7 Best Christmas Day Games of All Time
Yuletide approaches! For many of us, watching sports on Christmas is a tradition that goes back a lifetime, so let’s take a look back at the most memorable and exciting Christmas Days in sports.
1914: The World War I Christmas Truce
In the middle of a bitter world war, German and British soldiers facing off in Flanders, Belgium found themselves lodged deep in their man-made trenches on a cold Christmas Eve. Looking to inspire some Christmas cheer, German troops put up small candlelit trees and started singing Christmas songs. It wasn’t long before they heard the British clap back with songs of their own. With a few improvised placards, the Germans proposed a Christmas truce to which the allied soldiers agreed. Men from both sides met in the middle of the field to exchange gifts like chocolate and tobacco, and the story goes that one man traded his rifle for a soccer ball.
Using their caps to mark the goals, a game ensued that emptied the trenches. According to Stanley Weintraub’s Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce, it ended 3-2 Germany. Some uptight generals put an end to the fun, but not before Christmas (and sports) history was made.
1971: Miami Dolphins vs. Kansas City Chiefs/Dallas Cowboys vs. Minnesota Vikings
This is the only year that the NFL had a playoff game on Christmas Day, and there were two quite eventful ones. The longest NFL game in history was played, at 82 minutes of game time, between the Dolphins and Chiefs – setting a record across the country for most exasperated family members trying to tear their loved ones from a television – and, on the same day, the Cowboys became the only team to win a game on Christmas and go on to win the Super Bowl. They did it again in 1994.
1985: New York Knicks vs. Boston Celtics
The first NBA Christmas Day game was played in the league’s second season and has been an NBA tradition ever since. In a memorable matchup in 1985, the Knicks took on Larry Bird’s Celtics in Patrick Ewing’s rookie year. Ewing was already so impeccable that everyone knew he was going to be special, but no game cemented it in stone like his first Christmas Day faceoff.
By the third quarter, the Knicks had accrued a 25 point deficit, clearly overcome by the Celtics’ polished prowess. But in that second half, Ewing rose to the national stage – as he would for years to come – brought the Knicks back to even at the end of the 4th, and hit a game-winning shot in overtime. Ewing scored 32, topping all scorers and dominating his tense matchup with the legendary Robert Parish.
Fun fact: Of any team in any sport, the Knicks have won the most Christmas Day games, aaand they’ve lost the most Christmas Day games. They play again this Christmas, and you can grab tickets here.
2003: Hawaii Bowl – University of Houston vs. University of Hawaii at Manoa
It was a seesaw of a game through and through in beautiful Honolulu leading up to the fourth quarter. After Vincent Marshall caught an 81-yard touchdown pass to get Houston to overtime, the back and forth continued. Hawaii took the lead in the first overtime, only to have Houston tie the game again with an Anthony Evans touchdown run. In double overtime, Houston took the lead, only to have Hawaii tie the game with a 19-yard touchdown. In a third overtime, Michael Brewster ran for a touchdown, but Hawaii fell short on a two point conversion attempt. That left the score at 54-48, giving Houston a chance to win with a touchdown. They were shut down, however, on their final possession, and the hometown favorites took the W.
There was an unfortunate absence of Christmas spirit after the game as a fight broke out between the teams. Punches were thrown and landed by both sides, but that didn’t take away from the thrill of a triple overtime offensive clinic that became the stuff of college football legend.
2004: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat
After parting ways anything but amicably, Kobe and Shaq met for the first time on this Christmas Day in 2004. The urgency in the building was palpable, as Kobe went for 42, drew Shaq’s 5th and 6th fouls to send him to the bench, and single-handedly delivered overtime. But the Heat’s young star, Dwyane Wade, took over from there, Kobe missed a game-winning three, and Miami won 104-102. The Heat would go on to win the Finals in 2006, giving Shaq a brief championship lead over Kobe.
2008: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics
The defending champion Celtics were on a furious 19-game win streak when they flew to LA to face than their perpetual rivals on Christmas Day. In this rematch from the previous year’s Finals, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett combined for 42 points in an ultra-efficient shooting performance that had the game tied with two minutes left in the fourth. But with the Lakers’ defense clicking, the Celtics’ 83 points was not enough to top Kobe, the all-time Christmas scoring leader at 395 points. Boston was defeated by the soon to be world champion Lakers in coach Phil Jackson’s 1,000th career win.
Watch the Lakers attempt to continue their reign this year against Karl Anthony Towns and the T-Wolves.
2017: Oakland Raiders vs. Philadelphia Eagles
That’s right, this one hasn’t happened yet! Only 17 NFL games have been played on Christmas Day, but with Christmas on a Sunday this year we get a couple more to add to that list. Raiders/Eagles is clearly the standout.
As the Eagles charge toward a potential Super Bowl berth – what would be their first appearance in fourteen years – they are far and away the most entertaining team in football. This year, admittedly, the Raiders aren’t much competition for the blazing hot Eagles, but with two of the best young quarterbacks involved this matchup could be a shootout to remember. Derek Carr and Carson Wentz are both probable future MVPs, and this Christmas might be the first chapter in a decade-long rivalry.
Get the football fan in your life some Christmas Day tickets here, so they can watch history in the making.