Annual Goodfellows Game was tradition at Tiger Stadium for 30 years

Before his tenure as quarterback of the Detroit Lions, Gary Danielson played in The Goodfellows Game at Tiger Stadium for Dearborn High School.

For a long time, the Detroit Lions’ Thanksgiving Day game at Tiger Stadium was not the only treasured football tradition at The Corner. Every November between 1938 and 1967, the champions of the Catholic and Public School leagues met in the Goodfellows Game, a benefit event that during its 30-year run raised nearly $1 million for the Goodfellows Fund, one of the city’s favorite charities.

The inaugural Goodfellows Game was played on November 26, 1938, on a snowy field at Briggs Stadium. Heavily favored Hamtramck High was upset by Catholic Central, 19-13. The first points were registered by John McHale, the father of future Tigers president John McHale Jr. The Catholic Central center-linebacker lugged a Hamtramck pass 45 yards for a touchdown, one of two interceptions that CC returned for scores that Saturday afternoon. McHale went on to play parts of five seasons as a Tigers first baseman in the 1940s before entering baseball’s executive ranks.

Detroit owner Walter O. Briggs was a major supporter of the game, donating the use of his stadium and selling refreshments at half-price. At its peak in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, the Goodfellows Game drew crowds approaching 40,000. The spectators often included a Dearborn kid named Gary Danielson.

“As a kid, my dad had taken me to Tiger Stadium several times to see the Lions and the annual Goodfellows Game,” he recalled. “In 1967, I remember seeing Mel Farr score a long touchdown for the Lions, and that same year I played in the last Goodfellows Game.”

Divine Child, with Danielson barking signals, upset top-ranked Denby, 14-7. “I was a junior, and just a few games earlier I had been converted to quarterback. I scored the last touchdown on a rollout into the centerfield end zone.” Danielson went on to star at Purdue and later played nine seasons for the Lions, beginning in 1976. By then the Lions had moved to Pontiac. The Lions’ annual Turkey Day contest continued, but the other football tradition, the Goodfellows Game, had already ended, a victim of safety concerns in the wake of the ’67 riot.

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About Richard Bak

Richard Bak grew up on Detroit's west side. He is the author of many articles and books, including biographies of local sports legends Joe Louis and Ty Cobb and histories of Tiger Stadium and Detroit's Negro leagues.