Sunday, November 17, 2013

The "Heidi" Game

On Nov. 17, 1968, one of the worst moments in sports broadcasting took place. 
The New York Jets were facing the Oakland Raiders in an AFL battle. The Jets held a 42-29 lead against the Raiders and seemed to be in good shape.
However, NBC made the controversial decision to switch off the game in the final minutes and start showing "Heidi" instead.
What fans on the east coast missed was an exciting comeback by the Raiders. They scored two touchdowns in the last minute to win the game 43-42.
This game would lead to new measures to make sure nothing like this would happen again.
In the late 1960s, few professional football games took longer than two and a half hours to play, and the Jets–Raiders three-hour time slot was thought to be adequate. A high-scoring contest, together with a number of injuries and penalties for the two bitter American Football League rivals, caused the game to run long. NBC executives had ordered that Heidi must begin on time, but given the exciting game, they decided to postpone the start of the film and continue football coverage. As 7 p.m. approached, many members of the public called NBC to inquire about the schedule, to complain or opine, jamming NBC's switchboards.

As NBC executives were trying to call the same switchboards to implement their decision, the change could not be communicated, and Heidi began as scheduled. The movie preempted the final moments of the game in the eastern half of the country, to the outrage of viewers who missed two Oakland touchdowns that turned the game around.

The Heidi Game led to a change in the way professional football is shown on network television; games are shown to their conclusion before evening programming begins. To ensure that network personnel could communicate under similar circumstances, special telephones (dubbed "Heidi phones") were installed, with a connection to a different telephone exchange from other network phones. In 1997, the Heidi Game was voted the most memorable regular season game in pro football history.