Jay Thomas skips Christmas show, suspending a Letterman tradition

Written By Sun-Times Wire Posted: 12/16/2013, 10:58am
Jay Thomas nail the meatball in 2012. CBS photo

Jay Thomas nails the meatball in 2012. CBS photo

Darlene Love will be singing about “Deck the Halls,” but it won’t be like Christmas at all this year on “Late Show With David Letterman.”
Breaking a 14-year tradition, Jay Thomas will miss Letterman’s gala holiday episode on Friday.

“I’m recovering from some minor surgery to take care of an old football neck injury,” the radio host said in a statement Tuesday.

Thomas is a fixture of the late-night show’s highly ritualized Christmas celebrations. He stops by to perform two functions on the final episode of each year:

- He tells a hilarious anecdote about driving around “The Lone Ranger” star Clayton Moore.
- And he hurls footballs at the “Late Show” Christmas tree, attempting to knock off the meatball that is mounted at the top — and usually succeeding.
“Throwing a football at a meatball on top of a tree in front of a national broadcast audience is the greatest Christmas tradition there is, but it requires me to be 100 percent healthy,” Thomas said Tuesday. “Anything less would dishonor the ritual.  I’ll be back in action next year for sure.”

The meatball tradition dates back to 1998, when New York Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde was a guest. He and Letterman picked up footballs and began tossing them at the tree, consistently missing the meatball.
Watching their failures impatiently from the wings was fellow guest Thomas, former quarterback at tiny Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, N.C. He dashed onstage, picked up a pigskin and perfectly picked off the tree topper in one throw.

Since then, he’s returned each December to take aim at the evergreen. “It is the craziest thing I have ever been a part of,” Thomas told the AP in 2011.
In the 1990s, he was well-known as a TV sitcom actor, having appeared as Carla’s hockey-player husband on “Cheers” and a tabloid TV host on “Murphy Brown.” These days Thomas concentrates on his talk radio show on Sirius XM.
At least one “Late Show” tradition is unchanged: Love will be back to belt out “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” her classic single from Phil Spector’s revered holiday album.
Contributing: AP