The NFL's Best Thanksgiving Performances

The Detroit Lions' Barry Sanders (L) brushes off C
The Detroit Lions' Barry Sanders (L) brushes off C / MATT CAMPBELL/Getty Images

Thanksgiving Day -- before the 21st century, it was the only time football fans could regularly find NFL action on Thursdays. This special day has seen some special performances, and for obvious reasons, this is primarily a Lions and Cowboys-centric list.

Emmitt Smith - Cowboys vs. Redskins, 1996
One of the perks of having the Cowboys on Thanksgiving every year was watching Emmitt Smith bulldoze the rest of the league throughout the 90s. It was hard for me to choose which performance to put on this list, but I ended up choosing his 155-yard, three-touchdown performance in 1996. The Cowboys really needed him that day, as quarterback Troy Aikman only threw for 63 yards, and Smith accounted for all the scoring in a 21-10 victory over the Redskins.

Barry Sanders - Lions vs. Bears, 1997
In 1997, Barry Sanders rushed for 2,053 yards and was arguably the best player in the NFL. On Thanksgiving that year he helped erase a 17-3 Bears lead and led the Lions to an incredible 55-20 comeback win. In that game, Sanders ran for 167 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries. His touchdown runs came from 40, 25 and 15 yards out.

Randy Moss - Vikings vs. Cowboys, 1998
The legend of Randy Moss was arguably born on Thanksgiving Day in 1998, as Moss had the most memorable three-catch performance by a wide receiver in NFL history. All three catches were touchdowns of over 50 yards, including the final play of the third quarter where he shook off Charlie Williams and outraced three defenders to the end zone like there were rockets strapped to his feet. Moss played with a purpose, ready to take revenge on the team that he felt shafted him at that year's NFL Draft. Mission accomplished.

O.J. Simpson - Bills vs. Lions, 1976
Oh, for the days before O.J. Simpson was a national joke. For real, though, his 273 yards against the Lions in 1976 weren't just a Thanksgiving record, they were an NFL record. The previous record-holder? Himself, for a 250-yard game three years earlier. The NFL had literally never seen anyone like him on the field, and until Eric Dickerson, never would again.

Clint Longley - Cowboys vs. Redskins, 1974
The nightmare scenario seemed to unfold for the Cowboys on Thanksgiving 1974. Dallas trailed 16-3 in the third quarter, quarterback Roger Staubach was injured, and the team was forced to turn to unknown backup Clint Longley. Redskins players and fans already celebrated what looked like a satisfying win over a hated rival, before Longley started playing like a dead ringer for the man he replaced. After two touchdown drives, Longley had Dallas in the lead.

The Redskins held a six-point lead with less than a minute to play before Longley hurled a prayer to Drew Pearson for the game-winning touchdown, a play still ingrained in the minds of both sets of fans to this day.

Longley quickly fell out with the team after getting into a physical altercation with Staubach, but hardly anyone will forget his one moment of glory on Thanksgiving Day.