By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports columnist
Christmas is a special time that is all about the best things in our existence, like family and thanks and caring and appreciation.
It also has the added bonus of being one of those few times a year when it is perfectly acceptable, expected in fact, to be gluttonously greedy and to give in to whatever culinary temptations are laid before us.
By the time you read this, countless bountiful festive concoctions will have already been planned, prepared and perhaps already devoured all over the country.
And, if you are the type of person for whom hunger does not just extend to the dining table, but to sports, then you’ll be surely be getting your satisfying fill.
This year, there is a National Football League game to feast upon between the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints (4:30 p.m. ET on FOX), only the 20th time in regular season history that the men of the gridiron have done their thing on Santa’s big day.
The NBA has loaded its Christmas slate with five marquee matchups. College football has the Camellia Bowl between Buffalo and Marshall and college hoops is wholeheartedly ho-ho-ho-ing its way into the spirit of things, too.
“I’m old school, so I certainly hope (college basketball) games on Christmas isn’t going to be a normal thing moving forward,” FOX Sports college basketball analyst Mark Titus said. “However, given the weird circumstances of this year, I’m excited to embrace the abnormal and have Big Ten basketball on my TV all day.”
At the end of an unparalleled year, Christmas takes on an even more cherished role in giving us one day of rest, reflection and yep, indulgence. It is a time when you should be with who you love, a reality that won’t be possible for everyone. And it is when you should do what you love, which for millions of us, is to watch sports.
Not everyone will agree, which is completely fine.
In 2016, Boston Globe writer Christopher Gasper penned an entertaining dissertation on why Dec. 25 should be devoid of sporting activity.
“When it comes to scheduling sporting events on Christmas Day I’ve become a grinch,” Gasper wrote. “The only games on Christmas should be reindeer games involving Rudolph and his cervine compatriots, not NBA and NFL players. Give me a red-nosed reindeer over red-faced coaches stalking the sidelines on Christmas.”
The main case against sports at Christmas is to allow athletes to spend more of the festive period with their families, which is as worthy a reason and you can find. However, it doesn’t necessarily align with what the players want.
In late 2018, I had a conversation with basketball legend Kobe Bryant at an event launching Art of Sport, an athletic toiletries range he was co-founding. When I mentioned that retirement had meant he could finally spend some Christmases at home (he played on Christmas Day 16 times) he indicated that such engagements were a privilege rather than a curse.
I don’t remember the exact words, so I won’t quote him directly, but the point was this: being asked to play on Christmas Day is the ultimate seal of approval as an NBA player, because it says you’re on a team that matters.
The NBA structures its Christmas offerings like the UFC stacks its biggest pay-per-views, finding the juiciest matchups possible and lining them up, one after the other.
Giannis v Steph. LeBron v Luka. Kyrie Irving’s mouthwatering return to Boston, with his new buddy Kevin Durant in tow. Zion Williamson’s Pelicans against Jimmy Butler’s Heat. The Los Angeles Clippers’ revenge mission against the Denver Nuggets. Not bad, huh?
Different parts of the sporting world mean different customs. They used to play soccer on Christmas Day in England, then stopped the practice in the mid-1960s. For decades now, there has been a full slate of games on Boxing Day, the 26th.
Some players like it, other don’t – because their day-before-game routines mean they’re eating pasta and chicken on Christmas, rather than sharing the family dinner.
Anyways, you and I and the rest of us non-athletic mortals are unburdened by such restrictions and as it’ll soon be time for a second helping of something delicious, let’s start to wrap this up.
We promised you that the Wisconsin/Michigan State game had a feel-good factor, so here it is.
For months, the players from both teams, like so many in college sports, have been largely unable to see their parents and families due to the necessary sporting bubbles that have been put in place.
However, at the Breslin Center today, family members of players from both teams were granted permission to attend and see their loved ones, thanks to changes in state health restrictions.
Tom Izzo called it a “special gift” and he’s right.
That’s what Christmas is supposed to be, a gift in itself rather than whatever you might have unwrapped under the tree. For you and those you care about, hopefully that’s what this day can be.
Whatever it looks like, whoever you’re with – and whatever sports you might be watching.
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