For the second straight season, the NFL will have a tripleheader on Christmas Day. Also, for the fourth year in a row, games are played on the day families at home exchange gifts. It was an irresistible lure for fans and gold for the NFL.
Today’s games begin at 1:00 PM EST with the Las Vegas Raiders taking on the Kansas City Chiefs in an AFC West battle that will air on CBS. At 4:30, the New York Giants visit the Philadelphia Eagles; Fox will televise this game. And at 8:15 p.m., the Baltimore Ravens travel to San Francisco to face the 49ers in a game that will air on ABC and ESPN+.
The first time the NFL played a game on Christmas Day was in 1971, which fell on a Saturday. The league opted to skip the playoffs on Christmas Day in 1977, even though it fell on a Sunday, The Athletic reported. Instead, divisional games were held on Saturday and Monday.
“The days that families get together across the country, we really believe are opportunities to use in a way to help build and celebrate football,” NFL executive vice president of media distribution Hans Schroeder told The Athletic. “So in these years when Christmas falls on a day where we can play NFL games, we think it’s a great opportunity to serve our fans and create a new window that we think they’ll enjoy.” I think the number of people who have watched shows that they do.”
Five games were played on Christmas Day between 1990 and 2003, and the following year was the first doubleheader on Christmas Day, according to The Athletic. Christmas Day double bills were contested again in 2005, 2006, 2016, 2017 and 2021.
There were some memorable games played on Christmas Day. Here’s a look at five of them.
Dolphins 27, Chiefs 24, 2OT (1971)
Christmas Eves across the country were put on hold as the Dolphins and Chiefs battled for 82 minutes, 40 seconds in what remains the longest game in the NFL. Saturday’s double-overtime game featured 17 future Hall of Famers between the two teams, including opposing coaches Don Shula and Hank Strahm. It was the last game at Kansas City Municipal Stadium, and neither team seemed to want to close the old ballpark.
The game ended when Garo Yepremian kicked a 37-yard field goal to give the Dolphins a 27-24 victory at 7:24 am EST.
“Somehow it would — surely it should come to that at Christmas,” wrote Sports Illustrated’s John Underwood. “That the longest game in the history of American professional football will be decided by the smallest player on the field.”
Miami’s win overshadowed a heroic performance by Chiefs running back Ed Podolak. He rushed for 85 yards, caught eight passes for 110 yards and returned three kickoffs for 154 yards. His third punt return, coming after Miami rallied for a third time to tie the game at 24 late in the fourth quarter, was for 78 yards. Podolak had to swerve to avoid Yepremian, allowing Miami’s Curtis Johnson to sack him out of bounds at the Miami 22. That left it to safe-footed Jan Stenerud, who inexplicably pushed his 33-yard attempt wide right with 35 seconds left. regulation sent the game into overtime, Sports Illustrated reported.
Larry Csonka’s 29-yard field goal put Miami within field goal range in the second overtime, and Yepremian was true moments later.
“I knew we were going to win because I was really good at cards last night,” Yepremian said, according to Sports Illustrated. “I say, ‘When I win at cards, we win.’
A win was in the cards for Miami that day.
Cowboys 20, Vikings 12 (1971)
In the first NFL game ever played on Christmas Day, the Cowboys intercepted four passes against the Vikings for a 20-12 victory. Roger Staubach, who took over at quarterback midway through the season, remained undefeated as Dallas won its eighth straight game, The New York Times reported. Dwayne Thomas scored on a 13-yard run in the third quarter to extend Dallas’ lead to 13-3, and Bob Hayes caught a 9-yard pass from Staubach later in the period, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com. Minnesota got a safety and a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough as the Cowboys defense held steady.
“The team that performed the best won the game,” Vikings coach Bud Grant said. “We had misses and interceptions. When you make mistakes, the breaks tend to go against you. We had two field goal attempts with no success, one was a small miss and the other hit the upright. They could make a big difference.
Steelers 31, Ravens 27 (2016)
Ben Roethlisberger’s right arm and Antonio Brown’s left arm helped Pittsburgh pull off a comeback win against Baltimore and lock up the AFC North title with a 31-27 win at Heinz Field. Baltimore had regained the lead with 1:18 to play on Kyle Juszyk’s 10-yard run to cap a 14-play, 75-yard drive, SBNation reported.
Roethlisberger, who had thrown two interceptions early in the game, drove the Steelers down the field. His third touchdown of the game, a 4-yard pass to Antonio Brown, sealed the victory. Brown caught the ball at the Baltimore 1 and was hit hard by Ravens linebacker Eric Weddle and linebacker C.J. Moseley.
He ducked his head and stretched the ball across the goal line with his left hand to complete what was dubbed “The Flawless Extension”. The score with nine seconds to play gave Pittsburgh a 31-27 victory, their second division title in three years and a playoff berth.
Vikings 29, Bengals 21 (1989)
It was the first NFL regular season game played on Christmas Day and the only game in the 1980s played on December 25.
The Vikings won 29-21 in the regular-season finale played on Monday Night Football, but the night mostly belonged to Cincinnati quarterback Boomer Esiason. The Bengals left tackle set a Christmas Day record by passing for 367 yards, according to NFL.com. Defensive end Chris Dolman of the Vikings recorded a Christmas Day record with four sacks.
But it was Wade Wilson and backup tight end Brent Nowoselski who clinched the NFC Central title for the Vikings, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The Bengals trailed 22-7 at halftime, but scored a pair of touchdowns in the second half to cut the Vikings’ lead to one point.
After the Vikings drove down the field, Minnesota coach Jerry Burns called off a field goal and called it a fourth down instead. Wilson found Novoselski on a 1-yard pass to seal the win as the tight end made an over-the-shoulder catch and fell into the right corner of the end zone.
With the victory at the Metrodome, Minnesota clinched the NFC Central title, the Chicago Tribune reported.
“Biggest game I’ve ever won in 38 years as a coach,” Burns told reporters. “A lot of pressure for everyone. If we don’t win this game, all hell will break loose.”
Cardinals 27, Cowboys 26 (2010)
Both teams were 5-10, but the game at University of Phoenix Stadium was exciting and ultimately decided on a missed extra point.
Arizona cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (32 yards) and Greg Toler (66 yards) both returned interceptions for touchdowns in the first quarter to give the Cardinals a 14-0 lead, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com. John Skelton threw his first career touchdown in the second quarter as Arizona extended its lead to 21-3, SBNation reported.
The Cowboys rallied and went ahead with 1:41 left when Stephen McGee threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Myles Austin. But David Buehler missed the extra point. Trailing 26-24, the Cardinals converted on 4th-and-15 when Larry Fitzgerald caught a 26-yard pass. That led to Jay Feeley’s 48-yard field goal for the game-winning score with five seconds to play.