By Michael Battista
America had a chance to relax with family, eat a ton of food and watch three NFL games all on Thursday, Nov. 24. The games were great — even though the Dallas Cowboys won — which got me thinking about every major sport and their connection to a holiday.
The NFL has Thanksgiving, the NBA has Christmas Day, college football — especially the Rose Bowl — usually has New Year’s if it isn’t a Sunday, the NHL is trying to carve a place into New Year’s Day as well with it’s Winter Classic game — once again so long as it isn’t on a Sunday and MLB has Independence Day.
Ratings for these types of games are usually some of the highest of the year besides the playoffs for these sports, so players and league officials are more willing to step away from their families in order to take part.
So, why do these sports work so well on these holidays?
For some it’s a matter of tradition. For instance, football has been played on Thanksgiving for more than 100 years. In 1876, shortly after the game was invented, Yale and Princeton universities began an annual tradition of playing each other on Thanksgiving. The day was recognized as a time everyone would have off so more fans could attend the game. As time passed, the NFL and television came to be and eventually all three came together. The NFL realized that with that many people at home, more people could watch their games.
Not only do we have three games every Thanksgiving, but we have two teams that always play — the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys — America’s teams.
For others, like the NHL and MLB, it’s a time that fits the image of their respective game.
Baseball has always been a summer sport, so it only makes sense that Independence Day — the most summer holiday there is — should have baseball. A family grilling food together outside or sitting on a beach with a nearby radio or TV playing a baseball game before fireworks start going off — that is what I think of when I imagine Independence Day.
While the NHL may not be the most popular sport this country has, it fits in with the winter season.
Many players, both professional and amateur, from the northern U.S. and Canada talk about waking up on days when school was cancelled and playing on frozen ponds with their friends.
Former Islander Patrick Flatley, who was born in Toronto, said this was standard growing up in Canada.
“They say Canada is the home of hockey, but most kids that play hockey in Canada don’t play organized hockey,” Flatley said in an interview with NHL.com while promoting the 2014 NHL Stadium Series games in New York City. “They’re playing on a pond or a frozen river.”
Starting in 2008, the NHL began hosting an annual game that was held outdoors in a large sports venue, usually a football or baseball stadium. The first Winter Classic saw the Pittsburgh Penguins defeat the Buffalo Sabres in a shootout, 2-1.
Since then, the NHL has hosted seven more Winter Classics on either January 1 or January 2, and as someone who has had a chance to attend one — I saw the New York Rangers defeat the Philadelphia Flyers, 3-2, in 2012 — I can say it’s a great experience to have with family on a holiday.
In the end, why do these games work? It’s because they bring people together when they all have the time off from their responsibilities. Whether it’s because families are already together because of the holiday and need something to do, it belongs to the culture of the holiday or it emulates memories of someone’s childhood, these holiday games work, especially when people don’t have to worry about their work.
With the next holiday games being the NBA on Christmas Day, with the New York Knicks taking on the Celtics as one of the games, you can guess what my family and I will be watching on Sunday, Dec. 25.