A Christmas to remember
A new "For Pete's Sake" blog appears each Thursday.
There was a time when Christmas Day was "off-limits" to the National Football League. In fact, the pro circuit hadn't scheduled a game on the holiday from 1920 to 1970. Then, in 1971, it was on Dec. 25 that that a pair of divisional playoff games were played. The AFC showdown in Kansas City was an all-time classic and today remains the longest game ever played.
In the NFC, the Dallas Cowboys knocked off the host Minnesota Vikings, 20-12 en route to a victory in Super Bowl VI that postseason.
It was nearly two decades later before another Christmas included NFL games. Since that time, they have become a fairly regular holiday tradition when Christmas Day aligns with the NFL schedule.
This year is one of those years as NFL Network will broadcast the Cowboys vs. the Arizona Cardinals on Christmas night. This is the second time the two clubs have faced each other on Christmas. The last time was in 1995 on Monday night football. The matchup in Tempe was the finale to the '95 regular season. And, unlike this year, the game had important playoff ramifications at least for the Cowboys.
The holiday started off on a good note when the Cowboys were en route to Arizona for the game. The pilot of the chartered Christmas Eve flight reported over the speaker system that the 49ers had lost. The players, coaches, and other Cowboys personnel immediately understood that they now controlled their fate from that point on. A victory for Dallas meant that they would clinch home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
It took only 11 minutes of the game to get the idea Dallas was on a mission. They built a quick 17-0 lead and then were up 24-3 by halftime and finished with a convincing 37-13 win. Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones informed one of the stadium ushers that he'd see him again in a month as Sun Devil Stadium was the site for Super Bowl XXX. (As we remember, Jones was true to his word when Dallas advanced to the Super Bowl and beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17 to win it all.)
Quarterback Troy Aikman led the offense on this Christmas day victory over the Cardinals with Kevin Williams reaping the benefits of the QB's passing. Aikman finished with 351 yards, which at the time, was the second most he'd ever thrown in a game. (It must be something about playing on holidays for Aikman…his single-best day for passing yardage came on Thanksgiving 1998 when he threw for 455 yards vs. the Vikings).
But, perhaps more than any other player, this was a Christmas to remember for Williams. He had spent most of his time in Dallas returning punts and kicks rather than playing at wide receiver. His quarterback had scouted the Cardinals defense and alerted Williams that he may be coming his way that evening. Williams dropped the first pass Aikman threw to him but from there on out, the night belonged to Williams.
He not only recorded his finest day of his seven-season career but had one of the more memorable performances by a NFL player. He had nine catches for 203 yards and a pair of touchdowns (25 and 48 yards) on the night. The total marked not only his lone 200-yard game of his career but the only time he eclipsed the 100-yard mark in a game.
Williams added an additional 21 yards on three carries and returned four kickoffs for 83 yards to rack up 307 all-purpose yards. At the time, he was just the 24th player in NFL history to record 300 or more all-purpose yards in a game. Here's the 23 who preceded him.
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