In A Nutshell
In 1968, the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets were playing a particularly intense game when disaster struck. Since the game was running into overtime, NBC decided to cut to Heidi just moments before the climactic finale. Football fans across the nation freaked out, and the resulting outcry changed the way TV stations do business.
The Whole Bushel
On November 17, 1968, football fans across the US turned into rabid, bloodthirsty monsters. They hurled remote controls at TV screens, called their local NBC stations, and invented colorful new curse words to properly express their animal rage. It was an evening that would change sports broadcast history, and it was all thanks to a little Swiss orphan named Heidi.
It all started in Oakland, where the New York Jets took on the Oakland Raiders. These two teams hated each other with a passion, and it certainly showed. While professional games in 1968 usually ran three hours, this one was running over due to the massive amount of penalties. And this was causing a bit of trouble back at NBC. The station was supposed to air the movie Heidi at 7:00 PM. The airtime was already purchased by Timex, and NBC’s broadcast operations control supervisor Dick Cline thought cutting away from the game was the sensible thing to do.
This was not a smart move. As the clock ticked toward 7:00, the Jets were winning 32–29. There were 50 seconds left in the game, still enough time for the Raiders to make a comeback. But as the game was coming to its dramatic conclusion, the coverage suddenly switched to Heidi, and football fans across the country lost their minds. According to the story, so many people called NBC demanding they put the game back on that NBC’s fuse boxes blew out 26 times. In fact, some fans were so furious that they actually called the New York Police Department.
As it turns out, the Raiders did make a glorious comeback, winning the game 43–32. And the next day, the story was everywhere. The New York Times was talking about the so-called “Heidi Game” on their front page. And the little girl who played Heidi, Jennifer Edwards, got bags of hate mail. Eventually, NBC president Julian Goodman apologized for the station’s actions. Taking things further, professional football and TV stations changed the way sports broadcasts work, agreeing that future football games would be shown from start to finish, no matter what.