All-time NFL records for games played on Christmas

NFL records for Christmas games

With only 15 NFL games played on Christmas through 2009, the casual NFL fan may think that these games have had little impact on NFL history. But with two playoff games among the 15, including perhaps the greatest NFL game ever played, NFL Christmas games have provided holiday cheer for fans for many years. Take a look back at the all-time records for NFL games played on Christmas.

Christmas ornament
Wikimedia Commons

Longest game: Miami Dolphins def. Kansas City Chiefs 27-24 in double OT in 1971

Not only is this the NFL record for the longest game on Christmas, but it is also the record for the longest game in NFL history. 1971 was the first year that the NFL ever played on Christmas. This AFC divisional playoff game finally came to an end when Garo Yepremian kicked a 37-yard FG in the second OT to give the Dolphins the win. Many pundits consider this to be the greatest game in NFL history.

Most points: 42 points by the San Diego Chargers vs. the Tennessee Titans in 2009

By Christmas of 2009, the Chargers were in the midst of their typical late season charge under Norv Turner. In fact, both teams entered Christmas red hot as the Titans had won seven of their previous eight games. Although Chris Johnson ran for 142 yards, the rest of the Titans gave a naughty performance as they allowed the Chargers to set the NFL record for most points scored on Christmas with their 42-17 win.

Fewest points: 0 points by the Dallas Cowboys vs. the Tennessee Titans in 2000

Nine years apart, the Titans defense set the NFL record for defensive futility and effectiveness on Christmas. It is rare for the Cowboys to set a negative NFL record. But by 2000, all vestiges of the Cowboys dynasty of the 1990s were gone. The Titans capped off their 13-3 record by shutting out Dallas 31-0 on Christmas. Obviously, this NFL record will never be broken.

Most total yards: 496 yards by the Denver Broncos vs. the Tennessee Titans in 2004

If it seems like the Titans have played a lot on Christmas, they have. Of the 15 NFL games played on Christmas through 2009, the Titans have played in four of them (including one game as the Oilers.) In 2004, Jake Plummer threw for 303 yards and Reuben Droughns(notes) rushed for 91 yards for the Broncos as they set the NFL Christmas record for total yards. The Broncos posted a 10-6 record in 2004 and secured a Wild Card berth.

Most rushing yards: 185 yards by Denver Broncos RB Olandis Gary vs. the Detroit Lions in 1999

Coming off two straight Super Bowl wins, the Broncos struggled to a 6-10 record in their first season after the retirement of John Elway. However, Broncos fans did not have a blue Christmas thanks to the exploits of Olandis Gary. On 29 carries, Gary rushed for 185 yards and one TD. His longest run on Christmas day was a 45-yard gallop. The Broncos defeated the Lions 17-7.

Most passing yards: 367 yards by Cincinnati Bengals QB Boomer Esiason vs. the Minnesota Vikings in 1989

Despite setting the NFL Christmas record for passing yards in a game, Esiason's effort was in vain as the Bengals fell to the Vikings 29-21. In fact, part of the reason why Esiason was forced to throw so much was because the Bengals fell behind 19-0. Unfortunately for Bengals fans, Esiason's NFL record setting present also came with three interceptions. This was the first NFL game played on Christmas in 18 years.

Most receiving yards: 203 yards by Dallas Cowboys WR Kevin Williams(notes) vs. the Arizona Cardinals in 1995

Before winning their third Super Bowl in four years in 1995, the Cowboys first spread some NFL Christmas cheer throughout Texas by shellacking the Cardinals 37-13. But the Cowboys NFL record setting performance did not come from Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin or Emmitt Smith. In fact, it was WR Kevin Williams who caught nine passes for 203 yards and two TDs.

Most safeties: one by Minnesota Vikings DT Alan Page vs. the Dallas Cowboys in 1971

Yes, Virginia, there has been an NFL safety on Christmas. While most NFL fans know about the famous Dolphins-Chiefs Christmas affair of 1971, many NFL fans may not know that there was another playoff game that took place earlier that day. Although the Cowboys defeated the Vikings 20-12, Hall of Fame DT Alan Page tackled QB Roger Staubach in the end zone to record the only safety in NFL history on Christmas.

Most interceptions: (tie) two by San Francisco 49ers CB Michael McGruder vs. the Houston Oilers in 1993 and Chicago Bears S Chris Harris vs. the Green Bay Packers in 2005

On Christmas day in 1993, the 49ers defense held the Oilers to only 10 points. And CB Michael McGruder intercepted QB Warren Moon twice. But the Oilers defense was even more stout as they defeated the 49ers 10-7 on Christmas. 12 years later, Bears S Chris Harris tied McGruder's NFL Christmas record with two picks of his own against QB Brett Favre(notes). In fact, Favre threw four interceptions as the Bears defeated the Packers 24-17.

Most sacks: four by Minnesota Vikings DE Chris Doleman vs. the Cincinnati Bengals in 1989

Boomer Esiason certainly had a strange Christmas in 1989. While setting the NFL record for passing yards on Christmas, his Bengals actually fell to the Vikings 29-21. But the main reason why Esiason may want to forget this Christmas is because he was sacked six times that day. Two of the sacks came courtesy of DT Henry Thomas while the other four were recorded by DE Chris Doleman who set the NFL Christmas record.

Most field goals: five by Minnesota Vikings K Rich Karlis vs. the Cincinnati Bengals in 1989

Besides offensive and defensive NFL Christmas records, the 1989 Bengals-Vikings game even set an NFL Christmas record for special teams. In defeating the Bengals 29-21, Vikings K Rich Karlis kicked five FGs in the winning effort. The FGs were all relatively short as the longest of the five was 42 yards. The other four were 22, 24, 31 and 37 yards. After their Christmas victory, the Vikings had a 10-6 record and won the NFC Central.

Most turnovers: (tie) five by the Minnesota Vikings vs. the Dallas Cowboys in 1971 and the Dallas Cowboys vs. the Tennessee Titans in 2000

The Cowboys have the NFL record for both giveaways and takeaways on Christmas with five. In 1971, the Cowboys began their playoff march to winning the Super Bowl by defeating the Vikings 20-12. The Cowboys set the NFL Christmas record for turnovers by recovering a fumble and grabbing four interceptions. 29 years later on Christmas, the Titans intercepted two passes and recovered three fumbles in tying the NFL record for turnovers on Christmas.

Note: these NFL records reflect both regular season and playoff games played on Christmas.


"Miami Dolphins 27 at Kansas City Chiefs 24,"

"Dallas Cowboys 20 at Minnesota Vikings 12,"

"Cincinnati Bengals 21 at Minnesota Vikings 29,"

"Houston Oilers 10 at San Francisco 49ers 7,"

"Dallas Cowboys 37 at Arizona Cardinals 13,"

"Denver Broncos 17 at Detroit Lions 7,"

"Dallas Cowboys 0 at Tennessee Titans 31,"

"Denver Broncos 37 at Tennessee Titans 16,"

"Chicago Bears 24 at Green Bay Packers 17,"

"San Diego Chargers 42 at Tennessee Titans 17,"

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Updated Monday, Dec 6, 2010