Pre-Ramble: I’ve mentioned a few of my favorite holiday traditions here in the blog, … trimming the tree, … cookie baking day, … roasting chestnuts on an open fire (we never do that). Well, so, as we get down to the wire here, I need to mention one more.
Every year in the few days before Christmas, actor/comedian Jay Thomas makes an appearance on CBS’s “Late Show with David Letterman” to try to knock a big meatball off the top of Dave’s Christmas tree with a perfectly thrown football (the two shown at right). Special musical guest, the lovely Darlene Love is also a part of the tradition, but the annual rite of the meatball is what keeps me coming back.
The reason I’m such a fan is that I was actually in the Late Show audience one year to witness the ridiculous spectacle. My husband and I had lived in New Jersey early in our marriage and had taken a quick trip back to partake in the magic that is New York during the holidays. I had lined up a couple of tickets to the Letterman show and was beyond thrilled to be a part of the studio audience, not even realizing that we would be courtside for the hallowed meatball event.
In order to fully communicate its enchanting appeal, I’ve provided this recap from the CBS website:
“It all started one night back in 1998 when New York Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde was a guest. He and Letterman picked up footballs and began tossing them at the tree, aiming for the meatball. Watching their failures impatiently from the wings was Thomas, former quarterback at tiny Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, N.C.
Thomas had discussed trying the target practice with Letterman before the show, but no one told that to stage manager Biff Henderson. He blocked Thomas from going out on stage.
“I fake to the right and Biff goes to catch me and I run around him like a scramble,” said Thomas, who picked up a football and threw with laser-like accuracy at the meatball, accomplishing in one throw what the NFL quarterback couldn’t in several.
Testaverde has been forgotten, but Thomas is invited back each year to see if he can repeat his feat.
Around the same time — Thomas isn’t sure exactly when — Letterman heard about a story Thomas told of his time as a radio DJ in the South when he and a friend had to give a ride to Clayton Moore, star of television’s “Lone Ranger.” We won’t be spoilers; Letterman has called it the “best story I’ve ever heard.”
The story, too, is repeated each year. Thomas said he and Letterman have never discussed why it has become a tradition. It just has.
Thomas practices before each appearance, taking a football into Central Park and aiming at a particular tree branch.
“It is the craziest thing I have ever been a part of,” he said.”
The Take-Away: Set your TIVO and try to contain yourself — the meatball show (technically taped yesterday) airs tonight at 10:30 CST on CBS.