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Recording reveals Richard Nixon’s anger over NFL blackouts

nixonallen AP

A recently unearthed recording from the National Archives reveals that President Richard Nixon was furious at NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle over the NFL’s blackout policy, which in the early 1970s did not allow for any game to be televised in the city where it was played, regardless of whether the game was sold out or not.

The recording of a December 19, 1972, phone conversation between Nixon and Attorney General Richard G. Kleindienst has been posted online by the Associated Press, and it shows that Nixon, who had just won re-election in a landslide, considered getting football games on TV to be a major policy priority. At the time of the conversation the Washington Redskins were just days away from hosting a playoff game against the Green Bay Packers, and Nixon (pictured with Redskins coach George Allen) told Kleindienst that he was going to be furious if the people of Washington, D.C., couldn’t watch the game.

“If you can get playoff games, believe me, it would be the greatest achievement we’ve ever done,” Nixon said.

Nixon went on a Jim Mora-like “Playoffs!?!” rant in stressing to Kleindienst how important he thought it was for fans to be able to see playoff games on TV.

The folks should be able to see the goddamn games on television,” the president told the attorney general. “Playoff games. Playoffs – all playoff games should be available.”

At the time, the NFL was concerned that televising home games would result in fans refusing to buy tickets, but the league was also concerned that Congress would force it to televise all home games. Nixon said that if the NFL would compromise and allow playoff games to be televised, he would support Rozelle’s efforts to keep regular-season games blacked out.

“If you make the move, for these playoff games, we will block any – any – legislation to stop anything else,” Nixon told his attorney general to tell Rozelle. “I will fight it personally and veto any – any – legislation. You can tell him that I will veto it. And we’ll sustain the veto. . . . Go all out on it and tell him he’s got the president’s personal commitment. I’m for pro football all the way, and I think it’s not in pro football’s interest to allow this to build up because before you know it, they’ll have the damn Congress go all the way. We don’t want Congress to go all the way.”

Rozelle didn’t take that deal, and in 1973 Congress passed a law banning the NFL from blacking out any game that was sold out at least 72 hours before kickoff. That law has since expired, but the NFL has adopted it as its own blackout policy. The day before this year’s Super Bowl, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell defended the current policy and said the league has no plans to revisit the blackout rules.

Whether the president and Congress should have better things to do than focus on football on TV is a fair question. But Nixon was right: The NFL’s old policy of blacking out playoff games, even when they were sold out, was a raw deal for the fans.

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43 Responses to “Recording reveals Richard Nixon’s anger over NFL blackouts”
  1. randolph32 says: Feb 11, 2012 3:13 PM

    I guess back then living in the middle of nowhere was better for the fans….I never realized that was the case, and it would the first thing I ever agreed with Tricky Dick on.

  2. mvpolamalu says: Feb 11, 2012 3:15 PM

    That recording must have been hidden in a good place. Redskins in the playoffs? That thing is ancient

  3. goldennoose says: Feb 11, 2012 3:16 PM

    Because the current blackout rule is sooooo much better.

  4. noahbird says: Feb 11, 2012 3:18 PM

    It is fun to read Hunter S. Thompson’s account of Nixon’s football addiction.

  5. jumpinjoebuck says: Feb 11, 2012 3:18 PM

    I heard that Nixon hired young coach Bill Belichick to secretly record blacked out games for him at the time.

  6. djstat says: Feb 11, 2012 3:23 PM

    I think any Stadium in which public money was used to build, should be exempt from the black out rule.

  7. nflfollower says: Feb 11, 2012 3:24 PM

    Actually the current blackout rule is quite a bit better. We’ve become much more civilized since those days…..barbaric!!

  8. izzylangfan says: Feb 11, 2012 3:46 PM

    I might care more about what Nixon thought if he weren’t a crook.

    Nonetheless, Pete Rozelle was well liked by the NFL owners because he perpetually screwed the fans.

  9. laeaglefan says: Feb 11, 2012 3:51 PM

    They’re worried about stadiums not being sold out but they’re not worried about the fans not being able to afford the astronomical ticket prices, parking, concessions, etc. Television is the only thing that has prevented NFL Football from becoming a sport for the elite class. Polo anyone?

  10. dirtyharry1971 says: Feb 11, 2012 4:18 PM

    Glad to see football was so important and high on the to do list for mr nixon. i can see where this was the most important thing going on in the country at that time.

  11. cliffordc05 says: Feb 11, 2012 4:55 PM

    His attempts to end NFL blackouts, the visit to China, and establishing the EPA are the only things we should remember about Nixon. If we like living in fantasy-land.

