It's 10 days and counting until Christmas Day. I'm struggling to complete my holiday shopping, because - unfortunately - I'm not one of those parents who can boast about purchasing all gifts by August. Two of my three kids are at that age where Christmas is everything (the other is only a year old, so she really doesn't care) and I'm looking forward to their Christmas morning squeals. One very different reality for me this year compared to many other years is that I am no longer within the NFL family. What does that mean? It means I have a typical holiday. I don't have to squeeze a Christmas celebration into a game week and explain to friends and family why I'm unable to attend countless parties and gift exchanges because I have to work.
The holidays really are unique in the NFL, with three very different realities … each dictated by one key factor: the team's record.
1. Headed to the Playoffs
Ah, those coasting through December. There's really nothing like it. If you're already "in" with three weeks left in the season (yes, I'm looking at you New England, Carolina, and Arizona), you couldn't care less that your Christmas is a little different. Yes, you would love to be there all day with your kids on Christmas Day, but you'll take a few hours opening gifts before zipping off to practice or meetings.
Because you're in, baby.
Everything looks fantastic through the lens of being in. Practice at the crack of dawn? Eh, who cares? We're in! Long meetings? What does that matter? We're in! While that doesn't take away from the sting of a disrupted Christmas, it sure does make it a lot more tolerable.
2. In the Hunt
Teams on the fence are kind of like our heading-to-the-playoffs friends with a lot more stress. Disrupted Christmas is still okay, but there is an underlying minefield. Should Week 16 (the game between Christmas and New Year's Day) result in the end of all playoff hopes, it will not be a happy new year. It will be quite the opposite.
WAGS will wish their significant other's team had never even sniffed the playoffs because a just-barely-missed reality hurts way worse than never even hinting at it to begin with.
Hey, at least Christmas is relevant, and the short present-opening session (or missing it altogether if Christmas falls on a travel day or gameday) serves a purpose. The only problem is the sour taste that follows if that purpose falls flat.
3. Completely Out
This can suck or be outstanding, depending on the day of the week Christmas falls on. This year Christmas is on a Friday, so coaches can change up the schedule allowing players to be home with their families on Christmas morning. That is definitely better than Christmas falling on a travel day, when some players and families have little flexibility.
But if the holiday falls on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, being out of it completely can result in coaches switching up the schedule so the team is off for Christmas. That is definitely a plus.
The real tough part about being completely out of it is that the sacrifice of a shortened holiday is futile. Not only do players miss time with their families, they are doing so with no playoff reward on the line. It's like rubbing salt in the wound.
It's not only Christmas, either. I have spent more than one New Year's Eve at an airport hotel … the airport location selected strategically to avoid the craziness and partying of a big city. Now, if you're in the playoffs, partying at a crappy airport hotel bar can seem downright poetic. If your record has seen better years, that limited menu is like a slap in the face.
As much as the playoffs make the holidays better for the entire family, they do little for a mom home alone with her kids. I speak from experience. My husband travels with a college basketball team, so - during the season - I'm often by myself with my three kids. Not only is it stressful caring for three kids alone, it's just sad when we're not all together. Add to that the holidays and it's really tough.
Still, I know NFL families wouldn't trade their current blessings for anything. It's the sacrifice that comes with the territory! But every great thing has it's downside and "no holidays in the NFL" is for sure one of them.
So here's to all of the NFL WAGS and their families getting through the holiday season … may you have family and friends surrounding you for a joyous Christmas and wonderful New Year!