Playing on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day has been a possibility for the Chicago Bears only since the 1980s.
Why? From the league’s start in 1920, the NFL season consisted of fewer regular-season games and its championship usually concluded before or avoided altogether the December holidays.
That changed in April 1971, when it was announced four playoff games would take place on Dec. 25-26. This arrangement — with two games each day — meant all four games could be broadcast nationally.
As the holidays drew nearer, however, fans became vocal.
“I enjoy football, but is it really necessary to play on Christmas Day?” an angry caller told Joe McGuff, then the sports editor for the Kansas City Star. “This is a religious day, a family day. But apparently it makes no difference to the people who run professional football.”
When NFL executive director Jim Kensil was asked in early December 1971 why the two games scheduled for Christmas Day couldn’t be played the following week, he cited that several college bowl games were already planned “and we would have been in conflict with those.”
The Dallas Cowboys whipped the Minnesota Vikings 20-12 in the first game broadcast on Dec. 25, 1971.
“We beat them at their own game,” said Mike Ditka, Cowboys tight end and former Bear. “We took the ball away from them and stuffed it down their throats.”
The second game wasn’t decided as easily. The AFC divisional game took 82 minutes, 40 seconds for the Miami Dolphins to beat the Kansas City Chiefs 27-24.
Garo Yepremian, Miami’s left-footed soccer-style kicker, sailed a 37-yard field goal with 7:20 left in the second overtime to give the Dolphins their first playoff victory. It’s still the longest game in NFL history.
It would be 18 years before the NFL planned another game for Christmas Day.
The Bears played on Christmas Eve for the first time in 1989 and Christmas Day in 2005.
This season they’ll face the Arizona Cardinals at 3:25 p.m. on Christmas Eve at Soldier Field.
Here’s a look back at the results for each of the team’s previous games.
How the Bears have fared: Record
How the Bears have fared: Opponents and results
How the Bears have fared: Points scored
How the Bears have fared: Memorable game moments
Dec. 24, 1989: In a 6-10 season, Richard Dent sacked 49ers quarterback Joe Montana to become the franchise’s all-time sacks leader in a game the Bears lost 26-0. Dent’s 124.5 sacks remains a team record.
Dec. 24, 1994: Kicker Kevin Butler became the first Bear and only the 22nd NFL player to score 1,000 points with his 44-yard field goal during the first quarter of a 13-3 loss to the Patriots. Two other tries, however, failed. A 38-yard attempt was blocked in the third quarter and a 36-yard try later sailed wide left.
Dec. 24, 1995: In the last game of first-round pick Rashaan Salaam’s rookie season, he had 122 yards on 30 carries in the Bears’ 20-14 victory over the Eagles. Yet he sat on the bench during the entire fourth quarter. Salaam rushed for 1,074 yards and scored 10 touchdowns during the 1995 season, earning NFC Rookie of the Year honors. But after multiple injuries and struggles on the field, he lasted only three seasons in Chicago. Salaam died in 2016.
Dec. 25, 2005: The Bears’ 24-17 victory over the Packers clinched the team’s first division title since 2001, guaranteeing a first-round bye and a home playoff game. The win also secured a season sweep of the Packers for the first time in 14 years and ended Green Bay’s three-year stranglehold on the division title. Making his first start since Sept. 26, 2004, Bears quarterback Rex Grossman finished 11-for-23 for 166 yards and one touchdown with one interception.
Sources: Tribune reporting and archives; Pro Football Reference