As the NFL schedule didn’t even run into December for the longest time, it took the league more than 50 years to hold a game on Christmas Day. The first time it happened was in 1971 and there were actually two games on December 25 that year, both divisional round playoff games. The first game saw the eventual Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys defeat the Minnesota Vikings on the NFC side of the bracket, which was followed by an AFC playoff matchup between the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs.
And what a matchup it was.
In what at the time was just the second double-overtime game in NFL playoff history, the Dolphins and Chiefs went back and forth all game long that muddy Christmas Day in Kansas City with Miami finally coming out on top in what is still the longest game in NFL history.
There have been six double-overtime games in NFL playoff history
Before we get to the details of that 1971 Christmas Day matchup between the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs, let’s take a quick look at the other five NFL playoff games that went into double overtime. Obviously, this isn’t a common occurrence in the league as regular-season games can actually end in a tie. So it’s always a treat to get double-extra football, at least for fans anyway.
- December 23, 1962: Dallas Texans-20, Houston Oilers-17 — the game ended 2:54 into the second overtime
- December 24, 1977: Oakland Raiders-37, Baltimore Colts-31 — the game ended 43 seconds into the second overtime
- January 3, 1987: Cleveland Browns-23, New York Jets-20 — the game ended 2:02 into the second overtime
- January 10, 2004: Carolina Panthers-29, St. Louis Rams-23 — the game ended 10 seconds into the second overtime
- January 12, 2013: Baltimore Ravens-38, Denver Broncos-35 — the game ended 1:42 into the second overtime
The Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs played the longest game in NFL history on Christmas Day in 1971
At the end of the 1971 NFL regular season, both the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs had 10-3-1 records, which were good enough to give both teams a division title.
The two teams matched up in the second-ever Christmas Day NFL game on December 25, 1971, at Kansas City Municipal Stadium (the Chiefs moved to Arrowhead the following season) and it was an unseasonably warm day with temperatures in the 60s. It was also a very muddy day, which certainly made for some entertaining football.
The Chiefs jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter behind a Jan Stenerud 24-yard field goal and a seven-yard touchdown pass from Len Dawson to Ed Podolak. But the Dolphins scored 10 points of their own in the second quarter, a one-yard TD run from Larry Csonka and a 14-yard field goal from Garo Yepremian, to tie the game heading into halftime.
Kansas City struck first in the third quarter on a one-yard touchdown run from Jim Otis but the Dolphins came right back to tie on a one-yard TD run of their own from Jim Kiick. The Chiefs took another seven-point lead in the fourth quarter on a three-yard TD run from Podolak but the Dolphins again came right back and tied it up on a five-yard touchdown pass from Bob Griese to Marv Fleming.
With 35 seconds to play, the Chiefs had a chance to take a three-point lead but Stenerud missed a 31-yard field goal, his second miss of the day, sending the game into overtime. After both teams missed kicks in the first overtime period, Yepremian finally ended things 7:40 into the second overtime, hitting a 37-yard field goal to give Miami a 27-24 win and a trip to the AFC Championship Game.
At 82:40, that Christmas Day classic remains the longest game in NFL history.
The Dolphins and Chiefs have each played two Christmas Day games since then
Since that classic battle on Christmas Day in 1971, both the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs have played two more games on December 25. The Dolphins defeated the Detroit Lions, 27-20, in 1994 and lost to the New York Jets, 13-10, in 2006.
The Chiefs played their next Christmas Day game in 2004, edging out the Oakland Raiders, 31-30, and then defeated the Denver Broncos, 33-10, in 2016.
Stats and scores courtesy of Pro Football Reference