The biggest NFL Thanksgiving “One-hit” wonders of the Super Bowl Era

The biggest NFL Thanksgiving “One-hit” wonders of the Super Bowl Era

Let's look back at some players who had outstanding games on Thanksgiving once

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Gobble gobble, everyone! It’s Thanksgiving, which means it’s once again time to pretend you like your Aunt Bernice’s potato salad, get in stupid verbal fights with your in-laws, and watch the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys play mediocre football. Thanksgiving football has become part of American culture, whether it be everyone getting together at a local park for the annual Turkey Bowl or huddled up on the couch. If you and your family partake in the latter option, you’ve probably seen some pretty incredible games.

Who could forget the 2011 instant classic between the Cowboys and Dolphins that saw Dan Bailey nail a game-winning 28-yard field goal as time expired? Or the 2013 Steelers-Ravens game that saw Justin Tucker make five field goals and the Steelers fail a two-point conversion late in the game that would’ve tied it up? Those are just some of the recent ones that I remember, but some of you older folks out there probably remember even more from the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

A great game on Thanksgiving is not a rare occurrence, and neither are great individual performances. Charles Woodson, Calvin Johnson, and Aaron Rodgers have each had their fair share of insane Thanksgiving performances, but we’re not focusing on them. Today, we’re taking a look at those guys who made a name for themselves on Thanksgiving. The guys who became household names on the fourth Thursday of November, and then were never heard from again: Thanksgiving one-hit wonders.

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Honorable Mentions: WFT Antonio Gibson (2020)

Honorable Mentions: WFT Antonio Gibson (2020)

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Is Antonio Gibson a big name in the NFL today? Arguably, but it’s only arguable because of what he did on Thanksgiving last season. Gibson’s trio of rushing touchdowns against the Cowboys were enough to make everybody turn their head in awe and go “Hey, maybe we should’ve been paying more attention to this guy all along.”

The 2020 Thanksgiving game is one of only two career games for Gibson with over 100 rushing yards and his only game with three TDs. While Gibson certainly isn’t your typical idea of a “one-hit wonder,” having recorded three other multi-TD games in just under two years as a pro and remaining Washington’s feature back through 2021, he hasn’t lived up to the expectations placed upon him since that Thanksgiving Day game. Still, Thanksgiving 2020 is far and away the best game of Gibson’s career and that’s why he finds himself on our list.

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Honorable Mentions: GB Randy Wright (1986)

Honorable Mentions: GB Randy Wright (1986)

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Randy Wright started 32 games in his NFL career, all for the Green Bay Packers and half of them came in 1986, the greatest of which came on Thanksgiving, November 27, 1986. The Packers took on the Lions in Detroit and Wright along with some help from his teammates (more on them later), Wright managed to pull off the victory by a final of 44-40.

Wright completed 18 of 26 passes for 286 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. That’s the fourth-most yards Wright ever threw for in his career, and the most yards he’d ever thrown for in a victory. It was also one of only two games for Wright with three passing touchdowns, but the other, which took place eleven days prior to the Thanksgiving game, saw Wright throw three interceptions as well. Wright’s passer rating of 128.0 is also the highest mark of Wright’s career for any game where he attempted at least 10 passes. All in all, an unforgettable performance from one of the long-forgotten Packers’ quarterbacks.

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Honorable Mentions: DAL Laurent Robinson (2011)

Honorable Mentions: DAL Laurent Robinson (2011)

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We struggled on determining whether or not Laurent Robinson belonged on this list, not because he didn’t have a great Thanksgiving Day game in 2011, recording seven catches for 79 yards and two touchdowns, but because we weren’t sure whether or not he qualified as a “one-hit-wonder.” Robinson scored 11 touchdowns in 2011! That’s a lot. Also, Robinson had two other games that very season with over 100 yards and a touchdown, so pointing out just one great game in a season where Robinson had several great games seemed a bit counter-productive.

Nonetheless, Robinson had three career games with multiple scores (all in 2011), and his Thanksgiving Day marks of seven receptions and 79 yards are both career-highs for his multi-TD games. The Cowboys needed every little bit of energy they could muster up to beat the Dolphins that season, and Robinson was arguably the team’s MVP that day.

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Honorable Mentions: CHI Ricky Proehl (1997)

Honorable Mentions: CHI Ricky Proehl (1997)

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Proehl was another difficult selection for this list. Sure, through 17 seasons in the NFL, he never had a year with over 900 receiving yards or 70 receptions, but he was also a key contributor to the St. Louis Rams’ Super Bowl run in 1999, recording six receptions, 100 yards, and the only touchdown of the NFC Championship Game against Tampa Bay. His validity as a “one-hit wonder” is surely in question.

