How the Minnesota Vikings Have Fared Historically on Christmas Games
For most sane people, Christmas is a time to spread joy and cheer with those they love. For Minnesota Vikings fans, though, Christmas is a time where the team is vying for a playoff spot, only to ultimately fumble that spot away. In fact, nine times in the history of the franchise has the team played on either Christmas or Christmas Eve.
It’s been mostly ugly, though, as the Vikings are only 2-7 in these games. Even worse is that one could argue one of those victories wasn’t even worth it. But alas, we have tuned in for some ugly performances with the people that we love and appreciate the most. And when everything is said and done, that’s more important than the final score.
1971, Vikings Lose to the Cowboys 20-12 on Christmas Day
The Vikings didn’t play many games on Christmas for the first 28 years of their existence. With a 14-game schedule up until 1978 and bye weeks not becoming a thing until 1990, the regular season was over by the time Santa began to travel around the globe. But in 1971, the Vikings traveled to Dallas to face the Cowboys in the NFC Divisional Round. Despite outgaining America’s Team 311-183, the Vikings found themselves down 20-3 heading into the fourth quarter. Minnesota turned the ball over five times, including four interceptions between quarterbacks Gary Cuozzo and Bob Lee. This was the final game before the Vikings made a move to bring Fran Tarkenton back.
1989, Vikings Beat the Bengals 29-21 on Christmas Day
The ol’ NFC Central division title hung in the balance on Christmas night in 1989. It was the first regular season Christmas Day game in NFL history, and on Monday Night Football, the ferocious Vikings pass rush harassed Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason, sacking him six times and intercepting him three more. Vikings kicker Rich Karlis made five field goals in the first half to give Minnesota a 22-7 halftime lead. In typical Vikings fashion, our beloved purple allowed Cincinnati to claw their way back, cutting the lead to 22-21. But Minnesota ultimately prevailed when Wade Wilson found tight end Brent Novoselsky for a one-yard touchdown to seal the victory and division. Oh, and the win eliminated the Packers from the playoffs.
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1995, Vikings Lose to the Bengals 27-24 on Christmas Eve
So this game was before my time. I did know the Vikings missed the playoffs in 1995, but I didn’t know how. Unfortunately, I dug deep and ended up getting irritated. The Vikings, vying for a playoff spot, built a 24-3 lead against the Bengals on Christmas Eve. But they fell apart in the second half as kicker Fuad Reveiz missed two field goals. After his second miss, the Bengals drove down the field to set Doug Pelfrey up for a 51-yard field goal. He split the uprights, eliminating the Vikings from the playoffs. It was one of two seasons that the Denny Green-led Vikings missed the playoffs.
2000, Vikings Lose to the Colts 31-10 on Christmas Eve
This game ultimately didn’t affect the Vikings’ playoff positioning in 2000. They were stuck with the No. 2 seed after dropping games to the Rams and Packers, so Bubby Brister took over for Daunte Culpepper in this game after an opening-drive touchdown to Randy Moss.
2004, Vikings Lose to the Packers 34-31 on Christmas Eve
Somehow, this is one of my favorite memories of all-time. The Vikings and Packers faced off for the NFC North title. Going into the day, my mom told me and my dad that we couldn’t watch the game because “it’s Christmas Eve.” But my dad hid a ring in the tree for her, and when he brought that out after opening the rest of our presents, my mom was so overwhelmed with joy she gave in and allowed us to watch the game.
Minnesota took a 31-24 lead in the fourth quarter after linebacker Chris Claiborne took a Brett Favre interception to the house. But Green Bay ended up winning as time expired when Ryan Longwell hit a 29-yard field goal to seal the NFC North. The Vikings ultimately had the last laugh, though, defeating the Packers two weeks later at Lambeau Field in the Wild Card Round in the Randy Moss “Moon Game.”
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2005, Vikings Lose to the Ravens 30-23 on Christmas Day
The 2005 Vikings were one of the weirdest teams of all-time. They endured the Whizzinator and the Love Boat scandals, and after Daunte Culpepper tore his ACL, the Vikings ripped off six straight victories to put themselves in the thick of the NFC playoff race. A loss to the Steelers ended the win streak, though, and it made the matchup against the Ravens a must-win game. Despite leading 20-17 heading into the fourth quarter, the Vikings would end up losing and being eliminated from the playoffs. One week later, head coach Mike Tice would be fired.
2011, Vikings Beat Washington 33-26 on Christmas Eve
Christian Ponder was injured in this mostly meaningless game. Joe Webb took over and the Vikings scored 23 points in the second half. But this matchup is most remembered because of the injury to Adrian Peterson. The future Hall of Fame running back tore his ACL on the first play from scrimmage in the second half and it appeared that his career hung in the balance. It led to a vigorous rehab that AD ultimately overcame as he won the 2012 NFL MVP award.
2016, Vikings Lose to the Packers 38-25 on Christmas Eve
Once again, the Vikings were eliminated from the playoffs during Christmas. The 2016 season was a disaster, but this is the game where Adam Thielen broke out as a receiver. He caught 12 passes for 202 yards (two shy of Randy Moss’ career-high) and two touchdowns. Unfortunately, the game was never in question as the Packers built a 38-13 lead before two late scores from Minnesota.
2020, Vikings Lose to the Saints 52-33 on Christmas Day
Shocker, the Vikings were eliminated from the playoffs in this game. Minnesota gave up their most points since 1963, and the 264 rushing yards were the most a Zimmer-led defense ever allowed. But this game is most remembered for Alvin Kamara tying an NFL record with six touchdowns, all on the ground. It was rock bottom for the 2020 Vikings.
However, I was able to watch this game with my dad. Little did I know that it was going to be our last Christmas together before he passed away last month. But we stuck it out until the end of the game and even had some laughs because of the disaster we were witnessing. Even though the game itself was embarrassing, I wish I could relive that entire day and game. Enjoy your holidays with your loved ones.