The Heidi game, 50 years later

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When it comes to the birth of the modern professional football, many point to the 1958 championship game between the Colts and the Giants. And that may be the case. But the modern game learned to walk and/or to speak 12 years later.

That’s when, 50 years ago on Saturday, NBC switched from a game between the Jets and Raiders (then of the AFL) to Heidi.

David J. Halberstam of carefully looks back at the moment when, for fans who had just seen the Jets take a 32-29 lead with less than a minute to play, all hell broke loose.

NBC had previously decided that Heidi would air as scheduled at 7:00 p.m. ET. As the game lingered deeper into a three-hour window from which NFL games didn’t typically deviate in those days, viewers both wanting to see Heidi and wanting to see the end of the game called NBC headquarters, jamming the phone lines. This prevented a call from  then NBC president Julian Goodman to reach then-head of broadcast operations Dick Cline with the message that plans had changed.

In the end, the Raiders scored two touchdowns in the remaining seconds, after a 43-yard touchdown pass followed by a fumbled kickoff returned for a score. And the rules thereafter changed to require all games to be televised until they end.

The change was inevitable; the Heidi game simply happened to be the one that triggered it. A half-century later, it’s taken as a given that all NFL games will be televised until conclusion.