The Heidi Game The Heidi Game

November 17, 1968 – Jets vs. Raiders

Chances are that sometime between the ages of 10 and 14 you became familiar with the charming 19th century Swiss girl named Heidi. Either by way of assigned reading in school, summer reading on your own, or having your sister describe her to you in excruciating detail, you learned all about this delightful young orphan that warmed the heart of her cantankerous and secluded grandfather.

And who can forget the welling of tears when, after years away in Frankfurt, Heidi returned to Switzerland, prompting her grandfather to come down the mountain and to the village for the first time in years to greet her. Oh, how they laughed. 사설토토

I know what you’re thinking. If ever there was a plot fit for a group of guys hopped up on beer and football-induced testosterone, this is it. Nothing goes with Sunday football quite like nine-year-old Swiss Alp goat-herders teaching each other to read and write. In fact, if I was a television executive at NBC, I’d figure out a way to combine the two things, and pronto.

Actually, my brilliant entertainment idea has already been done. Through a series of bad pregame decisions and late-game communication breakdowns, the rare, and never since repeated, double-header of shortened professional football and beloved children’s tale was broadcast across the nation in 1968.

Forty years ago football rarely, if ever, took more than three hours to complete. So with a new made-for-TV version of Heidi set to air that November Sunday night on NBC at 7pm Eastern, no one thought the Jets-Raiders game beginning at 4pm Eastern (1pm kickoff in Oakland) would be a problem. And just in case the game did bleed past 7 o’clock, to avoid any confusion a decision on what to do had already been made: roll Heidi. There were prime time sponsors to think about.

With 65 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, the Jets took a 32-29 lead on Jim Turner’s fourth field goal of the game. New York then kicked off, and the Raiders returned it to their own 23-yard line to set up a last minute drive to try and tie or win the game. And then NBC went to commercial.

And if you were in the Eastern or Central time zones, that’s the last you saw of the game.

When Raiders quarterback Daryle Lamonica hit Charlie Smith up the field, and a face mask penalty moved the ball to the Jets 43, NBC viewers saw actress Jennifer Edwards frolicking through a hillside meadow.

On the very next play, when Lamonica and Smith hooked up for a lead-taking touchdown pass, NBC viewers saw Aunt Dete, Heidi’s caretaker until the age of six, leaving Heidi with her Alm-Ohi (Alp-grandfather, as he was known).

And on the following kickoff by Oakland, when the Jets fumbled, the Raiders recovered, and carried it into the end zone for their second touchdown in nine seconds, NBC viewers were treated to Heidi’s initial meeting with her soon to be new best friend, Peter the goat-herder.

Viewers were finally informed of the final score via a crawl along the bottom of their television screens, just as Heidi’s paralytic cousin Clara was taking her first timid steps.

A lot of things were working against NBC that day. For one, there were 19 penalties called in the game, slowing its pace to a crawl and causing the conflict in programming. And even though NBC broadcast operations supervisor Dick Cline had been told by executives earlier to make sure he started Heidi on time, those same executives changed their minds late in the game. But because there were so many football fans calling NBC to request that the network stick with the game and delay the movie, the execs couldn’t get through the switchboard.

“I waited and I waited and I heard nothing,” said Cline. “We came up on that magic hour and I thought, ‘Well, I haven’t been given any counter order so I’ve got to do what we agreed to do.'”

The flood of phone calls that then poured in after the switch to Heidi completely blew the switchboard.

In a statement released ninety minutes later NBC president Julius Goodman tried to defuse the anger by calling the decision, “a forgivable error committed by humans who were concerned about children expecting to see Heidi. I missed the game as much as anyone else.”

Predictably the anger did not subside. Fans spent the rest of the night complaining to NBC affiliates, radio stations, newspapers, and even the New York Police Department. And the next morning the story of the game and NBC’s programming decision made the front page of The New York Times.

And there was certainly no sympathy coming NBC’s way from its rival networks. On the CBS Evening News, Harry Reasoner reported the outcome of the game: “Heidi married the goat-herder.” And Monday on ABC’s Evening News anchor Frank Reynolds read aloud from Johanna Spyri’s novel while sportscaster Howard Cosell repeatedly interrupted him with highlights and commentary from the game’s final minute.

The one saving grace for NBC in all of this was that the incident completely changed the way we watch football on Sundays. There is now language in every NFL television contract that stipulates that the games of visiting teams will always be shown to their home markets in their entirety. And football fans across the country can now recite this CBS disclaimer, verbatim: “Immediately following the conclusion of our game, ’60 Minutes’ will be seen in its entirety, except on the West Coast.”