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The Heidi Game

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Sure, there is still the postseason.  The Texas Rangers and the San Francisco Giants are in the World Series, but with the Yankees out of the picture for many New Yorkers the 2010 season of baseball is officially over. This seasonal end to the national pastime combined with the current seasonal change in temperature always brings to mind one thing: the other national pastime. Football.

While I enjoy the strategy of well orchestrated plays and the drama of the clock winding down I’ve always been more interested in the history and stories behind the game. The nostalgia. The memory of watching those vintage slow-motion tight-on-the-spiral NFL films from the 1970s, with the testosterone-laden musical orchestration and the powerful voice-of-God narration on Sunday afternoons.  The confrontations between giants.
 
One of the more memorable moments in football history involved a match-up between gridiron Goliaths and a little girl.  The infamous Heidi game.
 
On November 17, 1968 the New York Jets played the Oakland Raiders in California. The game was televised by NBC.
 
A prescheduled broadcast of the made-for-TV film of the children’s classic Heidi starring Jennifer Edwards, Maximilian Schell, and Jean Simmons was contractually scheduled to begin at 7pm that same evening.
 
The Jets and the Raiders were considered the best teams in the American Football League, each having records of 7-2 entering the game. The Raiders were AFL defending champions from the year before and the Jets had superstar quarterback Joe Namath. With the game nearing an end and with the Jets leading 32 to 29, football fans flooded NBC with phone calls pleading that the network air the game in its entirety. NBC decided to postpone Heidi for a few minutes but the telephone lines were so overburdened with calls that NBC executives could not reach the broadcasters at the stadium who where instructed to cut to Heidi at 7pm regardless of how much time was left in the game.
 
With only 65 seconds left in the game, millions of die-hard gridiron fans watched in horror as the opening credits for Heidi began.
 
In those final 65 seconds Oakland came from behind, scoring two touchdowns on three plays, and beat the Jets 43 to 32.
 
NBC decided to announce the results of the game about an hour and a half later via a text crawl at the bottom of the screen. In another NBC fumble, it happened to be during the dramatic scene where Heidi’s paralyzed cousin Klara summons the courage to try and walk. The network received so many complaints from fans (of both football and Heidi!) that they issued an on air apology after the film at 9pm. NBC President Julie Goodman later said the incident was a “forgivable error committed by humans who were concerned about children expecting to see Heidi at 7pm.”
 
The incident made the front page of The New York Times the next day.  
 
The New York Jets and Joe Namath went on to win the Super Bowl a few months later, but it is the Heidi Game that is widely regarded as one the most memorable games in NFL history.
 
For more information of the Heidi Game take a look at:
 
 
Here is a great video that features interviews with Raiders assistant coach John Madden and Heidi director Delbert Mann.

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