One Christmas Day in NHL & NFL History: December 25, 1971

Here are a couple of brief fun facts that took place on December 25, 1971 and their long-term effects to give you some holiday cheer:

1. In the NHL, Christmas Day hockey games were a tradition that lasted for approximately five decades.

Holiday hockey was a predominant part of the league's culture beginning in the 1920s. In fact, every team played a game on Christmas Day for most of the 1960s. On December 25, 1971, NHL fans could watch any one of six NHL games, but little did they know that an era of holiday hockey was ending. Stan Gilbertson scored the final goal in a 3-1 California Golden Seals victory over the Los Angeles Kings and was officially the last player to score a goal on Christmas Day in the league's history to date.

Why can we no longer watch these classic match-ups on a festive winter holiday?

The players, coaches, and staff have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off as a "holiday break" in their collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the league. Last year, one of the revised terms in the CBA that ended the 11 month lockout added a third day to their negotiated holiday break to spend more time with family and friends.

2. The Miami Dolphins defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 27-24 in the longest NFL game to date on December 25, 1971.

The game finally ended in double overtime after a tiresome 82 minutes and 40 seconds. 7 minutes and 40 seconds into the second overtime, Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian kicked a 37-yard field goal to wrap up the match. Former Dolphins linebacker stated, "Everyone I knew in Miami told me they had to shut off their oven to avoid ruining their Christmas turkeys." Almost 46,000 fans attended the game, which was the Chiefs' last game at Municipal Stadium before moving to Arrowhead Stadium the following season. Additionally, for you Purdue or Michigan fans, Miami's quarterback who led the Dolphins through the game was Bob Griese (father of walk-on Michigan quarterback Brian Griese, who became the starter and led the team to an undefeated season and national championship with Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson).

Why have we not seen a professional football contest last this long since Christmas Day in 1971?

Professional football first adopted overtime rules for divisional tiebreak games in 1940. At that time, "sudden death" overtime rules (note: these rules are different from the "modified sudden death" rules that currently apply to preseason, regular season, and postseason games) applied only to postseason games. With sudden death overtime, the teams played an extra 15-minute period after a coin toss, similar to the beginning of the game, and the first team to score in that extra period won. If neither team was successful in scoring during that period, the game ended in a tie.

In 1974, three years after this exhausting contest that played a large role in its change, the NFL adopted sudden death overtime rules for the regular season and preseason and, moreover, maintained that format through 2011. Only 20 games have ended in a tie since then, and the league intelligently placed a time limit on regular season games. Even with the modified sudden death rules today that allow postseason games to go through slightly more controversial and complex alternating possession procedures, spectators have not had to sit through a game that long, and players have not had to handle the physicality for that long. We have this festive contest to thank to a great extent.