Saturday, December 25, 2010

December 25, 1971: And they played on and on and on...

KANSAS CITY - Jan Stenerud lined up for the kick. With less than a minute to play, Kansas City's season was riding on his right foot. The Chiefs and Dolphins were tied 24-24 after a close, hard-fought first-round playoff game. Stenerud was trying to end it. The kick missed, sending the game into overtime. If only Stenerud knew what he had started.

It was controversial in the first place for the NFL to schedule games on Christmas Day. The league had never done so before. With Christmas falling on a Saturday, the league could have easily put all four first-round games on the next Sunday, but they didn't. Retaining their playoff format from the previous season, the NFL played that Saturday, holidays be damned.

Miami and Kansas City made the most of it, playing a tight game. The Chiefs led 10-0 after one quarter, only to see Miami tie it 10-10 at the half. The teams traded touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters, leading to a 24-24 tie when Stenerud lined up for his game-winning attempt.

Stenerud had a shot at redemption right away in overtime, as Kansas City drove to the Miami 35-yard line on the first possession before sending out the field goal team. This time, it wasn't a missed kick, but a blocked one, as Miami saved its season with a clutch special teams play. Later in the overtime period, Miami had a chance to win, but Garo Yepremian missed a 52-yard field goal.

So on they played, through the end of a first overtime and into a second. Then, deep into the second overtime, Miami finally broke through, with Yepremian making a 37-yard kick at the 7:40 mark to win it.

With a total game time of 82 minutes, 40 seconds, the Christmas Day game between Kansas City and Miami remains the longest NFL game ever played. It was also the last game the Chiefs played at Municipal Stadium, as they moved to Arrowhead Stadium the following season. After the win, Miami advanced as far as the Super Bowl, losing to the Cowboys 24-3.

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