It’s a quiet Christmas for Arizona sports fans this year.
None of the Valley teams will play on Christmas Day 2016. The NFL scheduled all but two of this week’s games for Saturday instead of Sunday, including the Cardinals’ visit to the Seahawks. The NBA tends to feature elite teams, big-market teams and star players on Dec. 25. But in the past 30 years, there have been eight Christmas games played by the Cardinals and Suns.
Of those, here are five of the most memorable.
1995: Cardinals vs. Cowboys
More well-known for its footage becoming part of the movie “Jerry Maguire,” the Dallas Cowboys’ 37-13 victory over the Cardinals put a lump of coal in the stockings of fans at Sun Devil Stadium. On this Monday Night game, Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman threw for 350 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, while Arizona’s Dave Krieg went 12-of-28 for 152 yards, two interceptions and no touchdowns. For Arizona, fullback Larry Centers had a day with 12 receptions for 172 yards — as well as hurdle of Cowboys corner Larry Brown — but his Cardinals could only score on two field goals and a 48-yard interception return by Aeneas Williams. Arizona coach Buddy Ryan, who was fired following the season, left the field while there was still time on the clock. Fun fact: Current Cowboys coach Jason Garrett was a Cowboys backup quarterback for that game.
On the same day at America West Arena, Charles Barkley’s 29 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists weren’t enough against Sean Elliott, David Robinson and the Spurs as Phoenix fell 105-100.
2007: Suns at Lakers
In what would become the first significant playoff run in the post-Shaq era, the Lakers and Suns squared off not quite halfway through the year for a Christmas classic that was the beginning of the end for both teams’ most recent runs of success. Kobe Bryant scored 38 points, and the Lakers beat the Suns 122-115 in Staples Center behind an emerging Andrew Bynum, who put up 28 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two blocks against Phoenix. Steve Nash led the Suns with 24 points and 14 assists. After the game, Suns coach Mike D’Antoni laughed off a feud against the Lakers’ Phil Jackson, who called a timeout after Phoenix called one late in a Lakers blowout earlier that year. “It’s not a big deal,” D’Antoni told the Associated Press before this game, citing his team’s poor play as the main reason for his short fuse. “That’s the whole crux of it … I can live without being in his good graces. I’m sure he can live with not being in mine.”
2008: Suns vs. Spurs
You’ve not lived the Suns-Spurs rivalry until you’ve experienced a Roger Mason Jr. buzzer-beater to give San Antonio a win (see 24-second mark). Tony Parker and Tim Duncan haunted the Suns as usual with 52 combined points. Duncan added 17 boards, but Phoenix countered with Amar’e Stoudemire and the Big Shaqtus, Shaquille O’Neal, combining for 48 points, 25 rebounds and six blocks. It wasn’t enough in San Antonio’s 91-90 win, which apparently wasn’t the only Roger Mason Jr. buzzer-beater that year.
1993: Suns vs. Rockets
Well, it felt good at the time. In one of the better Christmas performances of all-time — SLAM called it No. 10 — Charles Barkley dropped 38 points, 18 boards and four dimes on the Rockets, while Kevin Johnson added 36 points and nine assists in an 111-81 rout. This, as Barkley was coming off an MVP season before the Suns fell short of the 1993 NBA title against the Bulls. Yet, it was Houston and Hakeem Olajuwon that would have the last laugh, as the Rockets would eventually beat Phoenix in the conference semifinals and roll through the Jazz and Knicks to win the 1994 championship.
2010: Cardinals vs. Cowboys
Fifteen years later came the Monday night rematch. In a battle of two 5-10 teams, this time at University of Phoenix Stadium, Jay Feely’s 48-yard field goal with five seconds left helped the Cardinals to a 27-26 victory. Who led him there? John Skelton, of course. Led by backup QB Stephen McGee, Dallas scored a touchdown but missed an extra point to go ahead 26-24. The Cardinals drove 46 yards in nine plays, in part thanks to a 4th-and-15 conversion; Skelton hit Larry Fitzgerald for a 26-yard completion from the Arizona 19-yard line to keep the drive alive. The play was Fitzgerald’s only catch of the evening, by the way. The Cardinals’ offense wasn’t exactly great, to say the least. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Greg Toler each recorded pick-sixes, and Andre Roberts scored on a 74-yard reception for 21 of the points. Oh, Jason Garrett was here, too. He was the Cowboys’ interim coach.
The others: The Suns’ 108-87 loss to the Lakers in 1996 and their 124-93 blowout win of the Clippers in 2009.
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