On the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, we want to address the event only if there’s something to add that you may not have already known.
Here’s something we (or at least I) didn’t already know. While the NFL played its games only two days after the President was murdered, the AFL did not.
As explained by Scott Pitoniak of the Rochester Business Journal, Bills owner Ralph Willson pushed aggressively to cancel the slate of Sunday games.
“It was a slam-dunk that we shouldn’t play,” Wilson previously told Pitoniak. “Fortunately [AFL commissioner] Joe Foss and his assistant [Milt Woodard] agreed with me. Some of my fellow owners were on the fence at first, hemming and hawing, but I was resolute in my decision. Had the commissioner forced us to play, I probably would have taken a forfeit — and we were in the playoff hunt at the time. That’s how strongly I felt about it.”
NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle would later explain that playing that weekend was the greatest regret of his 39-year tenure. Rozelle made the decision to proceed with the games, which began roughly 48 hours after Kennedy was killed, after getting input from White House press secretary Pierre Salinger, a long-time Rozelle friend.
Salinger, per Pitoniak’s excellent article, believed that playing the games “would contribute to the country returning to a sense of normalcy.” But CBS, which was the time was the league’s exclusive broadcast partner, televised none of the games that day. The network didn’t even send crews to the various game sites.
That the ill-advised decision didn’t scar the NFL should be viewed as the first indication that the game was poised overcome any and all off-field issues and embarrassments, regardless of their origin or cause. Regardless, the AFL’s decision to stand down may have helped lessen the impact of the NFL’s blunder on the overall game of professional football.