  12. gregbeau says: Feb 11, 2012 5:31 PM

    In Canada we have “simsubs” – simultaneous substitution – where the US cable station’s signal is replaced by one of the Canadian channel carrying the game. You’d think it wasn’t a big deal, except that the Canadian ads are hopelessly bad, sometimes the Canadian network inserts its own ads onto the field, and our telecast of the Super Bowl replaces the much-hyped ads with vastly inferior Canadian ads which makes people here go apesh*t. Nixon sounds like us.

  13. bluntsmokinskinsfan says: Feb 11, 2012 5:35 PM

    @mvpolamalu

    Do u watch football? The skins were in the playoffs a few years back with Brunell. Know what your saying before you run your mouth.

  14. jdandcoke says: Feb 11, 2012 6:24 PM

    last time i checked a “few” meant about 3. the skins havent been in the playoffs for 6 years now.

    and btw….it was 6 years before THAT appearance….and 7 years before THAT appearance. three playoff appearances in 19 years is a total disgrace.

    the skins are an embarrassment to the NFC east.

  15. jimmysee says: Feb 11, 2012 6:30 PM

    It was then that he authorized a break-in at the NFL HQ.

  16. TheWizard says: Feb 11, 2012 6:33 PM

    His attempts to end NFL blackouts, the visit to China, and establishing the EPA are the only things we should remember about Nixon. If we like living in fantasy-land

    Might want to include getting out of Nam.

    The other party got us in.

  17. godzilla111111 says: Feb 11, 2012 6:40 PM

    Nixon had other interests as well.

    He showed Jackie Gleason the body of an ET recovered from a UFO.

  18. afc22 says: Feb 11, 2012 6:40 PM

    the only blackouts Nixon was in favor of are the ones that existed on the White House tapes in 1974

  19. bluntsmokinskinsfan says: Feb 11, 2012 6:57 PM

    @jdandcoke

    Pretty sure they want twice with Gibbs most recent stint. And lost to Seattle both times

  20. tatum064 says: Feb 11, 2012 7:01 PM

    TheWizard says:
    Feb 11, 2012 6:33 PM
    His attempts to end NFL blackouts, the visit to China, and establishing the EPA are the only things we should remember about Nixon. If we like living in fantasy-land

    Might want to include getting out of Nam.

    The other party got us in.

    ================
    Absolutely right – People live in fantasy land regarding past Presidents along “party lines”. They remember what they want to. Nixon was hated beyond anything Bush could imagine. Much more idiotic and childish public than the previous 70s audience.

    Kennedy was going to pull them out – then got his head blown off. No matter what party got us “in” it was a foreign policy disaster. I might add that Nixon “kept us in” with an illegal bombing of Cambodia.

    Illegal bombing….where did we hear that , oh yeah Libya. But Nixon did create the EPA. He was a master statesmen.

  21. thefiesty1 says: Feb 11, 2012 7:03 PM

    If the teams fielded some talent maybe they would not get blacked out and oh, by the way, cut ticket prices so the average fan can attend the game.

  22. baxman89 says: Feb 11, 2012 7:13 PM

    @jdandcoke Six years? The Redskins were in the playoffs in 07′ with Todd Collins in Joe Gibbs last season. Either you don’t do research or can’t do simple math. Now THAT is embarrassing.

  23. Little Earthquake says: Feb 11, 2012 7:16 PM

    This shows that Nixon was a better president than the haters would have us believe.

  24. nflhof says: Feb 11, 2012 7:52 PM

    See Richard Nixon wasn’t really a bad guy.

  25. eaglesnoles05 says: Feb 11, 2012 8:04 PM

    @jdandcoke- I hate the skins as much as the next guy, but in the interest of being correct, their last playoff game was jan 5 08. So a little more than 4yrs ago, finishing the the 2007 season, 5 seasons ago.

    And todd collin was QBing them in that game, other wrong guy.

  26. jdandcoke says: Feb 11, 2012 8:15 PM

    baxman89 says:Feb 11, 2012 7:13 PM

    @jdandcoke Six years? The Redskins were in the playoffs in 07′ with Todd Collins in Joe Gibbs last season. Either you don’t do research or can’t do simple math. Now THAT is embarrassing.

    i apologize….i forgot that they got blown out by seattle in jan 08. do i really need to have an advanced degree in math to realize that your team is garbage?

  27. sakatak says: Feb 11, 2012 8:45 PM

    I remember the game between the Packers and the Redskins mentioned in this article. Tough loss for the Packers ):

    I do like Nixon’s attitude. How about you Deb?

  28. mjkelly77 says: Feb 11, 2012 9:14 PM

    At least the tape is still here. It could have been part of the “missing 18-1/2 minutes”.

  29. mjbulls45 says: Feb 11, 2012 9:35 PM

    Hey Mike,

    all my OC-ness and crazy comments aside,

    This is easily one of the best pieces that has ever been posted on PFT.

