Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday, centered on three important parts of American life: family, food and football.
For the Bears this season, the primary focus will be on the last of those three. The team plays on Thanksgiving for the first time since 2004, when they travel to Detroit to face the Lions on Thursday morning. A few players on the roster have played in Thanksgiving games before, but for many Bears, it will be a career first.
"I've never played on Thanksgiving, so I think that's going to be fun," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "We play the early game, so we'll be able to get home and enjoy time with our family."
Cutler said that while growing up in Santa Claus, Indiana, football was not a major part of his Thanksgiving tradition. For others in the Chicago locker room, watching the annual games and playing in their own Turkey Bowls played a big role in their holiday upbringing. Right guard Kyle Long said Thanksgiving was the one day a year he would go outside and play football, a memory he still cherishes.
"I didn't play organized football as a youngster," Long recently recalled. "But my experience with football was always on Thanksgiving, with my siblings and my older brother's friends and all that kind of stuff. Thanksgiving and football are definitely synonymous in my household, and a lot of the guys here are the same way I'm sure."
For wide receiver Brandon Marshall, the game on Thanksgiving will be nothing new. He played on Thanksgiving night as a rookie with the Denver Broncos in 2006, and again five years later as a member of the Miami Dolphins.
Marshall said the Thanksgiving games are a unique experience, as the entire country is gathered with their loved ones, plates piled high with delicious food, all focused on the games that are on.
"That's a huge stage and I think that all football players and football fans kind of grew up loving that day," Marshall said. "I know I'm excited about it, I know our team is excited about it. And I think it's important for us to go out there and put on a good show.
"The cool thing about Thanksgiving is that the family is together, you know you got your food, and the environment is just super cool," the wide receiver added. "It's great to be with your family and friends and watch a few games."
With the contest against the Lions kicking off Thursday morning, the Bears will be able to focus on Detroit early in the day and turkey dinner later on. Many players said they are eager to take care of business and get back to their families in time to celebrate the holiday appropriately. "We still have a job to do and we all know what that is. So that's all that we really need to focus on," said defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff. "We're going to miss all the turkey and time with the family, but hey, we can get it afterwards. We have a game to win."
Ratliff played in six Thanksgiving games while playing for Dallas, so he knows all about the holiday routine. He and his teammates will take care of the football early in the day and then spend the evening back home in Chicago with their families. But what about that third, and maybe most, important part of Thanksgiving: the food? "I love my mother's yams and chitlins," Marshall said.
"The turkey, the dressing, the greens, you know the yams in the game with the cornbread," added Ratliff. "We might mix it up and throw some gumbo in there too. You never know.
"My mom is a spectacular cook, like a lot of people will say about their mom," said Long. "But she is the best. So I like to eat a lot on Thanksgiving. Turkey, potatoes, different kind of stuffing."
For the Bears, there's one thing that would make this Thanksgiving extra special: a victory. Beating the Lions would give Chicago three wins in a row and put them back at the .500 mark on the season. Plus, there's plenty of time to enjoy the food later on. "Thanksgiving leftovers are the best," Ratliff said with a smile. "I'll eat those too."