twice admiring some of the lion costumes I saw fans wearing. They looked warm in their onesie pajamas! Outside the main entrance, I was a little disappointed there was no giant Lion statue to take a picture with, so I settled for the tarp Lion with ‘defend the den’ next to it. While taking pictures, I met a guy named Greg who was on a mission to see all the major sporting event venues over the years. He ended up tagging along as I entered the stadium and walked to the atrium near Gate G to meet my team contact Ellen near the Christmas tree.
As we moved through the main concourse, I was impressed with the older indoor facility. The atriums were open and you could move between the various stands levels via stairs, ramps, and escalators. The three-quarters of the main concourse halls between the atriums are wide, though the ceilings aren’t very high. The concourse behind the Lions bench is split into two concourses the one closer to the field looks like a street in Detroit with exposed brick walls and even some brick on the floor. A stadium employee later told me that some of the brick is from an old building that was incorporated into the design along with the brick on the walkway. It’s a little dark in this area, but the concessions are lit up with large signs. We exited out of this makeshift “street to the atrium housing the tree and it was quite the sight. The tree is a couple stories tall and decked out in blue and silver trimmings. On top of all that they had Santa in a chair in front that you could take pictures with. After meeting with Ellen and setting up our post game plans, I immediately got in line for Santa. The line went quickly and when I sat down on Santa’s lap I asked him for the only thing in my heart I could possibly want, “Santa can you bring the Buckeyes a win on Saturday.” Santa smiled and said, “Anything for you!” This guy was obviously the real Santa and not some guy from Detroit. Ecstatic I got my picture and the confidence boost I needed to believe Ohio State would beat Michigan that Saturday.
I headed down to the field to watch the teams warm-up and survey the stands. I’ll be honest that I expected more pizzazz for the Thanksgiving game. Where were the turkeys, the cornucopia, the pilgrims? All that was “different” was Thanksgiving was painted on the field and there was a sign. That’s the only thing that tipped off I was there on a holiday, everything else was the exact same. I wondered why this was such a big deal. Not being from the area nor growing up with this tradition, I was unable to grasp its general splendor. It wasn’t until I talked to other fans and heard some of their stories, that I was able to appreciate the game a little better. Detroit has been holding a Thanksgiving Day game since 1934 and it’s very ingrained in the city and its residents. Many people grew up going to this game (and watching it) and don’t think it’s odd at all to go to a sporting event on a holiday. In my opinion, they’re lucky it’s a 12:30 game so they can still go home and have a proper Thanksgiving feast after.
I stayed down in the stands to watch the teams come out, again disappointed in the lack of pageantry. In fact, both teams come out of the same tunnel area, which was a first. I know I’m being a bit unreasonable, but I thought it would be more like a parade, less like an actual NFL game. This is why you don’t set high expectations for things. If I’d gone into this game knowing it was just a game, that happened to be on a holiday, I wouldn’t have thought these things. After the teams were announced I headed up to some standing room behind the lower bowl to watch the anthem and opening drive. During a long TV timeout (and they were so very long this game), I made my way up to the upper level and stood in the atrium overhang near the tree. The view of the field was great from here and you still had the crowd noise, which was amplified by the roof. Unfortunately, the lighting in this facility wasn’t great and like the older domes I’ve visited, I had a hard time capturing non-blurry photos of the field and more importantly me (just kidding, sorta.). The Lions scored and were treated to a wonderful live rendition of their fight song. It’s awesome- Theo “Gridiron” Spight belts it out, live after every score and win. The man doesn’t miss a beat and it’s very theatrical and the fans are way into it. We heard that song many, many times during the 45-14 Lions victory. I think Theo had a hoarse voice after all that performing, but I doubt he was mad!
Following the touchdown, I found my seat in the delightfully named “Roar Zone” (both end zones have banners hanging over them). The stadium is only two levels and I felt fairly close to the field. The view was great for watching the Lions and mainly Calvin Johnson go to work on the poor Eagles. Chip this is what you get for not signing Tim Tebow, haha! I ended up talking to some fans and they told me how they grew up coming to this game and no matter how bad the team was, they don’t miss it. They also mentioned that the halftime show is always worth it too. I quickly Googled who would be performing and found it would be Big Sean. Well, that is way better than a magician, sorry Gob. During the two minute warning, I went down to an overhang for a better view of the field for his performance. It was short, but he did a great job, though I’d never heard the songs he rapped before.
For the third quarter, I hung out in the standing room along the Eagles sideline and chatted up a dude named George from the Toledo area. He was Michigan fan for everything but college- he was all about Ohio State. We bonded. I picked the wrong week to hang out in this state as there were fans wearing Michigan sweatshirts and hats all over the place. Usually, I always see one, here there were hundreds. I was wearing my Ohio necklace and carrying my Browns bag to fend them off. It didn’t work, but all the people I talked to were friendly and I had some quality banter about The Game. That’s how it should be- light hearted. For the fourth quarter, I did another lap around the stadium as I was a little bored with the game. It wasn’t competitive at this point and even I can’t take that much glee in Mark Sanchez’s demise.
Towards the end of the game, some animal activists ran on the field with signs and were hauled off to a litany of booing. I don’t know how that helps their cause, but I hope the jail time or ticket they got was worth it in their eyes. It did provide a little excitement to the final minutes, though not enough to keep fans in the stands. People started to clear out early, but I stayed until the very end and heard another live rendition of the fight song. I met back up with Ellen in the Lions offices which are in the back hallway of the team’s sideline. We got to talking and I found out she was local and had grown up coming to this game with her dad as he is a season ticket holder. This was the one game she went to every year with him and always looked forward to it. In my head, this tipped the scale and I decided the Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit was a neat tradition to have. I am softening on my hard stance of no sporting events on holidays quite a bit. After we said our goodbyes I walked back to my car and drove to Ypsilanti where my best friend from high school, Melissa lives and caught the end of their dinner. I hadn’t seen her in months, so even though this wasn’t my family, I was able to enjoy the holiday (and food!) with a close friend.
Remember I am raising money for the Ronald McDonald House in Central Ohio. Please donate by clicking here.
Special thank you to Ellen for her time and assistance during my visit!