In 1934, Detroit radio entrepreneur George A. Richards purchased the National Football League’s Portsmouth, Ohio Spartans for $7,952.08. Richards moved the team to Detroit and renamed them the Lions. Disappointed with the first season’s attendance, which never exceeded 15,000, Richards hatched the idea of a Thanksgiving Day game. To generate additional interest, Richards, who owned radio stations including Detroit’s WJR, arranged for a national radio broadcast of the game.
In order to draw a crowd, the undefeated and defending World Champion Chicago Bears were scheduled as the opponent for the November 29, 1934 contest.
Although the Lions entered the Thanksgiving game with a 10-1 record, having defeated teams including the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Chicago Cardinals, and the Boston Redskins, the Bears won 19 – 16. The Bears went on to finish the season 13 – 0, an NFL record that held until 1972.