Heidi Game: Wikis

  
  

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The Heidi Game
1 2 3 4 Total
NYJ 6 6 7 13 32
OAK 7 7 8 21 43
Date 1968-11-17
Stadium Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum
Location Oakland, California
Attendance 53,318
Network NBC
Announcers Curt Gowdy and Al DeRogatis

In professional American football, the Heidi Game (often referred to, facetiously, as the "Heidi Bowl") refers to a famous American Football League (AFL) game between the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders, played on November 17, 1968 in Oakland, California. This game is memorable largely because the NBC television network terminated the broadcast in the Eastern and Central time zones with 65 seconds left to play in the game in favor of broadcasting a pre-scheduled two-hour airing of Heidi, a new made-for-TV version of the classic children's story. (The telecast included commercial breaks; the actual film ran 104 minutes.)

With the Jets leading 32-29 with only 65 seconds left in the game, NBC executives attempted to reach their broadcast operations unit to extend coverage of the game but were unable to reach them in time to delay the cutover or reinstate coverage before the game ended. In the meantime, the Raiders came back and scored 14 points, winning 43-32. As a result, no fan following the game on TV was able to see Oakland's comeback live. The complaints to the network indicated a new height of popularity for the game in the United States.

Contents

The game

Both teams entered the game with 7-2 records, and were considered two of the best teams in the 10-team AFL. The Raiders were the defending AFL champions from 1967, and the contending Jets had superstar quarterback Joe Namath in his fourth pro season.

The game was televised by NBC Sports, with announcers Curt Gowdy and Al DeRogatis, and shown to most of the country as the second game in an AFL doubleheader. The broadcast was scheduled to be followed by the premiere of Heidi, a made-for-television adaptation of the classic children's story. Kickoff for the game was at 1:00 pm in Oakland, or 4:00 pm Eastern Time (ET), allowing three hours before the scheduled 7:00 pm ET start time for the movie. Typically, professional football games in that era were completed in under three hours. Additionally, up until this time it was not uncommon for games to not be shown in their entirety, especially if the game's outcome was likely determined, or there was a more attractive matchup following (in fact, NBC had cut away from San Diego at Buffalo – the first game of that afternoon's doubleheader – to showcase the entire Jets-Raiders game).

The game was a hard-fought offensive contest, with a number of fights and penalties. The first half ended with Oakland leading 14-12. The game remained competitive throughout the second half when, with 1:05 left in the fourth quarter, Jim Turner kicked a 26-yard field goal to give New York a 32-29 lead. The field goal was kicked near the end of the game's three hour time slot on the network.

The ensuing kickoff was returned by the Raiders to their own 23-yard line, and NBC went to a commercial break just before 7:00 pm.

The incident

Because NBC was contractually obligated to the movie's sponsor, Timex, to broadcast Heidi from 7 pm to 9 pm that evening, the network had instructed Dick Cline, NBC's Broadcast Operations Supervisor, to cut to Heidi at exactly 7:00 pm, whether the football game was over or not.[1] As the game approached its exciting ending, however, NBC's executives changed their minds and decided to air the game to its conclusion and delay Heidi by several minutes if necessary. However, because so many football viewers were calling the network requesting the network not cut away from the game (and others asking if Heidi would air on-schedule) the NBC executives could not get through. NBC tried to contact the mobile unit in Oakland to call Broadcasting Operations, but Broadcasting Operations countered that they needed direct orders in order to rearrange scheduled programming.

With the game fed on telephone lines instead of satellites, Cline could not see what happened in the final minute. In an NBC Burbank studio where the TV feed was being controlled, Cline received no late instructions otherwise, and when the network came back from commercials, Heidi started on schedule at 7:00 pm. (On a sidenote, the shows in NBC's regular Sunday-night lineup – The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, and The Mothers-in-Law – were also affected, as they were all pre-empted by the movie.)

Cline later said that he was called directly by the president of NBC after the network ended its coverage, demanding that the game be put back on the air. However, the video link to the stadium had already been disconnected; reestablishing it would have required action by a multitude of telephone switching stations across the country. AT&T, which handled NBC's remote feeds, was unable to reach all of the necessary offices before the game ended.

