Wednesday, November 17, 2010

November 17, 1968

The Heidi game

"The year was 1968. A minute and five seconds remained in the fourth quarter between the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders. It was close throughout, and Jim Turner had just kicked a 26-yard field goal to give the Jets a 32-29 lead. As millions of viewers anxiously anticipated the conclusion of the two heated rivals, something unimaginable happened.

In the middle of what was Oakland's go-ahead drive, NBC suddenly switched to the television adaptation of Heidi -- the story of a young, orphaned Swiss girl. It had just turned 7 o'clock and NBC had prior arrangements to air the movie regardless of the score. Several NBC execs attempted to tell the switchboard manager to delay the start of Heidi, but the vast number of phone calls demanding that the game go on or requesting Heidi to air instead prevented them from getting through."

"And so it was with 65 seconds remaining that millions of viewers were suddenly thrust into the European Alps, where Heidi was scaling the mountainside with her grandfather. The child-friendly film was not an appropriate substitute to the beer-guzzling tailgaters now cursing at their television sets.

Meanwhile, the Raiders were busy making NBC's decision look even worse. Raiders quarterback Daryle Lamonica threw a 43-yard touchdown to Charlie Smith, giving Oakland the lead with still 42 seconds on the clock. The Jets fumbled the following kickoff and it was recovered by Preston Ridlehuber for the TD. The Raiders had scored two touchdowns in a quaint nine seconds to win the game 43-32, though the outcome was still unknown to the majority of the public."

I know it's hard for people today to understand the importance of this event, understanding the outrage of the time and it's impact on television broadcasting from that moment on.
Put yourself back in 1968 before internet, before cable TV, shit, before most color TV, before cheap phone communication. Television had three main channels plus a couple of local transmissions and a brand new thing called public TV. Big football games were immense draws and most of the country had dropped everything and was tuned into this one - a vicious rivalry between east coast and west coast, ensuring a humongous audience all across the nation. You see the NFL had been around forever but the separate AFL including the Jets and Raiders was less than ten years old and at the time were considered a real oddity, a real curiosity. Joe Namath on the Jets was the most recognized football player of the era and you either loved him or hated his guts.

Growing up in NY I went to see the Jets play in Shea Stadium and watched this game, or most of it, like so many other Nu Yawkers because this was the best season the franchise ever had.
When NBC switched to the despicable little moppet you could hear the cries of anguish and murderous rage throughout the neighborhood, and you could imagine how ugly it got the next day when fans found out the terrible news that the Raiders scored two touchdowns in nine goddamn seconds. NBC was so taken aback that people were fired and from that moment on football games were hardly ever interrupted.

The universe righted itself and healed when the Jets got revenge on the Oakland Raiders in the AFL Championship game and Smokin' Joe whipped the mighty Colts in Super Bowl lll.
Couldn't care less about football today, but that was a heckuva dust up.


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