The SPORTS PHILOSOPHER says: “Merry Christmas, Jan Stenerud”

December 26, 2011
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     There’s been a lot of talk lately about the NFL scheduling a football game this year on Christmas Day.   As if such a thing is some sort of a blasphemy against religions everywhere.   Even my son asked me about it: “Dad, are they really going to play a game on Christmas?” the lad mused aloud.

     “Well yes, my boy,” I rejoined, “That is, if you consider Green Bay versus this particular Bears team a real game.”   

     Indeed, the only NFL game this Christmas Day featured the World Champion Green Bay Packers and the injury riddled and perpetually confused Chicago Bears, and it was, predictably, a mismatch.   Aaron Rodgers threw five touchdown passes and then took the 4th quarter off….

     But the issue of Christmas football, while not a problem for this proud agnostic, does cause the old football historian portion of the Sports Philosopher’s persona to reel his memory backwards in time.   Forty years backwards, to be exact.   For as I type these words on Christmas Day 2011, I am reminded that it is the 40th anniversary of a real football game between two evenly matched teams; the ’71 Dolphins and the ’71 Chiefs.   Who, on December 25th, 1971, gave us the longest football game ever played.

     I remember it, well, not like it was yesterday (as the old cliché goes) but like it was a lot less than 40 years ago.   I watched that game with my brother, while Mom made us huge portions of holiday food.   It was a terrific ballgame, pitting two historic teams against each other in the last game ever played at Kansas City’s old stadium (they moved into Arrowhead Stadium the next year), and no less than 12 Hall-of-Famers participated.   A game full of famous football names like Griese, Warfield, and Csonka, and the likes of Lanier, Buchanan, and Dawson.

     But the best player on the field that day is not in the Hall of Fame.   The Kansas City Chiefs’ unheralded Ed Podolak, a journeyman jack of all trades from Atlantic, Iowa of all places, returned kicks, ran back punts, caught passes, ran the ball from scrimmage, and sold hot dogs at halftime (you can’t prove he didn’t!) to the tune of a staggering 350 yards total.   To this day, it is the most all-purpose yards ever gained by one player in an NFL playoff game.

     It wasn’t enough.

     In the sixth quarter, in other words deep into the 2nd quarter of sudden-death overtime, little Garo Yepremian, a part-time tie salesman from Cyprus and the league’s smallest player, kicked a 37-yard field goal to give Miami an epic, 27-24 victory.   The game last over 82 minutes.   Larry Csonka, the Dolphins’ aforementioned Hall of Fame fullback, lost 18 pounds during the game….roll that around in your head a couple times.  

     The game was played in the mud, and as such every player left the field soiled.   Except Yepremian.   When he walked onto the field for the game-winning kick, his uniform was snow white.

     But the story of the game wasn’t the kicker who won it.   It was probably the story of the kicker who lost it.   The Chiefs’ Jan Stenerud.

     Stenerud was a great kicker.   I mean he was truly great.   The first great soccer-style kicker in league history.   To this day he is still the only kicker enshrined in the pro football Hall of Fame (which I have a problem with, not with Stenerud, but with the absence of other kickers, but that’s another column).    

     Stenerud was an all-time great.   But on this day he was truly the goat.   He missed three of the four field goals he attempted that day.   Including a short, 31-yarder at the end of regulation which would have won it.   The snap was good, the hold was good.   It wasn’t blocked.   He just missed it.  Flat out missed it, a chip shot.   A total choke-job by the best clutch kicker of his era.   And then he had another field goal blocked in overtime.   In the longest game ever played.   That, people, is what qualifies as a bad day for an NFL kicker….

     You might be curious as to how long it took the great Stenerud to get over his 31-yard gaffe.   The answer is never.   He still hasn’t gotten over it.   He was featured in a special about that game recently, and he says it really bothered him for a long time how he let his teammates down, and still bothers him to this day.   A lot.   Really bothers him.   You can see the pain in his eyes.

     In other words, sports matters.   If the games mean so much to us, the crazed fans, can you imagine how much they mean and meant to the men who played them?

     Time to forgive yourself, Jan.   You’ve got a 70th birthday coming up.   Let it go.

     Anyway, I can’t believe  its been 40 years since that game.   Where did all the time go to?

     Seriously.   What happened?



Final holiday note: speaking of Christmas and football, my personal football hero, Oakland quarterback Kenny Stabler, turned 66 on Christmas Day.   Happy birthday, Snake….

meet….The Sports Philosopher!image003

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, undiscovered literary giant, and lover of NFL history and all the great games of the past.   Brad’s other recent columns for La Verne Online can be found in the Sports Section under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.    Brad has also written 4 novels* and over 20 short-stories.   

*To pick up a copy of his recently published novel of life at the racetrack, of triumph, and of utter despair, WHERE GODS GAMBLE, a tale of American mythology, simply search for it on,, or   And then order it.   And then read it.   He thanks you.  




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