The National Football League has figured out a way to keep themselves relevant all year round. Between the spectacle that is the NFL Draft, and even the release of their schedule during the playoffs of two other major sports leagues, they still drive the needle more than anything. The NFL has become great self promoters and rarely miss an opportunity for their league to be in the spotlight.
Well, they missed one this coming December.
As noted by Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the NFL would do a major injustice if they were to not set the matchup between the Steelers and Raiders in Pittsburgh on the weekend of the 50th anniversary of the immaculate reception. It was too perfect for those two teams to be matched up once again in 2022 in Pittsburgh.
If the Steelers don't play the Raiders at Heinz Field on Dec. 23 -- the exact 50-year anniversary of the Immaculate Reception -- I have grossly overestimated the NFL marketing people, schedule-makers and TV executives. We'll find out Thursday night.— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) May 9, 2022
As many people pointed out to Dulac in his tweet, December 23rd falls on a Friday in the year 2022. Would the NFL play a game on Friday? Are they even allowed to do such a thing?
Well, they didn’t.
Yes, they capitalized on that matchup and put it on the proper week of the season to where the two teams could play as close as their established schedule would allow to commemorate the greatest play in NFL history. So the Pittsburgh Steelers and Las Vegas Raiders will face off at Heinz Field, assuming it is still called Heinz Field at that time, in Week 16.
On Christmas Eve.
At 8:15 PM.
When I first saw this game on the schedule, I asked, “Are you serious?” The NFL is really going to have a game with a Pittsburgh Steelers that runs close to midnight on Christmas Eve?
I know not everyone celebrates Christmas. I know there are people that celebrate it in much different ways. But for many Americans, Christmas Eve carries a lot of anticipation and traditions spent with family. Honestly, it’s a terrible time to play a football game.
On the Friday Night Six Pack article this week, I asked the question of what the users at BTSC thought about the Christmas Eve game. While there were some that weren’t bothered by it, here are some of the first responses received:
“Hate it. Won’t watch. Some things are too important.” —ALDOG
“Don’t like it. We go to church, dinner and Christmas Eve is a family night. I won’t be watching.” —huntingtonbeachsteeler
“Really do not like having the added stress on holidays.” —dinner
“Not cool. I recognize that I’m a degenerate when it comes to football so I’ll gladly let my family pull me away from this one. NFL should have more respect than to think they get primetime on Christmas Eve too.” —TorchM
“I’m not wild about the late kickoff, but I’m okay with this. I don’t have any kids though. I don’t know how I’d feel about being up late if Christmas morning meant more in my house.” —cassidy977
So not only will a portion of Steelers fans either have to give up catching the game, or have to make big family sacrifices to do so, imagine those who attend games regularly. I think of season ticket holders because I happen to be one of them. And as soon as this game was publicized, I immediately put my tickets up for sale.
Simply catching this game on television is going to be hard enough, I can’t imagine actually attending the game. Granted, I live 3.5 hours away with no traffic and good weather. If I were to attend the game, if I were to arrive home before 4 AM on Christmas Day, I would be lucky.
Now that I’ve complained enough about the game being on Christmas Eve at that time, what I really wanted to discuss is how the NFL could have knocked this out of the park. How? They simply need to have this game stand alone on Friday.
It didn’t have to be an afternoon game. The 8:15 PM kick off would be just fine. Really, any kickoff time between 1 PM and 8:25 PM, even doing just a random, unconventional time would have worked. But the NFL chose not to do so. Imagine having an entire day celebrating this game, having a ceremony at the spot of the reception in the parking lot at Heinz Field where it is designated with a plaque. All of the festivities, the reshowing of the game both on television and in the stadium, and all of it leading up to the Steelers and Raiders facing off on the same day would have been beautiful.
But the NFL didn’t do it.
Perhaps there are scheduling and logistical reasons which kept this from happening. Maybe there is a deal with the NCAA or a problem with there being five straight days of NFL football, which sounds absolutely exquisite to me. Maybe the NFL could have done it if they chose. But they didn’t.
Thinking about how great this could have been, sticking this game in prime time on Christmas Eve isn’t going to help. Add in the fact that almost a full slate of games will be played at 1 PM and 4 PM the same day, there’s nothing really special about the other than it will be the only game being shown at a time when most parents are putting their kids to bed in anticipation of the following morning.
As someone who lives so far away from Pittsburgh and still has season tickets, I avoid prime time games. In 2019 I attended three of them, and I don’t want to do that again. After attending the Sunday night game against the Buffalo Bills, one which was flexed from a 1 PM game, I don’t think I could handle another time of walking in my front door at 5 AM after Bryan Anthony Davis drove us home in a snowstorm. But if the game against the Raiders commemorating the 50th anniversary of the immaculate reception was in prime time on Friday night, I can almost guarantee I would have attended that game. It would have worked out great.
Frankly, I don’t care who the Steelers are playing if it’s going to be in that horrible timeslot. I’m still going to do my job of covering the game as well as cheering on my beloved Steelers. But during the entire weekend, when I’m not thinking about Christmas, I am likely going to be thinking about how great it could have been if the NFL would have got it right.