There are two NFL games today, Christmas Day, as Cleveland is at Green Bay followed by Indianapolis at Arizona. It’s the first Christmas game for the Browns and Colts. The Packers and Cardinals are playing on the holiday for the third time each.
For the first 52 years of its existence, the NFL did not play on Christmas Day. That changed 50 years ago today the Minnesota Vikings hosted the Dallas Cowboys in an NFC Divisional playoff game at Metropolitan Stadium.
The Vikings had won the Central Division title with and 11-3 record, while the Cowboys won the East Division with an identical 11-3 mark. Minnesota hosted the game because, at the time, the NFL rotated home field advantage between the divisions.
Dallas used five takeaways in claiming a 20-12 win.
A combined 17 Hall of Fame members were part of the history-making game.
That group was led by a pair of Hall of Fame coaches – Bud Grant and Tom Landry – and two front office personnel who’ve earned election to the Hall – Jim Finks and Tex Schramm. The game also featured 13 Hall of Fame players.
The Vikings players were Carl Eller, Paul Krause, Alan Page and Ron Yary.
The Cowboys players were Herb Adderley, Lance Alworth, Mike Ditka, Forrest Gregg, Bob Hayes, Bob Lilly, Mel Renfro, Roger Staubach, and Rayfield Wright.
Mike Clark kicked field goals of 26 and 44 yards for Dallas, sandwiched around a 27-yarder by the Vikings’ Fred Cox and the Cowboys led 6-3 at halftime.
Dallas scored two third-quarter TDs, with Duane Thomas scoring from 13 yards out and Staubach throwing a nine-yard touchdown pass to Hayes to lead 20-3.
The Vikings pulled to within 20-5 when Page sacked Staubach in the end zone for a safety and closed the gap to 20-12 when Gary Cuozzo (who replaced starter Bob Lee) threw a six-yard TD pass to Stu Voigt.
The second NFL game played on Christmas occurred later the same day, with Kansas City hosting Miami in a 3:00 AFC Divisional Game.
That contest also made history as the Dolphins edged the Chiefs 27-24 in what remains the longest game ever played as the teams played double-overtime with Garo Yepremian’s 37-yard field goal finally ending the game after 82 minutes and 40 seconds of playing time.
A total of 16 Hall of Famers played in that game.
The winners of those Christmas Day games would reach the Super Bowl.
The Cowboys would beat the San Francisco 49ers 14-3 in the NFC Championship Game, while the Dolphins shut out the Baltimore Colts 21-0 for the AFC title.
Dallas beat Miami 24-3 in Super Bowl VI at New Orleans.
The next NFL game to be played on Christmas would not be played until 1989 and the Vikings were involved in that, beating the Cincinnati Bengals 29-21 at the Metrodome. That marked the first regular-season game played on Christmas.
Minnesota has played four games on Christmas Day, compiling a 1-3 record.
The Vikings lost 30-23 at Baltimore on a Sunday night in 2005, and 52-33 at New Orleans on a late Friday afternoon game in 2020.
NFL Christmas Day games
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, Miami Dolphins 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 10
2017: Philadelphia Eagles 19, Oakland Raiders 10
2020: New Orleans Saints 52, Minnesota Vikings 33
Christmas Day records
Philadelphia Eagles 2-0
Pittsburgh Steelers 2-0
Los Angeles Chargers 1-0
New Orleans Saints 1-0
New York Jets 1-0
Denver Broncos 2-1
Kansas City Chiefs 2-1
Miami Dolphins 2-1
Tennessee Titans 2-2
Arizona Cardinals 1-1
Baltimore Ravens 1-1
Chicago Bears 1-1
Green Bay Packers 1-1
Dallas Cowboys 2-3
Minnesota Vikings 1-3
Cincinnati Bengals 0-1
Houston Texans 0-1
San Francisco 49ers 0-1
Detroit Lions 0-2
Las Vegas Raiders 0-2