Why John Madden started this legendary turkey leg tradition


“I’ve always been an eater, and I know when you order turkey you don’t have to worry about the number of heads,” wrote John Madden in a 2001 essay for the Chicago Tribune. “What I’ve always thought is, if you have a table of eight, you need a bird. Madden was particularly known for not only adding a few extras, but also for “creating” a turkey with more than two legs.

It all started on Thanksgiving Day 1989, the first time the NFL awarded turkey leg – rather than a trophy – as an award for Most Valuable Player on Thanksgiving Day (via Sporting News). Reggie White was the MVP that day, but as Madden noted in that 2001 essay, “What if you have more MVPs? What if it’s the entire offensive line?” This is exactly what happened in 1992 when the Turkey Leg Award, as it was known, was given to the entire Dallas Cowboys offensive line.

And so the multi-legged NFL turkey tradition was born. “We started ‘making’ turkeys with longer legs,” Madden wrote. “We made four-legged turkeys, six-legged turkeys, eight-legged turkeys.” What if they run out of turkey legs? According to SB Nation’s History of the Turkey Leg Award, the crew simply brings out more (via Facebook).


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