    I like Nixon’s mind

  30. hedleykow says: Feb 11, 2012 9:37 PM

    When Nixon raised his arms while flashing the V for victory sign, what he was really signalling was, “Yea, Touchdown, Go for the 2 point conversion”.

    What a card that guy was.

  31. westcoastraider says: Feb 11, 2012 9:40 PM

    fans need to realize we can kill the blackout policy in 2-3 weeks if we wanted, simply just don’t buy tickets to the games, any games… at first they’ll think its cute, then they’ll try and brush it off, but once those millions per game that they get start dipping and those giant stadiums that we the working class build are empty, I bet the blackout policy is long forgotten!!

    WE MAKE THE NFL WHAT IT IS, NOT THEM!!!

  32. westcoastraider says: Feb 11, 2012 9:42 PM

    The fans should organize a lockout, i think we should get a cut of that 9 billi pie.., we can call it a return on our investments!!

  33. techstar25 says: Feb 11, 2012 9:54 PM

    “Whether the president and Congress should have better things to do than focus on football on TV is a fair question”
    Well not really. When the Super Bowl is the most watched show ever, that really tells them what’s most important to people. They are called “representatives” for a reason and we as voters should expect them to represent us and our priorities. Clearly as a country we love our football. Whether it be the blackout rule or a college football playoff, it’s on the voters minds. They damn well better listen. Frankly, any politician who can kill the blackout policy is getting my vote.

  34. rcali says: Feb 11, 2012 10:12 PM

    Leave Goodell alone. He’s busy trying to sell our regular season games and Super Bowl to the highest international bidder.

  35. briang123 says: Feb 11, 2012 10:18 PM

    Those people taking pot shots at Nixon need to learn about the man instead of regurgitating the usual liberal and leftist nonsense about him. For one thing, take a look at his landslide victory in 1972 and that famous quote from a New York Times reporter, “I don’t know how he won, no one I know voted for him.”

    The liberals hate Nixon for one reason and one reason only: Alger Hiss, one of their Commie heroes who was brought down by Nixon.

    And, yeah of course the President has more important things than sports to deal with. Still, nothing wrong with using his position to speak for the feelings of millions of people. Mr. Obama has openly criticized the BCS, using his position as President to say what millions of others think. Football is ingrained in American culture, and the President, regardless of party, should be heard on issues involved in American culture.

  36. ampatsisahypocrite says: Feb 11, 2012 10:32 PM

    Nixon would prove prescient when he predicted that Baltimore would draft a QB in 2008 who would keep them from ever going to the Super Bowl.

  37. thom4msu says: Feb 11, 2012 11:20 PM

    Hey tatum064- if Kennedy hadn’t had his head blown off we would be a possession of China.

  38. raidersfreak says: Feb 11, 2012 11:58 PM

    Al Davis wanted to punch the day lights out of Rozelle

    Some things never change like the Drama before the Superbowl LOL

  39. crucifixkiss says: Feb 12, 2012 5:59 AM

    TheWizard says:
    Feb 11, 2012 6:33 PM
    His attempts to end NFL blackouts, the visit to China, and establishing the EPA are the only things we should remember about Nixon. If we like living in fantasy-land

    Might want to include getting out of Nam.

    The other party got us in.

    ————————————————–

    I’m not a democrat by any stretch of the imagination but it was Ike – a Republican president – who got us into Nam.

    Just don’t try to rewrite history, dude.

  40. silverdeer says: Feb 12, 2012 8:20 AM

    It is interesting about the thoughts had by people that the president should not be involved in pro sports. Like it or not, pro sports have become a major part of our GDP as a country and if the president isn’t interested in significant parts of our countries GDP, then they probably look at a different profession.

  41. MichaelEdits says: Feb 12, 2012 11:34 AM

    The president stays interested in sports for the same reason the rest of us do, to maintain his sanity. Oh, wait, this is Nixon…

  42. antiochcat says: Feb 12, 2012 11:35 AM

    I dunno. Seems to me, if you wanna triage Congress’s priorities, I would have put this issue above such ‘important’ things as reading an abridged version of the Constitution to GOP Teabaggers for a couple hours and the great debate over declaring the already declared ‘In God We Trust’ as the country’s motto, taking time on the Congressional floor to do that in the hours before going on vacation, and other issues, like raising the debt ceiling, and, you know, JOB ACTION, were kept in a holding pattern. I would think they would also put this ahead of something totally insane like alienating over 50% of the country by trying to defund Planned Parenthood. And BTW: Where ARE the jobs, Mr. Beihner?

  43. antiochcat says: Feb 12, 2012 11:40 AM

    I know those issues occurred in other decades and other generations, but the point I wanted to make is, for all the flack that’s being handed out for Nixon to go after the blackout rule, it had more impact on people, and was more in the interests of the American People than the crap the current crop of GOP is trying to BS us with.

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