Photo by Danny Moloshok/Getty Images

The War on Christmas has got nothing on The War on Thanksgiving that former NFL quarterback Joey Harrington waged between 2002 and 2007.

Things have changed somewhat in recent years as the NFL has stuffed the November holiday with as many football games as it can handle, but there have always been two constants. The Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions will always host a football game on Thanksgiving, as was decreed by The Football Gods.

The Cowboys, of course, have been a mixed bag over the years. They’ve had Super Bowl teams. They’ve had abysmal teams. They’ve had mediocre teams (oh how they’ve had mediocre teams). But the Lions? The Lions have almost always had bad teams. Sure there have been blips from time to time, but for the most part they existed on your television on Thanksgiving to get beaten up by the Packers or the Vikings or whoever else got their turn that particular season.

Joey Harrington was drafted to the Lions in 2002 with the third pick in the NFL Draft. The Oregon product brought with him the same high hopes that so many would-be saviors brought with them to Detroit. And just like those would-be saviors before him, those hopes would die painful deaths in front of national audiences. What’s interesting about Harrington is that while we was destined to play on Thanksgiving for as long as he was quarterbacking the Lions, he was apparently predestined to play on Thanksgiving no matter which team he played for. And most of the time, he seemed destined to make your Thanksgiving just a little less enjoyable.

It began on Thursday Nov 28, 2002 when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots came to town to take on the Lions. The 20-12 score doesn’t quite tell the story of a game result that was never really in question. At one point the Pats were up 17-3 and the Lions only got within eight in the fourth quarter but were unable to break through. Much of that was due to Harrington, who threw a pick-six to Tedy Bruschi in the early going. It was one of three INTs on the day (and no touchdowns). Joey ended his day 22-of-44 for 210 yards and a rating of 35.2.

Harrington would get a chance at turkey redemption on Thursday Nov 27, 2003 when Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers came calling. This time, the quarterback dialed back his production and let Favre do the damage himself. Favre was the one to throw three interceptions while Harrington finished 21-of-32 for 183 yards and a pick. He still had yet to throw a touchdown on Thanksgiving but the Lions did win 22-14, so it was something to build on.

Thursday Nov 25, 2004, a.k.a. The Day Joey Harrington’s Thanksgiving Redemption Tour Died. Peyton Manning torched the Lions for six touchdowns while Harrington went 14-of-23 for 156 yards and no scores before he was replaced by Mike McMahon in the third quarter. The Indianapolis Colts destroyed the Lions, 41-9.

The Atlanta Falcons came to Ford Field on Thursday Nov 24, 2005 for their chance to carve up the Lions and they made the most of it. While Michael Vick and Warrick Dunn were making quick work on their side, Harrington made quick work in a different way. After starting the game and going 6-of-13 for 61 yards and an interception, he was pulled late in the first half for Jeff Garcia. Rookie Dan Orlovsky eventually played as well when the game was out of reach. The Falcons won 27-7 and that lone Detroit score came courtesy of the defense.

At this point, the Lions understood that if they had any chance at ever winning on Thanksgiving again, they needed to move on from Harrington. They traded him to the Miami Dolphins in the offseason where he was supposed to toil as a back-up. Instead, presumed starter Daunte Culpepper went down with an injury and Harrington would get another chance to return to Detroit on Thanksgiving.

This time, he actually made the most of it. In the movie about Joey Harrington’s Thanksgiving Day struggles, the game between the Dolphins and Lions on Thursday Nov 23, 2006 would be the climactic third act. Harrington, who had never thrown a touchdown on Turkey Day while with the Lions, threw three of them to go with his 213 yards (and an interception for old times sake). The Dolphins won 27-10, and Harrington could now ride off into the sunset knowing that he had saved Thanksgiving for all of us and conquered his demons.

But if we’re still making a movie about Harrington and Thanksgiving, this is the scene after that one where we realize all that happiness and success was merely a temporary illusion. Harrington agreed to a two-year deal with the Falcons in 2007 to compete for the backup gig once again. And once again, he found his way into the starting role when Vick was suspended for the entire season (you know why, we don’t need to get into it). It just so happened that the Falcons were scheduled to play on Thanksgiving that year against the Colts.

The stars seemed aligned for Joey. Playing for one team that had bested him, he had the chance to defeat another team that had bested him on this most American of holidays. That was not to be. While Harrington threw a touchdown to get the Falcons up 10-0 early, Peyton Manning took over from there with three touchdowns of his own en route to a 31-13 victory. Harrington finished with two interceptions to go with his touchdown.

Harrington signed deals with the New Orleans Saints in 2008 and 2009 but never played. Whatever hopes he might have had in trying to salvage his Thanksgiving Day reputation were officially over. The nation did not shed a tear, for it had suffered just as he had suffered for so many years.

Harrington ended his six-game Thanksgiving career with a statline of 96-for-171 (56 percent), 978 yards, four touchdowns and eight interceptions. When you just allow for games he played with the Detroit Lions, that line becomes 63-of-112 (56 percent), 610 yards, zero touchdowns, and five interceptions. Now go take a shower after reading that.

You could argue that Harrington’s presence on Thanksgiving merely felt worse than it actually was. He did win two games, after all. But perhaps it’s those losses, and the way he and the Lions lost, that makes The Legend of Joey Harrington stick with us so many Novembers later.

Don’t cry for Joey. He made plenty of money and got to live his dream. You’re the one who had to sit through those games on Thanksgiving every year. You’re the real victim here. Remember that.

Happy Thanksgiving.

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to