While millions of stunned football fans east of Denver suddenly found themselves watching Jennifer Edwards in Heidi, the Raiders scored two touchdowns on three plays and won the game 43-32 in what has been voted by fans as one of the 10 most memorable games in American football history.[citation needed] Daryle Lamonica completed a 20 yard pass to Charlie Smith. Jet Mike D’Amato grabbed Smith's facemask on the play and the 15 yard penalty put the Raiders into Jets territory on the 43 yard line. On the next play Smith caught a pass and ran by D'Amato for a 43-yard touchdown with 42 seconds left, putting Oakland ahead 36-32. Then, on the ensuing kickoff, Jet Earl Christy fumbled the ball at the 10 yard line. The ball landed on the two yard line where Raiders special teamer Preston Ridlehuber recovered it and took it in for a touchdown with 33 seconds left in the game.

Reactions

At 8:40 pm, a crawl across the bottom of the screen announced the ending to the game (during a dramatic point in the movie when Heidi's paralyzed cousin Clara fell from her wheelchair and had to summon enough courage to try to walk).[2] So many fans called NBC to complain about missing the fantastic ending of the game (and to make sundry threats) that the switchboard ceased to function, blowing at least 25 circuits in the process[citation needed]. Many irate viewers also called NBC affiliates, radio stations, newspapers such as The New York Times, the telephone company and the NYPD, nearly crashing the telephone network in metropolitan New York. This resulted in NBC making a public on-air apology at the end of the film, at 9 pm.

The next morning the incident was covered on the front page of The New York Times.

NBC bought advertisements in several major newspapers soon after the incident, proclaiming rave reviews for Heidi, along with a tongue-in-cheek quote from Jets quarterback Joe Namath: "I didn't get a chance to see it, but I heard it was great."

Neither Curt Gowdy nor Al DeRogatis knew they were off the air after 7 pm. After the game, they were packing up when the stage manager yelled at Gowdy to "do those two touchdowns again." Gowdy reconstructed the call, which ran on NBC's news programs as well as Monday morning's Today show. Due to the technology of the time the participants in the game were unaware of what was going on. John Madden, the assistant coach of the Raiders at that time, reported that when the Raider coaches and players found out what happened they thought it was funny. The wife of Jets coach Weeb Eubank called him to congratulate him on the "victory" only to hear grumbling.[2]

NBC President Julian Goodman issued a statement following the game, calling the incident "a forgivable error committed by humans who were concerned about children expecting to see Heidi at 7:00 pm." He added, "I missed the end of the game as much as anyone else." According to Cline in the book Going Long, Goodman used his direct line phone (as the switchboard was down) to tell Cline, "This is Julian Goodman. Put the football game back on now." Other accounts claim no such direct-line phone was installed until after the "Heidi Bowl".

The following evening, on the ABC Evening News, anchor Frank Reynolds was seen reading excerpts from Heidi (with the title of the book clearly visible), with cut-ins showing the two Raider touchdowns.

Aftermath

Ultimately, the NFL's television policies were amended, requiring games to be broadcast in their entirety in the markets of the teams involved; this rule was then later imitated by other professional sports leagues such as the MLB, NHL, and NBA to help prevent such a similar incident in their respective sports games. In addition, rule changes to keep the game clock running after out of bounds plays were instituted to speed the game. At NBC, the network installed a new phone in the control room wired to a separate exchange, becoming known as the Heidi Phone.

Neither team would lose again that regular season, the Raiders finishing the season 12-2 and the Jets finishing 11-3. Both teams would also win their respective divisions, the Raiders the West and the Jets the East. Six weeks after the "Heidi Game", the Jets came from behind to defeat the Raiders in New York in the 1968 AFL Championship Game, 27-23. Two weeks later, the Jets upset the Baltimore Colts 16-7 in Super Bowl III.

In a 1997 poll taken in conjunction with the NFL's 10,000th regular season game, the "Heidi Game" was voted the most memorable regular season game in pro football history by a select group of media.[3]

Nearly 35 years after the game, Jennifer Edwards briefly chatted about the incident with Joe Namath after encountering him on a cross-country flight.[4] It took Earl Christy 20 years to be able to talk about his crucial fumble.[2]

