A WEEK IN HISTORY
Updated: Mar 5, 2021
We are living in an exciting time right now in terms of football and the passage of time. It is both the final Friday before Christmas and the final Friday before the end of fantasy playoffs which means in one week’s time, someone from your league will be following Christmas with even more gifts while another will feel like they got some last-minute coal in their stocking. Similarly, Christopher Nolan’s film Tenet comes to digital release so in keeping with things that skip around with time, let’s do that very thing with some historic moments from the world of the NFL, specifically events from 12/17-12/23. We’re off to Never Neverland!
*Games not played in the fifteenth week of that season but between 12/17-12/23 as a result of the schedule changing over time.
#7* Dec. 17, 1933: First NFL Title game. In a bout between the Chicago Bears and the New York Giants, Wrigley Field hosted the first meeting between two division champions in NFL history. The Bears would beat the Giants in a close 23-21 victory. 1933 was also the first year to use the “Bronko Nagurski Rule” meaning a forward pass was legal anywhere behind the line of scrimmage. This came as a result of the previous year’s championship game in which a touchdown was disputed based off Nagurski’s loose interpretation of the previous rule of having to be at least five yards back to pass. The victory was the Bears third title win as a franchise with the first being a disputed victory as the Staleys. The results of this year would be flipped in the 1934 season with the Giants overtaking the Bears 30-13 in the championship game.
#6* Dec. 18, 1959: Sammy Baugh named first coach of New York Titans. The team was an inaugural member of the American Football League or AFL and started in 1960. It lasted three seasons before changing its name to the New York Jets and moving from the Polo Grounds to Shea Stadium. In their first season, the Titans went 7-7 for 2nd place in their division. They had the same record the following year which were the only two seasons coaching the team for Baugh who was a much better player than coach. He set numerous NFL records, won two championships, was player of the year twice and is a charter member of the hall of fame.
#5 Dec. 19, 2010: Miracle at the New Meadowlands. Trailing the New York Giants by 21 points with only eight minutes left to play, the Philadelphia Eagles come back to win including a walk off punt return by Desean Jackson. He was the first player to do so in NFL history. The game gave the Eagles the tie breaker over the Giants so despite having the same record at the end of the season, the Eagles won the luxury of losing to the eventual Superbowl winning Green Bay Packers in the wild card game. In the fourth quarter Michael Vick had three total touchdowns including a rush into the endzone from the 4-yard line. In an ironic bout of karma, the comeback came after the Giants played the Eagles theme song, “Eye of the Tiger” as a means of mocking them.
#4* Dec. 20, 1980: The No Announcer Game. For the first time in NFL history, and since, a football game was intentionally played with no set of announcers. In a game between the Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets, Don Ohlmeyer, the executive producer of NBC’s NFL telecasts wanted to see the results of such an experiment. He did so for multiple reasons. The first was because he believed announcers were overly talkative and took away from certain aspects of the game. The second reason was because he wanted to use it as a stunt to see if it could get higher ratings for a game that had no playoff implications. In that regard it worked very well, however, in hindsight many involved realized that the experiment could not and should not be replicated. This was due to a combination of the announcers providing a lot of the backstory involved with the players and teams as well as many of the alternate provisions set up to replace the lack of announcers not working as well as intended. Overall, it was an interesting gamble in NFL history that was a very neat thought that just never hit its mark. Oh, and the Jets won 24-17.
#3* Dec. 21, 1941: Ray McLean makes last successful NFL drop kick for an extra point in a championship game. Blame the New England Patriots for such a specific intro because Doug Flutie scored the extra point off a drop kick in 2006. Much like South Park blames Canada, in the NFL, it’s blame the Patriots. Going back to what should have been the last successful drop kick in NFL history despite it still being a legal maneuver, the Chicago Bears did it in their 37-9 championship victory over the New York Giants. It would be their fifth overall title and they were the first team with consecutive championships since the title game was initiated in 1933. The extra point came after a Ken Kavanaugh 42-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
#2* Dec. 22, 2019: Michael Thomas sets record for most receptions in a season. In a game between the New Orleans Saints and the Tennessee Titans, the Saints wider receiver recorded his 144th catch of the season. This broke the record of 143 set by Marvin Harrison of the Indianapolis Colts in 2002. Thomas would finish the game with 145 receptions and would finish the season with 149. The Saints would go on to beat the Titans 38-28 but would lose to the Minnesota Vikings in overtime in the wild card game. The Titans, meanwhile, would be the Cinderella team in the playoffs entering with a 9-7 record and shocked everyone on their way to the AFC championship game where they lost to the eventual Superbowl winning Kansas City Chiefs.
#1 Dec. 23, 1972: The Immaculate reception. It was a play that has caused much controversy and debate over the years ultimately ending up as the number one play in NFL history according to the NFL 100 list. Depending on whether you ask in Oakland or in Pittsburgh, the play is either a total sham or the spark needed to kick off one of the best decades for a team in NFL history. In a game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders, running back Franco Harris caught a ball in midair that was deflected off Raiders defensive back Jack Tatum. The Steelers running back and future hall of famer would run the ball for just over 40 yards on his way to the endzone to give the Pittsburgh a 13-7 win and the Steelers first ever playoff victory. It would lay the foundation for the Steelers tremendous run in the 1970s winning four titles in six years. Despite the controversy, its legacy still provides magic and stories to this very day, which is especially fitting given its proximity to Christmas.