It’s almost Thanksgiving weekend, and football fans in our region are salivating. There’s a full lineup of pro and college football, with high stakes for three Big Ten teams.
For the 71st year in a row, the Detroit Lions are playing on Thanksgiving Day. This year, their opponent will be the New England Patriots. The sold-out game will be a homecoming of sorts for the Pats’ most famous player, quarterback Tom Brady, who led the Michigan Wolverines during his college years.
The last time Brady played on Thanksgiving, in 2002, the Pats beat the Lions 20-12. He says he won’t be distracted by the holiday: he’s more concerned about playing on just a few day’s rest.
But the New England-Detroit contest is just a curtain raiser for the games that everyone around here is waiting for. On Saturday, the Big Ten title will be decided among Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin, who are all 6-1 in conference play. The battle begins at noon ET, when Ohio State hosts Michigan and Michigan State plays at Penn State. Wisconsin plays Northwestern at 3:30 pm ET.
Last week, Northwestern was in the spotlight for its game at Wrigley Field against Illinois. The Wildcats were heavily favored going into the game, the first football game played in the friendly confines since 1970. But the Illini upset the Wildcats 48-27, on the record-setting rushing performance of junior running back Mikel Leshoure.
The game was already historic enough, but a last minute twist thrust it into a national spotlight. On Friday, the Big Ten ruled that the field was too tightly wedged into Wrigley to allow for safe play. It instructed the teams to run all their offensive plays into the west end zone, except in the case of interceptions. That turned the cross-state contest into the One-Way Bowl, and made for some interesting moments.
I covered the game for the The New York Times and got the chance to walk the football field a few days before. Here’s a special up close look for Changing Gears at Wrigley as it was being prepared for the game.