Still, arguably the best game of Proehl’s career came on Thanksgiving Day 1997, where Proehl, a member of the Chicago Bears, recorded a career-high in receiving yards (164) — over thirty more yards than the second-highest receiving total of his career — on just four receptions including one touchdown catch.

It was certainly a great performance from Proehl, however, the Bears lost this game...badly. Detroit laid the beatdown on Chicago and walked away with a 55-20 victory, so for as great as Proehl was, his performance most likely got overshadowed by the insane amount of hurt the Lions were laying down.

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10) DET Ryan Broyles (2012)

10) DET Ryan Broyles (2012)

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Who would’ve thunk? We start the official list off with a Lion.

Ryan Broyles was an unfortunate case in the NFL, drafted 54th overall in the 2012 NFL draft and meant to be a complementary piece to both Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew in Detroit’s passing attack, Broyles struggled to stay healthy and found himself out of the NFL in just three years. Broyles never played more than ten games in a season and garnered only 21 total games played and six games started for his career. He never had much opportunity to steal the hearts of Detroit football fans.

On November 22, 2012, though, Broyles broke out for the only truly great game of his career. He recorded six receptions on 12 targets for 126 yards. While Broyles never found the endzone, he did more than enough damage through the air to help the 4-6 Lions stay competitive against the 9-1 Houston Texans. Broyles didn’t pace the Lions in receptions, yards, or even targets (all those belonged to Calvin Johnson, as one would expect), but his 126 yards are more than double the second-highest yardage output of his career (52). He may not be a household name, but his strong performance on Thanksgiving that year probably had several Houston fans saying “Who’s this Broyles guy and how is he torching us?”

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9) DET Jeff Chadwick (1986)

9) DET Jeff Chadwick (1986)

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Remember when we said, we’d have more on the 1986 Thanksgiving Day games...well, here you go. Jeff Chadwick recorded six receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown for the Lions in their 44-40 loss against Green Bay. It was one of only five career 100-yard games for Chadwick and the second-most receiving yards in a game.

1986 was definitely Chadwick’s best season as he recorded a career-high in touchdowns (5) and nearly 1,000 yards through the air. His four-game stretch between November 16 and December 7, 1986 is undoubtedly the best part of his career. He recorded 19 receptions for 411 yards and four touchdowns. The Thanksgiving Day game was the third of that stretch and allowed Chadwick to show his skills in PrimeTime. It was the last time Chadwick would eclipse 100 yards in a game for the rest of his career, and man, it was a great time to have one of the best games of his career.

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8) DAL Bradie James (2008)

8) DAL Bradie James (2008)

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We had to throw at least one defensive player on this list. I mean, come on! We get so enamored with offensive showcases, we often forget that defense wins championships. At least, that’s what your Uncle Paulie would have you believe. Bradie James was a staple in the Cowboys’ defense between and 2011 before moving across the state of Texas to Houston for the final year of his career. James was always a solid player, but was quiet. His number never burst off the page at you and he never had any enormous moments that etched him into the annals of Dallas Cowboy history.

James did have a fantastic 2008 Thanksgiving game though. Part of a 34-9 rout over the Seattle Seahawks, James recorded two sacks, 13 total tackles (12 solo), a forced fumble, and a pass defended for the Cowboys. It was the only multi-sack game of James’ career. His 13 total tackles are also tied for a career-high. However, it’s the sheer multitude of different plays James made in this game that make it one of the best one-hit wonders of all time. Anyone can record multiple sacks in a game. People do it all the time, but can you also consistently stuff the run? Can you also punch the ball out and force a turnover? Can you also drop back into coverage and force an incompletion? James looked like a Swiss Army knife out there, and there’s no better time to have the best game of your career than on Thanksgiving. I’m sure many Cowboys’ fans felt very thankful for James after watching this game.

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7) CHI Chase Daniel (2018)

7) CHI Chase Daniel (2018)

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Chase Daniel’s most notable accomplishment as an NFL quarterback nowadays is being somebody people point to and say “How does this guy have a job and not Colin Kaepernick?” That’s all Daniel is, a seemingly mediocre quarterback who’s been given far too many opportunities to remain on an NFL team for very little success. Maybe part of the reason he still wears a uniform to this day is because of his performance on Thanksgiving in 2018.

