(Each week, Coach T.J. Troup, one of the nation's leading football researchers, takes a look back at the greatest moments in pro football history. Troup most recently was a member of NFL Films' "America's Game" committee, a collection of football historians and experts chosen to rank all 40 Super Bowl champions as part of the "America's Game" series. He was also recently hired to serve as the football advisor for the upcoming George Clooney film "Leatherheads.")
By Cold, Hard Football Facts researcher Coach T.J. Troup
Christmas Eve has been a busy day in pro football history, primarily because it's one of the first days on the calendar in which postseason games have been played.
Fans across Pigskin America have been treated to early gifts on this day, in a series of thrilling and record-setting performances. There are some great ones in here, folks!
Dec. 24, 1950
Three future Hall of Fame quarterbacks are in uniform in what may be the greatest championship game in NFL history: a 30-28 victory by Cleveland over the L.A. Rams.
The star-studded Rams were led by Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin, who shared quarterbacking duties that season. It resulted in 466 points in just 12 games, making the 1950 Rams the highest-scoring offense in NFL history (38.8 PPG).
The Browns were playing their first season in the NFL and were led by quarterback Otto Graham.
Each team generated over 400 yards of offense in the title game, and there were five lead changes. The Cleveland defense came through with 5 INTs, but the Browns still trailed, 28-27, with seconds remaining.
After more than 59 minutes battling in the trenches, offensive tackle and future Hall of Famer Lou "The Toe" Groza (a member of the Cold, Hard Football Facts All-Time 11) kicked a 16-yard field goal to give Cleveland a win in the first of what would become a record six straight appearances in NFL championship games.
Dec. 24, 1967
The Raiders win their regular-season finale over Buffalo, 28-21, to become the only team in AFL history to record 13 victories in a single campaign.
The game is highlighted by an AFL-record three fumble recoveries for TDs.
Buffalo jumped out to a 10-0 lead when Tom "Big Ses" Sestak, one of the great defenders in AFL history, pounced on a ball in the end zone. The Raiders, however, scored off fumble recoveres by Dan Conners and Carleton Oats.
The 13-1 Raiders may have been the best team in AFL history, but were trounced by Green Bay in Super Bowl II.
Dec. 24, 1967
While the Raiders were notching their 13th victory, Joe Namath and the Jets were 500 miles south, shredding the San Diego defense for 343 yards. The Jets won, 42-31, and Broadway Joe became the first player in AFL or NFL history to pass for more than 4,000 yards in a season (4,007).
Dec. 24, 1967
The Cowboys took a major step toward becoming America's Team with the first postseason victory in franchise history, a 52-14 thrashing of Cleveland in the first round of the NFL's new playoff system.
"Bullet" Bob Hayes sparked the historic win with 285 all-purpose yards.
The postseason euphoria would end a week later: Dallas lost to Green Bay, 21-17, in the legendary "Ice Bowl" on New Year's Eve.
Dec. 24, 1977
The Colts take the field for their last-ever playoff game in Crabcake Land. It turns out to be one of the great playoff games in NFL history, a 37-31 Raiders victory in double overtime.
The battle between 1970s AFC heavyweights was highlighted by eight lead changes and by Dave Casper's 42-yard reception in the fourth quarter, known today in NFL lore as "the Ghost to the Post." The clutch reception from Ken Stabler on third and long with less than a minute to play in regulation led to Errol Mann's game-tying field goal.
Stabler hit Casper again for a 10-yard TD early in the second overtime.
This Christmas Eve treat remains the fourth-longest game in NFL history.