This is going to be much different than any other series history post (which has been discontinued). Today, we will look at the NFL's (rather tumultuous) history on Christmas Day.
While games on Thanksgiving have been part of NFL history since its inception, games on Christmas Day have not been part of the regular schedule. To date, there have been only 17 games played on Christmas Day in NFL history. For years, the NFL avoided Christmas by moving the NFL Championship game to the following Monday, December 26. This actually involved the Packers at one point--the 1960 NFL Championship game was moved to Monday as Sunday was Christmas in 1960.
When the AFL began play in 1960, they adjusted their schedule differently--the AFL Championship game was moved back a whole week, thus avoiding the holiday and instead playing for the Championship on New Year's Day.
Following the merger in 1970, the NFL decided to try some playoff games on Christmas in 1971. This decision, however, backfired severely on the NFL, as the second game played that day (between the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs) went on for nearly four-and-a-half hours before the Dolphins won.
The criticism directed at the NFL was intense. A legislator in Kansas attempted to sponsor a bill banning all future games on Christmas. The NFL was denounced for intruding on a traditional family and religious holiday, and also received many complaints from families as the games that day (particularly the Dolphins-Chiefs game) wreaked havoc on Christmas dinners all over the country.
For the next 17 years, the NFL avoided playing any games on Christmas. This involved a lot of effort as the NFL needed to adjust its schedule accordingly. In 1976, for instance, the NFL moved the start of the regular season up a week to avoid Christmas. A year later, with Christmas falling on a Sunday, the NFL playoffs were rescheduled around the holiday, with an AFC playoff double-header on Saturday, Christmas Eve, and an NFC playoff double-header on Monday, December 26. Even when the NFL expanded its schedule to 16 games in the regular season in 1978, it continued to avoid Christmas. The NFL again rescheduled its playoffs in 1983 and 1988, again scheduling the games around the holiday like they had done in 1977.
Finally, in 1989, the NFL scheduled another game on Christmas. This time, it was a 9 PM Monday Night Football telecast between the Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings, which thusly avoided Christmas dinners after the debacle in 1971. The criticism directed at the NFL was not overly harsh, which caused the NFL to come to the decision that they would occasionally schedule games on Christmas day.
In 1993, the NFL scheduled a West Coast game between the Houston Oilers and San Francisco 49ers in Northern California. The Oilers won, 10-7. A year later, the Dolphins defeated the visiting Detroit Lions on Christmas day, 27-20. In 1995, the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Arizona Cardinals in Phoenix by the score of 37-13.
The NFL again played games on Christmas in 1999 and 2000. In the earlier year, the Broncos defeated the Lions in Detroit, and the next year, the Titans obliterated the Dallas Cowboys 31-0. To date, the Lions are the only team in the NFL that is winless in multiple games on Christmas.
For 2004-2006, the NFL aired not one but two games on Christmas. The Packers actually played their first game on Christmas in 2005, losing at Lambeau Field to the Chicago Bears by the score of 24-17. The Packers would ultimately get revenge on the Bears a few years later.
For 2009, Christmas fell on a Friday. The NFL scheduled a game between the San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans that year, making it one of the only times the NFL has played a game on a Friday (they normally are barred from playing games on Friday due to antitrust restrictions). The Chargers won in a rout, 42-17. A year later, the Dallas Cowboys played in Arizona against the Cardinals. Dallas suffered from tremendous kicking woes in this game, which contributed to the 27-26 victory the Cardinals would score this night.
In 2011, the Packers played the Bears again on Christmas. Because of NFL policy, the regular Sunday slate of games was moved to Saturday, Christmas Eve, with a special Sunday night telecast on Christmas night. This time, the Packers would not be denied the victory, defeating the Bears 35-21 behind five Aaron Rodgers touchdown passes. Green Bay would clinch the overall top seed in the NFC with this victory.
Despite the fact that the NFL currently plays games on Christmas, there is still a window, from 9 PM local time on Christmas Eve to 5 PM Eastern on Christmas Day where they do not schedule a game.
From all of us at Acme Packing Company, have a happy and safe Christmas with your respective families, and we will see you after the holiday for more Packer-related news!