FRISCO, Texas -- Most of the United States of America will spend its Thanksgiving Thursday at a family member's house hanging out, stuffing their face with some delicious food and spending the day watching football. For the Dallas Cowboys (7-3), Turkey Day means suiting up to go to battle at AT&T Stadium, where they currently possess (the longest active home winning streak in the NFL), and this year's opponent will be one of their NFC East rivals, .
Plenty of current Cowboys players have played in the Turkey Day midafternoon showcase game before, but for a couple key Dallas contributors -- cornerback Stephon Gilmore and rookie kicker Brandon Aubrey -- Thursday will be the first time for the two lifelong Cowboys fans.
Gilmore, the 33-year-old 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year who is in his 12th season, will make his Thanksgiving debut with the team he and his family grew up rooting for in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He has accomplished almost everything one can in an NFL career with the 2019 DPOY award, winning Super Bowl LIII with the New England Patriots and racking up five Pro Bowl nods as well as two First-Team All-Pro selections. However, Gilmore can't wait for Thursday.
"My dad used to watch them growing up, and I was born in 1990," Gilmore said Monday. "I just remember those big games, playing those big games. It's exciting, and where I'm from, it's a lot of Cowboys fans. It's the best thing to be playing here, it's one of the most iconic organizations. A lot of players I looked up to play here. I'm just enjoying it, taking it all in, trying to be in the moment.... Oh man, I see it [the turkey legs they give out to the players of the game. I used to see it on TV, all the time. I would love that."
He'll have family trickling in throughout the week before celebrating the holiday on Friday. Aubrey, a Plano, Texas native, already has most of his family in-state, but a few more will be coming down to see him play for the Cowboys as he looks to keep his NFL record for most made field goals to start a career (21) alive.
"I always have had the Cowboys on in the background of our Thanksgiving celebrations," Aubrey said Monday. "So, to be a part of that now is special and something I'll cherish."
Both Gilmore and Aubrey were reminded of the level of prestige playing for Dallas comes with when it was announced that 11-time Grammy-winning recording artist Dolly Parton is going to headline the game's halftime show.
"The star is different," Gilmore said when asked about the Cowboys booking Parton. "Everybody loves the star. You either love it or hate it, but a lot of people love it. It's going to be exciting, playing a divisional team. We just have to handle business."
"Yeah, it's awesome," Aubrey said. "Any time you're on a team with this much visibility, it's a good opportunity for you to go out and perform in front of people and get your name kind of in that mix. So it's been awesome being a part of what I think is the best sports franchise in the world, honestly."
Despite Aubrey's excitement, he doesn't plan on following in Cincinnati Bengals kicker Evan McPherson's footsteps by not going into the locker room at halftime to watch the show. McPherson stayed on the field at SoFi Stadium in Super Bowl LVI to watch Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar and 50 Cent perform. He made all four of his kicks in a narrow 23-20 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, two field goals and two extra points.
"I don't think so," Aubrey said. I think I'll just try and focus on the game and just get out there when it's a reasonable time and get my half time warm up in and just get on with the game."
Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy has a unique relationship with Thanksgiving football, having coached multiple games on Turkey Day for two classic NFL franchises: the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys. However, one of his favorite memories of Thanksgiving football dates back to his childhood.
"It's what Thanksgiving is all about," Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said Tuesday when asked about the Cowboys playing at AT&T Stadium on Thanksgiving every year. "I just got off the phone with my parents so I'm sure I'll talk to them everyday this week. The Thanksgiving game always bring so much joy and happiness and to be part of it is unique. I was just talking to a few of the players. Growing up, my dad had a bar, and he would open it up on Thanksgiving mornings for the ones that needed it in the morning. There was always a turkey ball football game on. As a young kid, I had some funny memories of that. We were always home. We had to be home by noon because my mother had been working throughout the night on the meal, and we would watch the first game, eat in between and watch the second game, take a nap and then get the turkey sandwiches too. All that. Just great memories you always grew up with football on Thanksgiving Day. To be part of it is really cool."
Eight-time Pro Bowl and six-time First-Team All-Pro right guard Zack Martin turned 33 on Monday, and the 10-year vet spent a couple minutes reminiscing on his favorite Cowboys Thanksgiving memory before deciding on a story that sounds like it is straight out of the script of a "Curb Your Enthusiasm" episode. He was pulled over for speeding on the drive from Frisco, where the team's practice facility is, to Arlington, where AT&T Stadium is located, -- a stretch of just under 40 miles -- during the 2017 season.
"Favorite Thanksgiving memory, hmm. I don't know. I got pulled over one time on the way to the game on Thanksgiving," Martin said Monday. "Got a ticket. Yeah [the officer followed through and actually gave him the ticket]. [Then-Pro Bowl center] Travis [Frederick] was in the passenger seat, too. So me and and Trav were going down, and [former strength and conditioning coach] Mike Woicik was in the car. We got pulled over on [Texas State Highway] 121, got a ticket going to the stadium.... I'm not a fast driver either."
Martin's experience during the game that day went ever worse.
"I got a concussion that game, it was against the Chargers," Martin said. Yeah, 2017 Chargers game [a 28-6 Cowboys loss]. Put a bow on the holiday."
Even if things go wrong for Gilmore or Aubrey on Thursday, they will be able to take solace in knowing their Cowboys Thanksgiving Day debut didn't go as poorly as Martin's 2017 experience six years ago.