9 Bills reflect on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving

Cole Beasley (top left), Josh Allen (top middle), Dawson Knox (top right), Kurt Coleman (bottom left), Tre'Davious White (bottom middle) and Jerry Hughes (bottom right) share what will make Thanksgiving football special for them on Thursday.
Cole Beasley (top left), Josh Allen (top middle), Dawson Knox (top right), Kurt Coleman (bottom left), Tre'Davious White (bottom middle) and Jerry Hughes (bottom right) share what will make Thanksgiving football special for them on Thursday.

It's not every year an NFL team not named the Cowboys or Lions gets to play on Thanksgiving Day in front of a nationwide audience. Playing on the national holiday is quite rare for most of the league. The last time the Bills played on Thanksgiving was 1994.

Most of the players in Buffalo's locker room grew up watching Thanksgiving Day games from their couch with their families, but there are a few who have the experience of playing in this game when everyone is watching.

"It is an honor number one," said head coach Sean McDermott, who coached in a Thanksgiving game with Carolina in 2015. "Even for myself as a young kid watching the Dallas Cowboys play on Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving afternoons, eating dinner together as a family. A lot of great memories. It'll be special to be part of that game now with the Buffalo Bills. Just a unique environment and setting down in Dallas."

Here's what Buffalo's players think of the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving, the game, the short week and what it means for the rest of their season.

HOMECOMING

There are more than half a dozen players from the state of Texas on Buffalo's roster. For them, a Thanksgiving Day game in Dallas is about as good as it gets in terms of seeing family on what will be a work day.

Born in Sugarland, Texas, Jerry Hughes relishes the opportunity to play in his home state, where he also played his college ball (TCU) and made a name for himself.

"This game is very important," Hughes said. "As a kid growing up watching the NFL you always kept your eye on a Thanksgiving game because you could sit and enjoy your family and some good food. My wife, in laws, my parents, my kids. They'll all be there. A couple of my roommates will be there. It'll be fun going back to Texas."

Perhaps homecoming applies to no one better than Cole Beasley, a Dallas native. A former Cowboy, who previously played his entire football career in or for teams from the state of Texas, Beasley isn't sure how he'll feel when he steps between the lines on Thursday afternoon.

"I get pretty juiced before every game so I expect it to be the same, but I don't know," Beasley said. "It's the first time I've ever gone against an ex-team as an opponent, so I don't know how I'll feel at that time. But I'll be excited to play football. I know that for sure."

THANKSGIVING GAME EXPERIENCE

Along with coach McDermott, who coached in a Thanksgiving game there are a couple of former Carolina Panthers who played on the holiday back in 2015, the year the Panthers went to the Super Bowl.

Micah Hyde played on Thanksgiving his rookie year with Green Bay when they faced off against Detroit. He had a couple of kick returns and rotated in on defense.

"I knew a lot of people would be watching," said Hyde of his thoughts back in 2013. "What was cool was I was in Detroit for that game so I had a lot family up from Ohio at that game."

For Star Lotulelei, the Panthers game against the Cowboys went well as they left Dallas with a 33-14 victory. But former and current teammate Kurt Coleman had a special memory from that game, an interception return for a touchdown.

"It was the third play of the game," Coleman said. "My record on Thanksgiving has been pretty solid. But it's a different team in the sense of who they are. Romo was the quarterback then. The great thing about this is we have a lot of great mojo going down to Dallas. We're excited about the challenge. I know they're hungry to rebound off their loss against New England, so it's going to be two hungry teams going at it. It's important to be able to establish ourselves early in the game."

RECOVERY

Buffalo's players know perhaps the most important part of a Thanksgiving game is taking extra steps to get the proper recovery on a short week.

"A bunch of us came in right after the game Sunday and got some treatment and sat in the steam rooms and the tubs," said Lotulelei. "We got some light treatment and then came back in for more Monday morning. We only had a walk-through, so that was helpful. We had a light practice Tuesday and got moving around and that helped get the blood moving again."

"A lot of guys were staying here longer this week," said Hyde. "Trainers were here later to help take care of us. We're making use of all of our recovery tools to get our bodies back right."

Coleman however, believes being mentally sharp on a short week might carry the most weight.

"The most important thing is getting your mind right," he said. "You're probably still going to be a little sore, but once it's game time you don't feel it until the day after. It's all about who can recover physically and mentally. Discharge everything you had to know from last Sunday and then process everything that's going in this week.

"So mentally you have to just be taking the extra step, whether it's talking with the coaches or looking at film. Both teams are going through it, so they're going to be focusing on what they do best and we need to focus on that along with what we do best. It's just going to be about what team executes the best on a short week."

FAMILY

A good number of players in addition to Hughes will have family on hand for the game, even though some of those families don't reside in Texas.

Dawson Knox, who is used to playing on Thanksgiving from his college days at Ole Miss when they'd face Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl, is a Tennessee native, but he'll have family in the stands at AT&T Stadium.

"My mom's side of the family is coming, 20 maybe 30 people," Knox said. "So it'll be fun. Anytime I get to see my family before or after and knowing they're there watching, it always makes it special. It just adds a little extra excitement to the game."

Josh Allen, whose family resides in California, realized this was as close as the Bills would come to the west coast this season, so they're making the holiday trip to Arlington, Texas as well.

"I'm going to have a good support group from back home, about 40 of them," said Allen. "So it'll be good to see them. There's a lot to be thankful for. I'm super blessed and really can't complain."

"I've got a lot of family coming to the game," cornerback Tre'Davious White said. "I've got a lot of family that lives in the Dallas area. My dad lives down there. So it'll be fun to see my family for the first time since July. So it's going to be fun."

When the Bills play against the Cowboys in Dallas on Thanksgiving, a few players on the roster will be returning to their home state. Scroll through to view photos of the players and their families, and their history in Texas.

CHILDHOOD MEMORIES

Many of the players on the roster remember watching Thanksgiving Day games at home with their families growing up. Well most of them anyway.

Tre'Davious White and Isaiah McKenzie are two exceptions.

"I didn't really start watching Thanksgiving games until I got to college," said White.

"Last year was my first time watching the Thanksgiving games," said McKenzie. "I was having Thanksgiving at Josh Allen's house. I never really watched it as a kid. So watching it last year was pretty cool. The only three games on TV. For us to play at 4:30 and get a primetime slot is pretty exciting."

For most however, watching those games as a kid is still very vivid.

"I remember growing up and waking up on Thursday and going and eating and watching these games all day," said Allen. "That's all I did along with stuffing my face with mashed potatoes. So I know there are people out there who are going to be doing the same thing."

"It's a game unto itself," said Cody Ford of their game with Dallas. "You grow up watching Thanksgiving games and now we get a chance to play in one. It's a separate type of experience all to itself. It's special."

"I just remember watching those games growing up and always just wondered if I could get to that level," said Knox. "Now I may get a chance to be the guy eating the turkey leg at the end of the game. It's really cool."

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