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1980 Bears Lions Thanksgiving Classic

Bears QB Vince Evans recalls key game moments in this article and in our football history podcast.


This game is most remembered for the Bears overtime kickoff return for a touchdown against the Lions on Thanksgiving. Dave Williams returned the ball 95 yards for a touchdown to beat the Detroit Lions, 23-17, in the Pontiac Silverdome. Previously, the Detroit Lions owned a 17-3 lead going into the fourth quarter.

Bears quarterback Vince Evans directed two fourth-quarter touchdown drives. He scored the game-tying touchdown with no time left on the clock.

The Bears OT touchdown kickoff return by Dave Williams marked the third time that he ran a kickoff back for a touchdown in his NFL career. It was the first-time ever that an overtime kickoff was returned for a touchdown and it was the shortest overtime period in NFL history at that point.

Vince Evans said that he and his teammates were grateful for Williams’ touchdown, as they were exhausted from a punishing game. Evans took a lot of hits from Detroit’s pass rush, specifically Al “Bubba” Baker. “Fortunately, we won the toss and thank God David Williams took that thing back for the game winning touchdown because, man, I did not want to go back on that field,” Evans said on The Game Before the Money NFL history podcast.


The Detroit Lions led 17-3 going into the fourth quarter. Walter Payton opened the fourth quarter with a 19-yard run. Vince Evans tossed a 20-yard touchdown pass just a few plays later. Chicago was back in the game, albeit still behind 17-14.

Evans’ shining moment came when the Bears got the ball back on their own six-yard line with three-and-a-half minutes left. He engineered a 94-yard touchdown drive and scored the game-tying TD with no time left in regulation.

He spoke about the Bears’ strategy going into the drive: “It was a combination of running Walter, which is always a plus to have had him in the backfield. But it was the combination of the running and throwing the ball that helped to advance us down the field.”

Evans completed four passes on that 94-yard drive. He said that those completions came with a cost. “Every time I went back to pass, I mean, no sooner than I got the ball out of my hand, Bubba Baker, number 60, man, he was just ripping me apart,” Evans said. “Back then there were no personal fouls against the quarterback. It was just open season on quarterbacks. They could hit you wherever they wanted to, and it was just not an issue. And man, he was just tagging me and tagging me.”

Chicago had a third-and-goal from the Lions four-yard line with six seconds left on the clock. Evans faded back to pass, and looked to his left and to his right. He found a seem to his right and dashed into the end zone as the clock expired.


Dave Williams’ 95-yard kickoff return on the overtime kickoff remains one of the most memorable Thanksgiving plays in NFL history. I remember sitting down at a restaurant with my family just after we arrived there to have Thanksgiving dinner. The restaurant had the game playing on TV and I watched it happen live. It happened so quickly; it was just a stunning finish to a game that the Lions looked like they had won in the third quarter. Games are 60 minutes, however, and this game actually turned out to be about 60 and a half minutes. If you watched this game, I’m sure you remember it as well. It was a classic NFL game in terms of history.


The Lions, playing at home in the Pontiac Silverdome, jumped out to a 10-0 lead after rookie sensation Billy Sims caught a pass for a 47-yard touchdown. The Lions defense played remarkably well in the first half, holding Walter Payton to only 13 yards in the first 30 minutes.

Detroit led, 10-3, at halftime. The Lions added another touchdown after a time-consuming drive that gobbled up the majority of the third quarter. Things fell apart in the fourth quarter, however, as Payton rushed for 64 yards in the final period. Vince Evans threw for one touchdown and ran for another to tie the game. His touchdown run capped a 94-yard drive.

The Bears win derailed the Lions playoff hopes. Detroit finished the season at 9-7. That tied them with the Minnesota Vikings for first place in the NFC Central. However, the Vikings won the division title via conference winning percentage. Minnesota finished 8-4 in the conference, which percentage wise turned out better than Detroit’s 9-5 conference record. The Lions missed out on the playoffs entirely.

In the 1980 NFL Playoffs, the Vikings lost to the eventual NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles, coached by Dick Vermeil.


The Bears finished 7-9 and also missed the playoffs. The win over Detroit stood as a season highlight, however, and the Bears carried the momentum into the next week with an historic 61-7 win over the Green Bay Packers. Dave Williams’ overtime kickoff return on Thanksgiving Day against the Lions remains one of the most memorable finishes in Chicago Bears history.

Hear Chicago Bears QB Vince Evans share his memories of the 1980 Bears vs Lions Thanksgiving Game and other facts about the classic NFL game on the podcast. The Bears won the game on an OT kickoff return for a touchdown.

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Looking for a great NFL history book? Check out The Game Before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL available at — Amazon.comBarnes and NobleUniversity of Nebraska Press

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