A few weeks ago Nathan posted about how a lot of his memories of Thanksgiving center on eating a lot and watching football on TV. Well in that vein I wanted to copy the idea and give you my sports memory of Christmas Day. Unfortunately mine is not a happy memory.
First off there are not all that many sports related events that happen on Christmas Day. There is a random college bowl game or the NBA but not much else as the sports world takes a break. However if you happen to be old enough you can remember a football game played on Christmas day that absolutely ruined countless holiday celebrations in the Midwest. I’m talking about the Kansas City Chiefs – Miami Dolphins play off game played on December 25, 1971.
Dubbed the “longest game” a 27 to 24 overtime loss by the Chiefs, marked the end of the Chiefs Dynasty and the beginning of the Dolphins great years. The Chiefs were the dominant team in the old AFL, playing in two of the first four Super Bowls and were poised to make it to their 3rd. Lamar Hunt always said that this was the best squad the Chiefs had ever put on the field. These were the days of Hank Stram, Willie Lanier, Bobby Bell, Emmett Thomas, Otis Taylor and - before he became a cranky announcer – quarterback Len Dawson. There were a total of 15 future Hall of Famers playing in the game.
I can remember joining, with my Dad, and two of my brothers as we huddled around a radio listening to Bill Grigsby and Tom Hedrick describe the action. The game was excruciating to listen to. Nobody in Kansas City saw the game unless you had a ticket. It was not on local TV these were the days of NFL Blackouts of local games.
Here is where my heart got broken. At around 6:15 or about the 3rd time we were called to dinner, Ed Podolak playing the game of his life returned a kickoff deep into Dolphin territory. Three plays later with 35 seconds to go Jan Stenerud lined up for a 25 yard field goal. We assured our Mom we’d be right there happily thinking that the game was won. .Jan was as close to a sure thing as I knew of back then. Victory would be ours, until the kick sailed just wide. At the end of regulation the score was tied at 24 A side note Jan was a neighbor of mine back in the day. He used to practice field goals in the vacant lot down the street it was a treat to go and shag balls for him. We had seen him kick about a million field goals a lot longer than that.
After that, the game lasted another hard fought quarter and a half. Then Scrooge disguised as a little Greek kicker named Garo Yepremian, and a bruising fullback named Larry Csonka won the game for the Dolphins as the game went into its 82 minute. Csonka’s bruising runs and Yepremians field goal spelled the end for the Chiefs. The 27-24 win sent the Dolphins on to the next round, and eventually to the Super Bowl. After that game the Chiefs grew old right before our eyes.
Later that evening we took our traditional drive to look at the Plaza lights. Everyone in my family that Christmas night (there was 10 of us) was joyful, laughing full of turkey and holiday spirit. I should say every one except my dad & I. We both sat in the car stone cold silent for 30 minutes.
Little did I know that night this would be the last time the Chiefs would be in the playoffs until the late 1980′s. Worse yet that is 40 years and counting and the Chiefs would still be looking for that 3rd Super Bowl appearance.