Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

For Lightning's Cooper, it's all in the Christmas cards


Where are the cards, Jon Cooper kept asking. The Lightning coach was trying to explain how much fun he and his family have around the Christmas holiday, and he wanted a visual aid, the Christmas cards he and his wife, Jessie, have sent out every year of their eight-year marriage. These aren't ordinary cards. Cooper designs them with funny pictures and sayings. "Totally his thing," Jessie said, "and he loves doing it."

So, there is Cooper and Jessie on one card, smiling big while sitting outside on a ratty couch in the snow while holding their newborn twins, Julia and Josie. The card says, "We're dreaming of a white trash Christmas."

Another card, sent one of the two years Cooper coached Tampa Bay's farm team in Norfolk, Va., shows the family riding a Zamboni on the beach. This year's card, the first since Cooper was named Lightning coach, excitedly exclaims — well, they went out late and Cooper wants to keep it to himself so as not to spoil the surprise.

Don't misinterpret the irreverence. Cooper, it seems, can't really help it.

It doesn't diminish that Christmas always is an important time for the family, not only because of what it represents but because it has been a respite for Cooper from the demands of whatever team he is coaching, and a day for him to enjoy his family.

This year, thanks to the collective bargaining agreement, the NHL shut down Tuesday through Thursday; no practice, no travel, no games, guaranteeing three days for Cooper to celebrate with Jessie, daughters Josie and Julia, 5, and son Jonny, 3.

It is a nice bonus for a family still settling into their South Tampa home and just beginning to put down roots after a whirlwind of relocations. Cooper's career the past eight years has had stops in Texarkana, Texas; St. Louis; Green Bay, Wis.; Norfolk; and Syracuse, N.Y., where he coached the Lightning's farm team before being hired by Tampa Bay in March.

"The fact that the kids get to see their dad and he gets to be here and we get to have time together is huge," Jessie said.

"For a couple days it's all about your family," Cooper, 46, said, "especially at a time now the kids are getting old enough to understand what's going on."

• • •

To completely understand a Cooper family Christmas you have to understand the coach's feelings about the holiday.

"He just loves it," Jessie said. "The more decorating the better, the gaudier the better, and he loves that I let the kids put whatever they want to on the tree."

"Christmas music, the lights, the festivities, the parties, everybody seems to be always in a good mood," Cooper said. "I enjoy it so much that it makes those first few weeks after New Year just the dog days."

It is difficult to imagine a more action-packed and food-centric celebration, or as Cooper calls it, "Three days laced with fun."

• Christmas Eve: The kids make chocolate chip and M&M's cookies for Santa. After putting the kids to bed, Cooper and Jessie enjoy their annual fondue dinner of meat and vegetable tempura. After dinner, Cooper wraps his presents and puts all the family's presents under the tree.

• Christmas Day: After the adults toast with Brandy Alexanders, stockings are unpacked and presents opened before a massive breakfast of eggs, sausage, ham, bacon and mushrooms. Naps are next before Jessie starts preparing a dinner of prime rib and Yorkshire pudding, a Christmas recipe from Cooper's mom, Christine. Jessie makes it every year.

"Even when (the kids) were really little, I decided we're going to do the holiday," Jessie said. "We're going to get them dressed up in their Christmas clothes, and I'm going to make the dinner, even if no one else is here but the two adults and the three kids because it does make it feel kind of Chistmasey."

One year the Yorkshire pudding went up in flames.

"You have to put oil in those (baking) cup things, but you can't put too much oil, and I guess she went overboard," Cooper said. "That's when she started screaming and I came running in and the whole oven is blazing flames, so we put that out."

• Day after Christmas: Recover from the previous two days.

• • •

Jessie every year puts out a ceramic snow village with buildings given every year by her parents. The buildings are symbolic. One, a replica of the Anheuser-Busch brewery, commemorates one of the two Christmases the family spent in St. Louis.

But nothing is as necessary or important as getting the cards out on time and with the appropriate message.

Cooper said he took that job after Jessie sent out picture cards with antlers superimposed on his head.

"I was mortified," Cooper said with a laugh, though he liked the idea of sending cards that "show our personalities a little bit."

Here's the problem: "They actually have taken on a life of their own," Cooper said. "There's a little bit of pressure to it. Now, people expect big things."

As big as a Cooper family Christmas.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at

For Lightning's Cooper, it's all in the Christmas cards 12/24/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 24, 2013 8:28pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa Bay Super Bowls: A brief history and some predictions for 2021


    At last, Tampa will host a Super Bowl again. It used to be that the Cigar City would host one a decade, but by the time February 2021 rolls around, it will have been 12 years since the epic showdown between the Steelers and Cardinals. Because it has been awhile, let's revisit those past Super Bowls while also peering …

    Santonio Holmes hauls in the game-winning touchdown in the Steelers' 27-23 Super Bowl XLIII victory over the Cardinals in 2009, the last time Tampa hosted a Super Bowl. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]
  2. Rays bats go silent in second straight loss to Angels (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Sure, Alex Cobb was to blame for the Rays' 4-0 loss on Tuesday.

    Derek Norris strikes out with the bases loaded as the Rays blow a golden opportunity in the seventh inning.
  3. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Tuesday's Rays-Angels game

    The Heater

    RHP Alex Cobb made mistakes on back-to-back pitches to the first two Angels hitters Tuesday, allowing homers to Cameron Maybin and Mike Trout, but otherwise gave the Rays another solid outing, working into the eighth and scattering seven hits.

  4. Rays journal: Brad Miller won't return from DL when eligible

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — 2B Brad Miller (left abdominal strain) will not return from the 10-day disabled list Friday as he hoped. While he took ground balls Tuesday, he has yet to resume running.

    Rays second baseman Brad Miller, left, with infielder Tim Beckham, says he’s letting his left abdominal strain “cool down” before testing it by running.
  5. USF baseball rallies to beat Tulane in AAC tournament opener


    CLEARWATER — With Tulane runners on first and second and two out in the top of the ninth inning Tuesday, USF's dugout watched as burly American Athletic Conference co-player of the year Hunter Williams' fly to left went deep.

    USF outfielder Chris Chatfield is congratulated by third-base coach Chris Cates after hitting a three-run homer in the third inning, tying the score at 3.