Harv currently writes for Abstract Sports, the Sports History Network, and the magazine Gridiron Greats. Harv wrote the published book "Pro Football's Most Passionate Fans" and as a professional writer has had articles published in an array of sports publications.
Christmas Day NFL Games Over the Years
This year’s Christmas falls on a Friday and for fans of the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints, they need not worry about being at the stadium when these two teams meet up in New Orleans for a rare Christmas Day NFL game. Because of COVID-19, there will not be what is normally a massive and noisy crowd at a Saints home game.
Next Friday’s game will be only the 22nd in league history played on December 25. The very first holiday game was played in 1971 and the last time two teams met on Christmas Day was back in 2017 when the league staged a doubleheader that saw the Pittsburgh Steelers thrash the Houston Texans 34-6 and the Eagles edging the then Oakland Raiders 19-10.
That first game 49 years ago pit the Dallas Cowboys visiting the Minnesota Vikings in a divisional playoff game which resulted in a 20-12 Dallas victory. Ironically, the Vikings are playing again on December 25. But the Vikings have not played in just two Christmas Day games, they’ve found themselves missing out on celebrating with families at home two other times (1989 & 2005). The Steelers have also played in multiple December 25 games in 2016 (31-27 over Baltimore) and that Texans game three years ago.
The most points scored by a team on Christmas Day were by the then-San Diego Chargers who put up 42 on the Tennessee Titans in 2009 with a final score of 42-17. The best shootout game had to be that of the 31-30 game in which the Kansas City Chiefs outscored the Oakland Raiders on December 25, 2004, in Kansas City.
There has been only one shutout on Christmas Day and the victims were the Dallas Cowboys as they got blanked by the Titans 31-0 in 2000. The lowest scoring affair came in 1993 when only two touchdowns were scored by the Houston Oilers and San Francisco 49ers who both landed once in the end zone but a field goal by the Oilers was the difference in their 10-7 victory.
There have been plenty of close games as well like the Jets beating the Dolphins 13-10 in 2006. Four years later on XMAS, the Arizona Cardinals edged the Dallas Cowboys 27-26. But one of the closest, most dramatic, and historic games came in 1971 as part of a divisional playoff doubleheader with the Cowboys/Vikings matchup. It was the Miami Dolphins and Chiefs that was forced into double overtime with the score tied at 24.
That game ended with a Miami win in OT when Garo Yepremian kicked a game-winning field goal in a second overtime period. The game became the NFL’s longest in the history of the league and it was in the post-season. Some of the leaders in that crazy game were Ed Podolak who rushed for 85 yards and his teammate Wendell Hayes who added another 100 on the ground. For Kansas City wide receiver Elmo Wright had a big day with just three receptions but for 104 yards including a 63-yarder.
On the flip side, Bob Griese tossed 35 passes completing 20 good for 263 yards but he threw two interceptions. Out of the backfield, Larry Csonka rushed for 86 yards and a touchdown and the late Jim Kiick added 56 more yards and another rushing score. But in the air, Paul Warfield was the game’s leading receiver with 140 yards on seven catches.
Given the world’s situation right now with COVID-19 next week’s Christmas Day game just won’t have the same feel as in past games. This is a precursor to the Super Bowl which will limit fan attendance. The entire list of Christmas Day games is below with the home team in all CAPS.
1971: Dallas Cowboys 20 MINNESOTA VIKINGS 12
1971: Miami Dolphins 27 KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 24 (2 OT)
1989: MINNESOTA VIKINGS 29 Cincinnati Bengals 21
1993: Houston Oilers 10 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 7
1994: MIAMI DOLPHINS 27 Detroit Lions 20
1995: Dallas Cowboys 37 ARIZONA CARDINALS 13
1999: Denver Broncos 17 DETROIT LIONS 7
2000: TENNESSEE TITANS 31 Dallas Cowboys 0
2004: KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 31 Oakland Raiders 30
2004: Denver Broncos 37 TENNESSEE TITANS 16
2005: Chicago Bears 24 GREEN BAY PACKERS 17
2005: BALTIMORE RAVENS 30 Minnesota Vikings 23
2006: Philadelphia Eagles 23 DALLAS COWBOYS 7
2006: New York Jets 13 MIAMI DOLPHINS 10
2009: San Diego Chargers 42 TENNESSEE TITANS 17
2010: ARIZONA CARDINALS 27 Dallas Cowboys 26
2011: GREEN BAY PACKERS 35 Chicago Bears 21
2016: PITTSBURGH STEELERS 31 Baltimore Ravens 27 #
2016: KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 33 Denver Broncos 10 #
2017: Pittsburgh Steelers 34 HOUSTON TEXANS 6
2017: PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 19 Oakland Raiders 10
2020: Minnesota Vikings vs NEW ORLEANS SAINTS