Being forced to make his first start of the season for the injured Mitchell Trubisky, Daniel showed out on Thanksgiving, completing 27 of 37 passes for 230 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. That’s all fine and well, but why exactly did we put this game in the top ten over Randy Wright’s 1986 performance? Wright recorded more yards and more touchdowns. That is true, but did Wright record a reception as well? No. He did not. That’s where Daniel has the upper hand. Not only was Daniel getting it done with his arm, he was also hauling in passes to help his Bears beat the Lions. That’s the kind of versatility we hear at Deadspin love to see. He’s like the Shohei Ohtani of the NFL...I hope the sarcasm reads through there.

This was far and away the greatest game of Daniel’s career. Given that Daniel has started just five games in his career, he definitely qualifies for the “one-hit wonder” moniker much more than Wright does. This was the only victory of Daniel’s career where he recorded over 200 passing yards. It was also the highest passer rating of Daniel’s career for games he had with at least five pass attempts. If it hadn’t been for this game, all Daniel’s career in Chicago would’ve been remembered for was that prank he played in Trubisky in training camp. Thankfully, he gave Bears fans something tangent to root for during his time there as well.

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6) TEN Dave Ball (2008)

6) TEN Dave Ball (2008)

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Have you ever seen a stat sheet entirely filled out? Like there isn’t a single zero under any of the big stats you look for? Well, that’s the type of game Dave Ball had for the Titans in 2008. To be fair, Ball did have a zero in one category. What was it? Fumble recoveries. That’s it.

Ball was arguably the most valuable defensive player for the Titans in this 47-10 thwomping of the Detroit Lions. Ball recorded two tackles, one TFL, one sack, one forced fumble, one interception, and one defensive touchdown. He was everywhere on the field. Keep in mind, Ball was a defensive end. Defensive ends are not supposed to record interceptions, but on one of the biggest stages in the NFL, Ball managed to pick off quarterback Daunte Culpepper and trounce into the endzone. It would end up being the only interception of Ball’s career, and while that’s great, it’s the fact that Ball also recorded one of his 15.5 career sacks, one of his three career forced fumbles, and his only career touchdown in this game as well that makes his performance so memorable.

Ball may have never been a standout defensive player throughout his seven-year career. In fact, he only started 23 games in his career, but Thanksgiving Day 2008 gave Ball the spotlight, if only for a moment, and he came through big time. Did it help Ball that this game was against the Lions who wound up going 0-16 this season? Probably. Do we care? Not at all.

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5) DET Richard Johnson (1990)

5) DET Richard Johnson (1990)

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Richard Johnson’s 5 receptions for 83 yards and 2TDs helped the Lions to a big win on Thanksgiving in 1990. The Lions captured their fourth win of the year in this game, beating down the Broncos 40-27. This was Johnson’s third and final season in the NFL. Not a bad way to go out, adding a game like this to your resume.

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4) GB Walter Stanley (1986)

4) GB Walter Stanley (1986)

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In 1986 Walter Stanley helped steal the show with 124 yards receiving and just 4 catches with 2TDs. These were the only two receiving TDs all year for Stanley, and they helped the Packers to a 44-40 win over the Detroit Lions on this day. This was a pretty lean era for Green Bay in the win column, so a victory like this on turkey day must have been a morale boost for the cheeseheads.

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3) DET Robbie Martin (1983)

3) DET Robbie Martin (1983)

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Had Robbie Martin scored one more TD, he may have done enough to take over first place in our Thanksgiving game one-hit wonders ranking. But 6 returns for 140 yards and a TD is still pretty damn good for a guy that barely touched the field. In six years as a wide receiver for Detroit and Indianapolis, Martin caught 13 passes for 196 yards. So, this game on Thanksgiving in 1983 was most certainly the career highlight for Martin.

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2) MIN Darrin Nelson (1987)

2) MIN Darrin Nelson (1987)

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Darrin Nelson had his best game of the season on Turkey day 1987 against Dallas. Nelson had two rushing TDs all year, and they both came on Thanksgiving. He had almost 20% of his rushing yards for the season on this day with 118. Nelson also chipped in with 5 catches for 43 yards. The best part of this exciting game is that Nelson had a magnificent showing, and Minnesota got the victory.

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1) DAL Mike Renfro (1987)

1) DAL Mike Renfro (1987)

Mike Renfro #82, seen here playing for the Houston Oilers in 1979.
Mike Renfro #82, seen here playing for the Houston Oilers in 1979.
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This Thanksgiving day game was a high-scoring affair, with Mike Renfro notching a career game with seven receptions, 100 yards receiving, and three touchdowns. The only thing better would have been if the Cowboys came away with the W, but it wasn’t meant to be this year as they fell to the Vikings 44-38. This season was shortened (15 games played) by the player strike of 1987 and was the Cowboys’ second to last season coached by Tom Landry. The Cowboys went 7-8 in 1987.

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