Don Shula became the NFL's career leader in regular-season wins as a head coach when his Dolphins defeated the Lions on Christmas Day in 1994
Christmas may be a holiday, but the sports world doesn’t take Dec. 25 off. This year’s offerings include an NFL double-header, (Pittsburgh vs. Houston, Oakland vs. Philadelphia) while the NBA will go five games deep, including a NBA Finals rematch between Golden State and Cleveland.
Whether any of these games produces some memorable moments remains to be seen, but as you can see from our top 10 list below, the competition to go down in sports history on Christmas Day is pretty deep.
10. 2016: Pittsburgh Clinches AFC North with Last-Second TD
The NFL played its first Christmas Day games since 2011 and the Pittsburgh/Baltimore matchup was one for the ages. Trailing 17-10 heading into the fourth quarter, the Steelers scored three touchdowns in the final period. The last was a dramatic four-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown with nine seconds left in the game. The winning effort not only clinched the AFC North for Pittsburgh, but it also made Brown the only player since Marvin Harrison to have four straight 100-reception seasons (Brown made it five in a row in 2017.).
9. 2003: Hawaii Beats Houston in Triple Overtime in the Hawaii Bowl
Those who tuned into ESPN on Christmas night got a glimpse at the future of Big 12 football. The Cougars were led by future Baylor head coach Art Briles and the Warriors had Timmy Chang, one of the most prolific quarterbacks in NCAA history. The two engaged in a good, old-fashioned offensive shootout and were tied 34-34 at the end of regulation. Each team scored a touchdown on the first two overtime possessions. Hawaii got the ball first in the third overtime and Michael Brewster ran eight yards into the end zone, but the Warriors failed on the two-point conversion. However, Houston’s overtime possession ended on downs and Hawaii came away with a 54-48 victory.
8. 1941: Detroit Red Wings Beat Brooklyn Americans in Overtime
The NHL used to have a tradition of playing on Christmas Day and this game is the only one to ever go into overtime, as the Red Wings beat the Americans 3-2 18 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The NHL eliminated overtime in 1942 because of wartime restrictions and did not reinstitute it until the 1983-84 season. The 1941-42 season was the last for the Americans franchise and the NHL operated with its Original Six teams until 1967.
7. 1994: Don Shula Breaks NFL Regular-Season Victory Record
This game between the Miami Dolphins and the Detroit Lions already had a lot going for it. Both teams were 9-6 and battling for a playoff spot and Barry Sanders entered the game with 1,831 rushing yards and a shot at 2,000. The Dolphins took control early, holding Sanders to only 52 yards, and scoring on five of their first seven possessions to take a 27-10 halftime lead and held on for a 27-20 win. The victory was head coach Don Shula’s 319th regular-season victory, putting him ahead of George Halas (Shula had broken the overall wins record in 1993.).
6. 1984: Bernard King Scores 60 Points
In front of a Madison Square Garden crowd, King torched the New Jersey Nets for a Christmas Day-record 60 points. His New York Knicks still lost 120-114, but the only memory from that game was his performance. King won the scoring title that season and this Christmas Day milestone was his highest point total of the season.
5. 1933: Frank Klick Upsets Kid Chocolate for Junior Lightweight Title
Believe it or not, boxing matches used to be held on Christmas Day and the biggest one was this title match. Eligio Sardinias, aka Kid Chocolate, is considered by many boxing enthusiasts to be one of the 50 best fighters of all-time and had held the junior lightweight title since 1931. Despite being long in the tooth, he was favored to beat the light-punching Klick. The 5,000 fans in the Philadelphia Arena were shocked when Klick stopped the sluggish Kid in the seventh round to take the title. (NOTE: No professional boxing matches on Christmas Day have been held in the U.S. since 1969.)
4. 2008: Phil Jackson Gets 1,000th Win
The NBA has always made a priority of scheduling a marquee matchup on Christmas Day and it is usually a rematch of the previous year’s Finals. That was certainly the case in 2008. The defending champion Boston Celtics were riding a 19-game winning streak and facing the Los Angeles Lakers for the first time since defeating them in the most recent NBA Finals. On this night, four Lakers scored in double digits and beat the Celtics 92-83. The win was Laker head coach Phil Jackson’s 1,000th of his career.
3. 1971: NHL Ends Christmas Day Tradition
From the 1920s until 1971, hockey games were played every Christmas Day, until the NHL ended the tradition to give players a holiday break. On this day, six games were played and the last goal ever scored on Christmas Day came courtesy of Stan Gilbertson, as his California Golden Seals beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-1. In 2008, the NHL added its own holiday event with the New Year’s Day’s Winter Classic.
2. 2004: Kobe and Shaq Face Off for First Time
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal three-peated as world champions when they played on the Lakers together… and they also hated each other’s guts. In July of 2004, the Lakers traded O’Neal to the Miami Heat and the NBA scheduled their first meeting for Christmas night. The game lived up to its hype, as Bryant scored 42 points and drew O’Neal’s fifth and sixth fouls, sending Shaq to the bench with the two teams tied 91-91. The game went into overtime where Dwayne Wade led the Heat to a 104-102 win. Bryant missed a three-pointer as time expired.
1. 1971: Chiefs and Dolphins Play Longest Game in NFL History
The first NFL games ever played on Christmas Day ended up being the last for many years. Earlier in the day, the Dallas Cowboys beat the Minnesota Vikings 20-12. Then at 4 p.m. ET, the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins met in Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium. The two teams battled back and forth and were tied 24-24 at the end of regulation. After a scoreless first overtime, they went into a second one. Finally, with 7:20 left in the second overtime period, Miami’s Garo Yepremeian kicked the game-winning field goal. The game was actually only three hours and 21 minutes long in real time, but the outcry of how it cut into Christmas Day prompted the NFL to avoid scheduling another game on this day until 1989.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)