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Darlene Love and other traditions return to 'Letterman' (VIDEO)

Darlene Love, the Lone Ranger, and meatball target practice have all become holiday traditions on David Letterman's 'Late Show.'

By DAVID BAUDERAssociated Press / December 24, 2011

Darlene Love, the Lone Ranger, and meatball target practice feature prominently on the holiday special of "Late Show with David Letterman." Seen here, David Letterman (r.) and comic Jay Thomas get ready to throw footballs at the Late Show Christmas tree during the annual Late Show Holiday Quarterback Challenge.

John Paul Filo/CBS/AP

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Think holiday traditions and mistletoe, eggnog and caroling come to mind. David Letterman's Christmas includes target practice at a giant meatball, the Lone Ranger and singer Darlene Love.

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Each has become part of CBS "Late Show" lore through the years, their appearances anticipated by fans like wrapped presents under a tree. The traditions return Friday.

Comic Jay Thomas will be back to try to knock a meatball off the top of a Christmas tree with a football and recount his Lone Ranger anecdote again. Love will sing "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" as fake snow flutters to the stage.

"The best traditions are the ones you can't plan," said Rob Burnett, executive producer of "Late Show."

"These happened very organically on our show and it is very silly and very goofy. It makes sense with the sensibility of the 'Late Show' to be part of our tradition."

Letterman's on-set Christmas tree is frequently decorated with oddities, such as the meatball on top instead of a star, angel or bow.

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 onstage.

"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 laserlike 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."

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