The end of summer signals the beginning of a new school year, the cooling of the evenings, the reduction of daylight, the commencement of Halloween and Christmas decorations displayed way too early in our local stores, and the kickoff of football season.
This past Saturday, Dad and I donned our Gamecock apparel and settled down to watch the first game. Excitement was in the air in anticipation of the 2017 season.
It was a lively game—from the opening kickoff return for a touchdown until the clock ran out. We were on the edge of our seats until the final play. This excitement-to-the-end game reminded me of a very historical game occurring years ago. I asked Dad if he thought all of you were familiar with “The Heidi game.” I bet not all of you are.
It was November 17, 1968, and the players were the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders. With little more than a minute remaining in the game, the Jets were ahead by three points after a successful field goal. After the kickoff, the excitement began with a Raiders touchdown followed by a fumbled kickoff by the Jets, which resulted in a two-yard touchdown run by Oakland—both touchdowns occurring within just nine seconds. The final score was Oakland 43 and New York 32.
So what is the point?
What made this game legendary, including tying up the switchboards of NBC, the local telephone company, and the NYPD, was an earlier decision by NBC executives to switch to the showing of the children’s movie, Heidi, in the event that the game exceeded its allotted time.
After the Jets’ kickoff following their field goal, the network switched to a commercial and never returned to the game. The only people who witnessed the double touchdowns were those who were fortunate enough to be in the California stadium.
The thousands of calls coming into the switchboards were split between viewers begging the movie to begin as scheduled and angry football fans enraged by not being able to see the conclusion of the game. Ironically, the network execs had decided to reverse their decision, but because the switchboards were jammed, they were unable to get through to the man responsible for pulling the plug on the game. The score was eventually scrolled across the screen, much to the ire of the fans when they realized how dramatic the final minute of that game had been.
This debacle led to a new clause in the NFL contract, which required all games in a team’s home market to be broadcast in their entirety. They also installed a dedicated phone in the control—“The Heidi Phone”—insuring that the lines of communication would always be unrestricted to those in charge, thus insuring that this disaster would never occur again.
As for me, I am positive I did not watch the Jets-Raiders game, since I had little interest in football at that time in my life. However, if I did, it would have been a Giants game, not the Jets that I would have watched.
But I do recall tuning in to watch Heidi that evening as well as remember the ensuing hullaballoo. The moral of the story is that you never ever mess with football!