It was cold outside. As in 39 degrees at kickoff. There was snow.
It was the quintessential Thanksgiving game. It was exactly what we’ve come to think of as a Thanksgiving day game, even though a large majority of games since have been held in domes.
The weather surely caused a young Al Davis to rue the day. The Raiders could not take advantage of their speed to establish a downfield passing game.
They still tried though. Cotton Davidson completed just five passes on the day but for 94 yards (18.8 yards per completion), while Tom Flores completed another five for a more typical 10.8 yards per completion.
But the two quarterbacks combined to go 10-for-26. Davidson had the only touchdown pass, a 39-yard strike to Bo Roberson in the third quarter.
The Broncos attempted more passes (32) and had more completions (16) for 187 yards. But unlike the Raiders’ passing duo, who avoided making any big mistakes, the Broncos threw three interceptions.
Tommy Morrow intercepted a pass and returned it for 35 yards. Clancy Osborne intercepted another and returned it 16 yards. Fred Williams intercepted another, and probably got his feet stuck in the snow, as he only managed a six-yard return.
The Raiders also capitalized on defense, securing the game’s first points with a safety in the first quarter, tackling Billy Joe (not the famous musical artist, that’s Joel) in the end zone. Joe would score the Broncos’ only touchdown late in the fourth quarter when he turned a Don Breaux completion into a 34-yard touchdown.
The Raiders’ Jon Jelacic also recovered a Broncos’ fumble and took it 19 yards to the house in the third quarter. In total, the Raiders forced four turnovers and a safety. The offense struck just enough to be able to say they contributed in the franchises’ first ever Thanksgiving day game.
For his part, Clem Daniels gained 90 yards rushing on 16 carries, while Glenn Shaw scored the team’s only rushing touchdown. Alan Miller added a 46 yards on the ground.
The final score was 26-10 in a somewhat forgettable Thanksgiving day win.
But this was November 28, 1963. Playing on Thanksgiving had a different vibe than today, where we either complain our team has to play a game on “a short week” or that Detroit and Dallas host a game every year.
In 1963, the Oakland Raiders were a mere four years into their existence as a franchise. They were already on their fourth head coach in as many seasons. Their best season to this point was the inaugural one where they finished 6-8. In the two subsequent years they finished 1-13.
But after going into Bears Stadium in Denver (what would become Mile High Stadium, where the Broncos played until 2000) and winning handily, the Raiders secured their seventh win, the most they had in any season to that point. The Raiders did not lose again in that 1963 regular season, finishing 10-4 and in second place in the AFL West.
This road win in Denver on Thanksgiving signified things were turning around for the startup franchise. Though Davis would never get the team over the hump as a coach—Jon Rauch eventually would in 1967, his first year on the job—he clearly was a part of the answer to making the Raiders, the Raiders.
Tom Flores, the first Raiders quarterback in its history and the first Latino quarterback, head coach, and executive, would go on to coach the team to two Super Bowl victories, after taking over for the legendary John Madden.
The franchise became somewhat of a fixture on Thanksgiving, playing the Buffalo Bills on November 24, 1966 (losing 31-10), the Kansas City Chiefs on November 23, 1967 (winning 44-22), the Bills again on November 28, 1968 (this time winning 13-10), and becoming the first AFL team to play against an NFL team on Thanksgiving in 1970 when they played at the Detroit Lions, only to lose that contest 28-14.
However, from that 1970 contest, the Raiders did not play on Thanksgiving again until 2009. Though that loss took the Raiders to a paltry 3-8 record, playing in that game signified something else, something similar to the win on Thanksgiving in 1963.
It was the Cowboys’ first Thanksgiving home game in their new home stadium, commonly referred to as “Jerry’s World”. By 2009, the NFL was more of an entertainment product than strictly about pad-popping and strategy.
What two franchises signified that more throughout their respective histories than the Raiders and Cowboys? Only the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers could come close in terms of national notoriety and collective fan base volume. But those two organizations were, and mostly remain, far less sexy than the Raiders and Cowboys.
As a result, the NFL doubled up with the next possible opportunity, again having the Raiders and Cowboys square off on Thanksgiving in 2013 (eschewing what should have been a Raiders home game).
In sum, the Raiders have played on Thanksgiving seven times, nowhere near a record, even for non-resident hosts. Significant though? Yes, very much so.
Especially considering the lack of Thanksgiving dates for nearly 40 years, having played on America’s favorite football holiday seven times is a sign of the appeal of the Raiders.