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On This Date in Sports November 27, 1980: Sudden Death on Thanksgiving

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For the first time, a game on Thanksgiving goes to overtime as the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions are deadlocked 17-17 at the end of regulation. The Lions had a 17-3 lead in the fourth quarter at the Pontiac Silverdome before the Bears rallied and tied the game as time expired. The Bears win the coin toss and the game, as Dave Williams returned the kickoff 95 yards for a game-winning touchdown. The Bears' 23-17 win would knock Detroit out of first place. 


Following a disastrous 2-14 season in 1979, the Detroit Lions, sparked by their number one overall pick Billy Sims, led the NFC Central entering Thanksgiving. Coached by Monte Clark, the Lions won their first four games as Sims provided the perfect spark to be named Offensive Rookie of the Year. The Lions were unable to maintain their hot start and entered their annual Thanksgiving game with a record of 7-5, holding a tie with the Minnesota Vikings for the lead in the Central Division. 


Coming off two playoff appearances in the last three seasons, the Chicago Bears were scuffling in 1980. Holding a record of 4-8 with coach Neil Armstrong, their playoff hopes were on life support as they prepared to face the Lions on Thanksgiving. One year earlier, the Lions stunned the Bears on Thanksgiving 22-0. 


The Lions were in control of the game early, as Eddie Murray provided the first points of the game with a 34-yard field goal in the first quarter. The Lions extended the lead to 10-0 on a 47-yard touchdown catch and run by Billy Sims, as the Bears’ offense remained stuck in neutral. Chicago managed to get on the scoreboard before the half with a 24-yard field goal by Bob Thomas. However, the Lions remain in control as Gary Donaldson made it 17-3 in the third quarter with a one-yard quarterback sneak. 


The Bears were on a long drive as the third quarter ended and reached pay dirt when Vince Evans connected with Bob Fisher on a 20-yard touchdown pass. Despite the touchdown, the Lions remained in front, but Chicago had the momentum as Billy Sims was held to 72 yards on the ground, while Walter Payton rushed for 138 yards. The Bears had the ball late in the fourth quarter, looking to tie the game, as Detroit hoped time would run out. Vince Evans lined up near the goal with seconds left and scored on a four-yard run up the gut to tie the game as time expired. 


With the score tied 17-17, the game went to overtime. It was the first time that a game on Thanksgiving needed sudden death. The Bears won the coin toss as the Lions lined up for the overtime kickoff, trying to overcome the Bears tying the game on the final play of regulation. Dave Williams fielded Eddie Murray’s kick at the five. Williams found a seem and raced 95 yards for a game-winning touchdown. As the Bears celebrated their 23-17 win, the Lions were left stunned as boos rained down from fans at the Silverdome. 


The Bears finished the season with a record of 7-9, while the Lions finished 9-7. Detroit finished tied at the end of the season with the Minnesota Vikings but lost the tiebreaker and missed the postseason.