ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Heidi Game: A Milestone in Broadcast History

Updated on April 27, 2015

On a November night in 1968, American TV viewers were shocked by the most dramatic and jarring juxtaposition of images in the history of broadcasting: a burly running back, clad in helmet and shoulder pads and about to be crushed by an oncoming linebacker, instantly gave way to a little blonde Swiss girl walking next to a bearded shepherd on the side of a mountain.

The story of the events which led up to this clash of images is one of the great curiosities in the history of sports and television, and a benchmark for how much the world has changed since.

Program for the notorious November 17, 1968 game.
Program for the notorious November 17, 1968 game.

In 1968 there was no cable television, no satellite transmission, no home video recording equipment and only three networks in American television: NBC, CBS and ABC. Viewers who wished to watch something other than what the Big Three were showing had to depend on local affiliates to substitute their own programming in place of the network feed, which came not over the air but by telephone transmission through coaxial cables.

Every night between 12 midnight at 1 AM all programming ceased, usually after the playing of the National Anthem. Images were replaced by static. It was during 1968 that multimillionaire recluse Howard Hughes bought WLAS in Las Vegas, allegedly so that he could order programming throughout the night.

So different was the technological landscape of television then as compared to now that someone who simply wanted to watch TV around the clock had to buy his own station to make it possible.

As had been the case during the heyday of radio and the formative years of television, programs were often bought exclusively by single advertisers, who stipulated how and when their products would be promoted during airtime, usually during limited interruptions. In November of 1968, the Timex watch company had such an arrangement with the NBC network. It had paid for the filmed presentation of the classic children’s book Heidi by Swiss-German author Johanna Spyri. The broadcast was to begin at exactly seven o’clock on the night of Sunday November 17, without fail. Timex had been explicit in its demands that the program start on time, and NBC executives had promised that it would.

The Jets and Raiders, with a start of 4PM Eastern time, were expected to be done a half hour before the broadcast of Heidi was to begin.
The Jets and Raiders, with a start of 4PM Eastern time, were expected to be done a half hour before the broadcast of Heidi was to begin. | Source

In the programming slot just ahead of Heidi the network would be airing an American Football League (AFL) game from Oakland, California between the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders. The Jets and Raiders, two of the strongest teams from the upstart league which had started a few years earlier to rival the National Football League (NFL), were bitter rivals. NBC had exclusive rights to AFL games, which were beginning to challenge NFL games in popularity. Two short months later, the Jets would become the first AFL team to defeat an NFL team in a championship game, Super Bowl III, when they upset the Baltimore Colts.

But this was yet to be determined. In November the Raiders seemed nearly equal to the Jets. The game was to begin at 4PM eastern time, and in that era of limited commercial interruptions and predominantly running offenses which kept the game clock moving, no football broadcast on NBC had ever lasted a full three hours. Network executives seemed certain, on the basis of past experience, that they would be able to satisfy the demands of the two demographically different audiences: the mothers and small children who had been promised Heidi at 7 and the sports-crazed men who were absorbed in the football game.

However, this particular game seemed to defy all expectations. The lead swung back and forth between the two teams, highlighted by big plays and an unusual (for the era) reliance on the passing of Raiders quarterback Darryl Lamonica and Jets quarterback Joe Namath. There were multiple stoppages for injuries as the players from both squads viciously attacked each other. Namath was intentionally kneed in the groin at one point and Jets defensive player Joe Hudson, who was thrown out of the game for an illegal hit, stuck his middle finger at the stands full of Oakland supporters as he walked off the field. Both teams used their full complement of six timeouts during the game.

The extraordinary competitiveness, drama and violence of the game absorbed the NBC executives who were monitoring the time. At around 6:15 Dick Cline, the NBC network supervisor of sports broadcasts, began worrying about whether the game would be finished by seven. Under strictest orders from NBC brass, he had been told to switch the network feed in the Eastern time zone to Heidi at seven o’clock sharp. But something extraordinary then happened.

Columnist Art Buchwald satirized the game one week later.
Columnist Art Buchwald satirized the game one week later. | Source

Scotty Connal, the executive producer of NBC sports, who had been watching the game from his home in Connecticut, had a sudden change of heart when he realized this particular football game may have been the greatest ever played. He called several top executives at NBC, including network president Julian Goodman, who was also watching the game, to get permission to run the game to the end. Despite what they had promised Timex, Goodman and other NBC brass decided that they would not allow any of the game to be cut off, that they would air the game fully until its conclusion. They then attempted to call Cline to give the revised order.

But in the era before cell phones, when all phone communication traveled through wires, they had problems that would be unimaginable today. The very executives in charge of NBC were unable to get through to their programmers because the network's switchboard operators were overwhelmed. Irate calls was pouring in from football fans who, fearing that they would miss the dramatic ending of the greatest game ever played, were complaining about the much-ballyhooed start of Heidi at exactly seven.

As the dreaded hour approached, the Jets claimed the lead 32-29 with slightly over one minute remaining on the game clock, and kicked off to Oakland, which started possession on its own 22-yard line. Cline, who never got the messages from the upper execs at NBC, gave the order to pull the plug on the East Coast feed just as Oakland running back Charlie Smith had caught a pass on the ensuing play and was racing ahead toward an approaching tackler at the Oakland 40-yard line. Oakland ultimately scored on their possession, recovered a New York fumble on the ensuing kickoff for another score, and won the game 43-32.

Realizing the firestorm of wrath they would be facing from football fans, NBC programmers ran a crawling message on the lower screen of the Heidi feed advising viewers of the final score of the Jets/Raiders game. The message came at the emotional moment when Heidi’s wheelchair-bound cousin was trying to jump up out of her wheelchair and walk. The message succeeded only at angering the Heidi viewers for ruining the scene and the remaining football fans for having denied them the chance to watch Oakland’s final two game-deciding scores.

Jets quarterback Joe Namath, despite the disappointing loss, maintained his sense of humor after the game.
Jets quarterback Joe Namath, despite the disappointing loss, maintained his sense of humor after the game.

For days the controversy was mocked and joked about, not only by ABC and CBS, but by NBC itself, which in the spirit of good humor placed a newspaper ad proclaiming the success of Heidi, filled with praise from various critics, and one quote from Jets star QB Namath: “I didn’t get a chance to see it, but I hear it was great.” On the 20th anniversary of the event in 1988 Namath and famed Raiders coach John Madden, an assistant coach with the Raiders in 1968, playfully argued about the merits of the two teams who had been involved in the famous game.

The aftermath of the foul-up was swift and permanent. In the years since, all sports leagues have stipulated in their network contracts that the broadcasts of their events must be carried to completion. In 1968 Timex was king. Shortly after “The Heidi Game,” when the AFL and NFL merged in 1970, the NFL assumed the title of king that it has maintained ever since.

© 2015 James Crawford


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      I remember seeing that game as a child. I certainly was an irate fan, and remember wanting to call the network and vent my wrath, but didn't know how. I'm glad that mess-up brought about change.

    • letstalkabouteduc profile image

      McKenna Meyers 

      3 years ago from Bend, OR

      Growing up in Oakland with a dad and brothers who were huge Raider fans, I often heard about the Heidi game. Now I know the whole story. Great hub and I'm glad the Raiders prevailed!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)