The Heidi Game

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The Heidi Game refers to a regular season fixture between the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders on November 17, 1968, which ended in a thrilling Raiders comeback with just over a minute left.

However, millions on the East Coast who were watching the game on NBC failed to see the comeback, because NBC cut away from the game with 65 minutes left, for a scheduled broadcast of children’s film “Heidi.”

The game resulted in many adjustments in the way the network ran its sports broadcasting systems.

Background to the Heidi Game

Going into the game, the Raiders and the Jets were widely considered the two best sides in the league and had 10 future Hall of Famers between them. The two teams, who were founding members of the American Football League in 1960, had developed a fierce rivalry over the years. The Wild Card system had yet to be established and the Raiders needed a win over the Jets to avoid falling to a one and a half game deficit behind the Chiefs in the AFL West division. Finishing second by any margin would automatically mean a lack of playoff football.

On the other hand, the jets only needed a victory in the Raiders game to assure them of first place in the AFL East. The animosity between the two teams was heightened in the days before the game by a blown-up photograph at the Raiders headquarters of a controversial tackle by Raiders defensive end Ben Davidson on Jets quarterback Joe Namath in a previous regular season meeting, which is said to have broken Namath’s jaw.

The Heidi Game Unfolds

The Jets opened the game with two early field goals by kicker Jim Turner to take a 6-0 lead. Towards the end of the first quarter, the Raiders scored a touchdown through receiver Warren Wells to jump into a 7-6 lead. At the beginning of the second quarter, the Raiders added another touchdown to extend their lead. A touchdown by Namath for the Jets cut the deficit to 14-12 as the teams headed to halftime. Another Jets drive at the beginning of the third quarter resulted in a 4-yard touchdown by blocking guard Dave Herman to restore New York’s lead. An 80-yard drive from Charlie Smith which ended in a touchdown saw the Raiders back in front.

From the ensuing kickoff, Jim Hudson of the Jets was ejected for dissent with officials after a face-mask violation. Charlie Smith scored from the ensuing penalty to hand the Raiders a bigger lead. The lead exchanged hands yet again from a 50-yard Jets touchdown, followed by a field goal that took the scores to 29-22 in favor of the Jets. In total the lead would change hands eight times throughout the game and with just over a minute left in the game, the Jets found themselves on a 31-29 lead. After New York kicked off, the ball returned to their 23-yard line.

At this point, the clock had just hit 7.00 PM, the limit that had been set by NBC for airing the game. with the broadcast officials having yet to receive a counter order to push Heidi forward, they proceeded to switch to Heidi as had been planned. Meanwhile at the Oakland Coliseum, Raiders quarterback Daryle Lamonica passed the ball to Charlie Smith who made a touchdown.

The Raiders were now in the lead 32-36. A Jets fumble at kickoff resulted in a steal by Preston Ridlehuber who made a two yard-run to the end zone for another touchdown. The two touchdowns had been made in just nine seconds. The Raiders won the game 43-32. Aside from the controversy surrounding the broadcasting of the game, the Jets camp was annoyed by various officiating decisions during the game, most notably the Hudson’s ejection. The two teams would them meet in the AFL championship, with the Jets triumphing and going on to win Super Bowl III.

Aftermath of the Heidi Game

Because of the NBC switch in broadcast, nobody outside the Oakland Coliseum witnessed the comeback. The telephone lines at the HQs were crammed with thousands of protest calls asking for the NFL broadcast to be returned. The protests would only grow more animated when the network printed the results of the game 20 minutes into the movie, with the game having ended.

The networks telephone switchboard blew from the bombardment by irate callers. The debacle necessitated an adjustment in TV contracts with the NFL, with the new agreement stipulating that game broadcasts could not be interrupted for regular network lineups.

NBC also assured its viewers that such a scenario would never happen again. Delbert Mann, who directed “Heidi” took the incident as great publicity for his film but decried the networks text scroll of the game’s results that he said distracted from a dramatic point in the film.