Only twice in the history have the Lions played on Christmas Day, and in both cases, Santa left coal in their stockings.
Although they would make the playoffs after their 1994 and 1999 Christmas Day defeats, the Lions would be eliminated in the first round both times.
In 1994, Barry Sanders and the Lions were in an exciting three-way race with the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers for the division title when they arrived in Miami to face quarterback Dan Marino in the final game of the regular season.
If Sanders could gain 169 yards that day he would become the third player in history to gain 2,000 yards in a season. (He would accomplish that feat three years later.)
As it turned out, the Dolphins would not give any gifts to Detroit on that Christmas night.
On their first possession, Marino drove the Dolphins 62 yards and Bernie Parmalee scored the first of his three short-yardage touchdowns that evening. Kicker Pete Stoyanovich added a pair of field goals in Miami’s 27-20 victory.
Down 24-3, the Lions’ Johnnie Morton, subbing for Mel Gray, broke a thrilling 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to make it 24-10 before Stoyanovich kicked a 45 yard field goal as the half ended.
Although the Lion defense kept Miami off the scoreboard in the second half, the Dolphin defense held Barry Sanders to just 52 yards for the whole game. The Lions did muster a a third quarter field goal by Jason Hanson and a five-yard touchdown pass from Lion quarterback Dave Kreig to Aubrey Matthews in the 4th quarter, but then ran out of gas.
The Lions finished the regular season with a 9-7 record – the same as the Chicago Bears and Packers, and then traveled to Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, where they would fall 16-12.
One can only imagine what the outcome might have been if Barry Sanders had been able to gain any traction on the Lambeau Field gridiron. Believe it or not, the Packers defense held Barry to -1 rushing yards.
Five years later, the 8-6 Lions hosted the Denver Broncos for a Christmas Day contest minus Sanders, who had unexpectedly and suddenly retired before training camp.
The Christmas afternoon game was a sellout, but some 8,000 fans elected to stay home and watch it on the national CBS broadcast.
The Lions were boring and listless as quarterback Charlie Batch was outplayed by former U of M quarterback Brian Griese, although the game was scoreless at the half.
Denver’s Olandis Gary had a field day in the second half as the Bronco running back ran for 157 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown scamper for a 7-0 lead. Denver would later add another touchdown and a field goal for a 17-0 advantage.
With much of the crowd heading for the exits with 1:56 remaining in the game, Batch threw a meaningless 13-yard scoring strike to Herman Moore as the Lions lost 17-7. The defeat placed their playoff hopes in peril.
Yet despite losing the next week to Minnesota to finish with a 8-8 record, Detroit miraculously earned a wild card spot.
However, in Detroit’s last playoff appearance – January 8, 2000 – the Redskins beat the Lions 27-14.