The 1998 Thanksgiving Classing was between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Detroit Lions. The Lions defeated the Steelers 19-16 in a classic Thanksgiving Day game, and not necessarily for an actual play, but a mistake.
The 7-4 Pittsburgh Steelers were headed to Detroit in what seemed like an easy win against the 4-7 Lions, who had won their last two games but struggled throughout the ’98 season.
The botched coin toss will be remembered by fans forever, but this game was the most memorable Thanksgiving game to myself and others for many other reasons as well. Here are some of the highs and lows of the 1998 Thanksgiving Day game between the Lions and Steelers.
Digital First Down Line
One of my most vivid memories from this matchup was the introduction of the digital first down line that showed the television viewer where a player needed to cross in order to get a first down. This image is now a fixture of football broadcasts. The first appearance of the line during a broadcast was several weeks earlier during an ESPN broadcast of a Cincinnati Bengals vs. Baltimore Ravens game, but most television viewers and football fans had never seen the digital first down line until the Thanksgiving Day game.
Botched Coin Toss
The NFL has had many classic mistakes in it’s rich history, but the 1998 botched coin toss is one of the most memorable mistakes in NFL history. The game was tied at 16 and headed into overtime. The Steelers, being the away team, are given the choice to call the coin toss. Jerome Bettis can be clearly heard as calling “tails” during the coin toss, but the referee announces, “the call is heads”. The coin toss resulted in tails, and the Lions were awarded the ball. The call would turn out to cost the Steelers the game, as the Lions kicked a game winning field goal. NFL.com has the coin toss listed as the #4 memorable moment on Thanksgiving Day. See the full video recap of the event here.
Barry Sanders vs. Jerome Bettis
Although Lions fans didn’t know it yet, Barry Sanders was in the last season of his Hall of Fame NFL career. In 1998 Sanders rushed for 1,491 yards, but was bested by The Bus Jerome Bettis in this game. Sanders rushed for a season low of only 33 yards on 20 carries, with his longest rush being 21 yards. Jerome Bettis did not fare much better with a total of 67 yards on 26 carries.
Barry Sanders Milestone
Mentioned above was Barry Sanders’ poor performance during the game, but was not mentioned was his career accomplishment. During the game, Sanders became only the second running back in NFL history to have rushed for over 15,000 yards.
There were a total of 9 field goals attempted during the game. Norm Johnson was 3/4 while Jason Hanson for Detroit was 4/5 with three of the four field goals coming from over 40 yards.
As a lifelong Lions fan, this Thanksgiving Day game sticks out to me as the most memorable game on Thanksgiving. The botched call will always be remembered as a classic moment in NFL history. What are your memories from Thanksgiving Day football?
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