The issue of 4 pm NFL games ending during the 7 pm-8 pm ET hour has been handled by networks in various ways. Fox averts most program pre-emptions during the football season by making the 7 pm-8 pm ET hour a buffer for late-running games, airing expendable repeats of their animated and comedy series or a postgame analysis program called The O.T., thus football only causes delays to Fox's lineup if a game continues into the 8 pm hour, a relative rarity (since The O.T. airs live in all time zones, the 7-8 pm hour in the Pacific Time Zone [6-7 pm in the Mountain Time Zone] is filled by Fox with reruns of various network programs during football season). CBS delays the start of its weekly newsmagazine 60 Minutes until the completion of the late game in many Eastern and Central time zone markets, and the entire Sunday night lineup is delayed to the time that program starts. Viewers watching the fourth quarter of a 4 pm game on CBS often hear the line, "60 Minutes will be seen in its entirety after the conclusion of the game, except on the West Coast, where it will be seen at its regular time." Since the 2007 season, CBS has offered a text messaging/email service to alert viewers to what time the primetime lineup starts to allow adjustment of viewing and recording schedules.

Another problem with the 4 pm games is that many stations in the Eastern and Central time zones, having their Sunday-evening program schedules "slide" back due to NFL games running past 7 pm Eastern time, find that their late newscasts might not come on until 11:30 pm and run until midnight[citation needed]. Today, CBS and Fox let their local affiliates have a 5-minute newsbreak during halftimes of their "late" Sunday games. Some CBS affiliates would like to see that network's Sunday night schedule altered during football season so that late local news airs on-time at 11 pm Eastern[citation needed].

Recent references

  • NBC's 75th Anniversary Special in 2002 showed clips from the Heidi Game incident. Shown was footage of the game being cut to the movie, followed by an apology by David Brinkley on the next night's Huntley-Brinkley Report, who then showed highlights of the touchdown that would have been seen live if NBC had not cut the game off (in the east). The clips were later replayed on another NBC special, Most Outrageous Live TV Moments 2. In these instances, the pre-emption was depicted as an abrupt cut from the game to the opening titles of the movie; however, the movie actually began after a commercial break, station identification and the NBC Peacock "living color" opening.[5]
  • A late 1990s ESPN commercial promoted the cable network by depicting a disappointed Jets fan stunned at not seeing the game in its entirety.
  • On the 35th anniversary of the game in 2003, the NFL Network broadcast the 1968 Heidi movie along with interviews and footage of the two Raiders touchdowns viewers missed. Additionally, rather than directly competing against a Monday Night Football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the San Francisco 49ers, the network had a continuous on-screen scrolling graphic showing football statistics from 1968.
  • ESPN parodied the Heidi Game during their presentation of "The Match-up of the Millennium" in which using old NFL Film clips to pit the greatest team of the NFL's History against each other. (such as 1960s Packers, 1970s Steelers, 1980s 49ers, 1990s Cowboys). During the end of the "game" between the 1980s 49ers versus 1960s Packers, the 1980s 49ers drove down the field for a short field goal which would win them the game. Just as the ball is being kicked the "feed" is lost and a shot was shown with the title Heidi and a speaker announces it is the beginning of a TV movie. The shot is quickly taken off and shows the 80s 49ers distraught after they missed the field goal.
  • During Cartoon Network's former tradition of "The Big Game", during a "game" between Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, the "score" had gotten ridiculously one-sided (Coyote's "score" was in negative points), that Cartoon Network "cut" to the beginning of Heidi, to which commentator John Madden interrupted and mentioned it was a joke.

Quotes

Lamonica to Charlie Smith...Smith is heading...and he scores! What a game!
Curt Gowdy on NBC television, calling Charlie Smith's 43-yard touchdown to put Oakland ahead with 42 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
They squib this one to prevent a runback...Earl Christy fumbling it around...He fumbles the ball, and Oakland has it for a touchdown! Oakland has scored two touchdowns in nine seconds!
Gowdy, calling Earl Christy's fumble of the kickoff following the Smith touchdown, and Preston Ridlehuber's subsequent recovery and touchdown to give Oakland a ten-point lead.
Last night, somebody in the vast reaches of the NBC network didn't get the word, as in the Army. The result was that football fans, by the thousands, were roused to a cold fury, and some probably haven't cooled down yet. Here is the last minute as it would have been seen last night, if somebody at NBC had got the word.
NBC News anchor David Brinkley's apology to viewers, prior to re-airing footage from the last minute of the game during the following evening's Huntley-Brinkley Report.

See also

Footnotes

References

  • Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-270174-6. 
  • Nash, Bruce; Allan Zullo. The Football Hall of Shame. Pocket Books. ISBN 0-671-74551-4. 
  • Gruver, Ed. "The American Football League A Year-by-Year History 1960-1969. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-0399-3. P.123, 203-205

External links








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