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Christmas and the NFL: One of the greatest playoff games in league history was played on Dec. 25

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This Christmas Day, the NFL will play two games, with the Green Bay Packers hosting the Cleveland Browns at legendary Lambeau Field (4:30 p.m. ET on FOX/NFL Network/Amazon) and then the Arizona Cardinals hosting the Indianapolis Colts (8:15 p.m. ET on NFL Network).

Last season, the New Orleans Saints defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 52-33, in what was the NFL's first Christmas Day game since 2017.

The NFL doesn't have quite the history of playing games on Christmas as it does with Thanksgiving, but there have been a number of notable moments to occur on the rare occasions that the league has played games on Dec. 25. Among those moments is one of the greatest playoff games in league history.

Epic Christmas Day NFL playoff game

In 1971, four teams featuring a combined 26 Pro Football Hall of Famers and two teams on a crash course for the Super Bowl played in the first NFL games played on Christmas Day. In the opener, the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 20-12, at Metropolitan Stadium. The Vikings outgained the Cowboys, 311 to 183 yards, but committed five turnovers, dooming the home team to defeat.

What followed that NFC divisional playoff is arguably one of the most spectacular NFL playoff games ever played. The Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins played in the longest game in NFL history; a showdown that did not come to a conclusion until midway through the second overtime (82 minutes and 40 seconds of game time), when Garo Yepremian kicked the winning field goal in a 27-24 Dolphins triumph at Kansas City's Municipal Stadium.

The Miami Dolphins' Marv Fleming catches a pass from Bob Griese against the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1971 AFC divisional playoff game played on Christmas Day.
The Miami Dolphins' Marv Fleming catches a pass from Bob Griese against the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1971 AFC divisional playoff game played on Christmas Day.

The marathon game postponed family Christmas feasts around the country, and it was probably no coincidence that it would be 18 years before another NFL game was played on the holiday.

"Everyone I knew in Miami told me they had to shut off their ovens to avoid ruining their Christmas turkeys," late Hall of Fame linebacker Nick Buoniconti recalled about "The NFL's Longest Game."

The Dolphins reached the first of three consecutive Super Bowls, but were defeated by the Cowboys in Super Bowl VI, which marked the first NFL championship for Dallas.

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Other notable NFL games played on Christmas

Those two games from 1971 represent the only NFL playoff games ever played on Christmas Day, but there were some memorable regular-season games played on the holiday.

1989: Minnesota Vikings 29, Cincinnati Bengals 21 - The first NFL game on Christmas in 18 years was a "Monday Night Football" game that served as the 1989 regular-season finale. It was a must-win for both teams, as the Vikings clinched the NFC Central title and knocked the Bengals (as well as the division rival Green Bay Packers) out of the playoffs with this victory.

1993: Houston Oilers 10, San Francisco 49ers 7 - The Oilers won their 10th consecutive game en route to earning home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs (they would, as was this team's wont at the time, squander it). The 49ers, meanwhile, had a franchise-record 13-game home regular-season winning streak snapped. Oilers defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan's unit shut down the 49ers' potent offense. A week later, Ryan would be caught on national television punching Oilers offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride during the regular-season finale.

1995: Dallas Cowboys 37, Arizona Cardinals 13 - Speaking of Buddy Ryan ... his two-season tenure as head coach of the Cardinals came to an unceremonious end after this rout on "Monday Night Football" against the eventual Super Bowl champions. A day later, Ryan was fired.

2011: Green Bay Packers 35, Chicago Bears 21 - While the Bears were playing for a wild-card berth, the Packers – with the NFC North title already wrapped up – were attempting to secure home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. Aaron Rodgers threw for five touchdowns as the Packers prevailed at Lambeau Field.

2020: New Orleans Saints 52, Minnesota Vikings 33 - Saints running back Alvin Kamara tied Ernie Nevers' NFL record that was set in 1929 by rushing for six touchdowns in a single game. His Saints, meanwhile, clinched a fourth consecutive NFC South crown with this convincing win and eliminated the Vikings from playoff contention as Minnesota yielded the most points in a single game for the franchise since 1963 and surrendered the most yards (583) to an opponent in team history.

2021: Green Bay Packers 24, Cleveland Browns 22 - Aaron Rodgers broke Brett Favre's franchise record for passing touchdowns during the Green Bay Packers' win over the Cleveland Browns. The Packers' defense intercepted Browns QB Baker Mayfield four times in the contest. It was the first four-interception game of Mayfield's career.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL on Christmas: History of pro football games on Dec. 25