With the Jets leading 32-29 with only 65 seconds left in the game, the Raiders quickly scored 14 points to win, 43-32. Some finish, yes? Just one thing. Hardly anybody saw it. Turns out millions of viewers were unable to see Oakland's comeback as a result of NBC cutting off the live broadcast in favor of a pre-scheduled airing of Heidi, a new made-for-TV version of the children's story.
Background to the game
The game took place in the Oakland Coliseum, on November 17, 1968. Both teams entered the game with 7-2 records, and were considered two of the best teams in the ten-team AFL. The Raiders were the defending AFL champions from 1967 and the contending Jets had superstar quarterback Joe Namath in his fourth pro season. The game was televised by NBC Sports with announcers Curt Gowdy and Kyle Rote. It was the lead-in for the network's new TV movie of Heidi, an adaptation of the classic children's story about the Swiss girl. (The film that week replaced its normal Sunday night program at that time, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color.) Kickoff was at 4:00 pm ET, allowing three hours before the scheduled 7:00 pm start time for the movie. Most games in the 1960s took less than 2 hours 45 minutes, due to a high number of running plays which kept the game clock moving.
The game itselfJim Turner kicked a 26-yard field goal to put the Jets ahead 32-29, with just 65 seconds left in the game. Because of the fights, penalties, and high scoring, the game was running late, approaching the end of its three-hour time slot on the network. The ensuing kickoff was returned by the Raiders to their own 23-yard line, and NBC went to a commercial break just before 7:00 pm.
Enter the Goatgirl
Because NBC was contractually obligated to the movie's sponsor, Timex, to broadcast Heidi from 7 pm to 9 pm that evening, the network had instructed Dick Cline, NBC's Broadcast Operations Supervisor, to cut to Heidi at 7:00 pm sharp, whether the football game was over or not. As the game approached its exciting ending, however, NBC's executives changed their minds and decided to air the game to its conclusion and make Heidi wait. Unfortunately, so many football viewers were calling the network pleading with them to not cut from the game—or others asking if Heidi would air on-time—that the NBC executives could not get through. NBC tried to contact the mobile unit in Oakland to call Broadcasting Operations, but Broadcasting Operations countered that they needed direct orders in order to rearrange schedule programming. With the game fed on telephone lines instead of satellites, Cline could not see what happened in the final minute. In an NBC Burbank studio where the TV feed was being controlled, Cline received no late instructions otherwise, and when the network came back from commercials, Heidi started on schedule at 7:00 pm. Cline later said that he was called directly by the president of NBC after the network ended its coverage, demanding that the game be put back on the air. However, the video link to the stadium had already been disconnected; re-establishing it would have required action by a multitude of telephone switching stations across the country. AT&T, which handled NBC's remote feeds, was unable to reach all of the necessary offices before the game ended.
The game's conclusionMike D’Amato grabbed Smith's facemask on the play and the 15 yard penalty put the Raiders into Jets territory on the 43 yard line. On the next play Smith caught a pass and ran by D'Amato for a 43-yard touchdown with 42 seconds left, putting Oakland ahead 36-32. On the ensuing kickoff Earl Christy fumbled the ball at the 10 yard line, was swarmed upon, and the ball squirted backwards. The ball landed on the two yard line where Raiders special teamer Preston Ridlehuber recovered it and took it in for a touchdown with 33 seconds left in the game.
The Jets were stunned but the fans watching NBC were furious. At 7:20 pm, a crawl across the bottom of the screen announced the ending to the game (during a dramatic point in the movie when Heidi's paralysed cousin Clara fell from her wheelchair and had to summon enough courage to try to walk). So many fans called NBC to complain about missing the fantastic ending (and to make various and sundry threats) that the switchboard ceased to function, blowing at least 25 circuits in the process. When they couldn't get through to NBC, the irate viewers started calling the police, the telephone company, and The New York Times. At 8:30 NBC made a public apology and the next morning the fiasco was recounted on the front page of The New York Times. NBC also cut away from the first game of an afternoon doubleheader San Diego at Buffalo with the intent to showcase the entire Jets-Raiders game. NBC bought advertisements in several major newspapers soon after the incident, proclaiming rave reviews for Heidi, along with a quote from Jets quarterback Joe Namath: "I didn't get a chance to see it, but I heard it was great." The NBC announcers did not know they were off the air after 7:00 pm. After the game, they were packing up when the stage manager yelled at Curt Gowdy to "do those two touchdowns again." Gowdy reconstructed the call, which ran on NBC's news programs as well as Monday morning's Today show. NBC President Julian Goodman issued a statement following the game, calling the incident "a forgivable error committed by humans who were concerned about children expecting to see Heidi at 7:00 pm." He added, "I missed the end of the game as much as anyone else." According to Cline in the book Going Long, Goodman used his direct line phone (as the switchboard was down) to tell Cline, "This is Julian Goodman. Put the football game back on now." Other accounts claim no such direct-line phone was installed until after the "Heidi Bowl".
The reaction to the Heidi Game resulted in the AFL and NFL, and most other sports leagues, demanding that networks televise all games to their conclusion. NFL contracts with the networks now require games to be shown in a team's market area to the conclusion, regardless of the score. Many fans who were angry with the network interruption of the game sent NBC numerous items of Heidi paraphernalia in various states of defilement. Some examples were Heidi dolls with knives in the back and Heidi pictures with images of death or other similar disturbing images. Other examples which were more tolerable were fans sending in copies of the book Heidi, or cartoons showing a little Swiss girl carrying a football. A subsequent broadcast in 1975 on NBC - a network premier broadcast of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory - was preempted until the completion of a Washington Redskins-Oakland Raiders game. Rule changes to keep the game clock running after out of bounds plays were instituted to speed the game. These rules do not apply in the final two minutes of either half period or in any overtime. At NBC, the network installed a new phone in the control room wired to a separate exchange, becoming known as the Heidi Phone. Oakland's win came on the midst of an eight-game winning streak to go 12-2. Six weeks after the "Heidi Game", the Jets came from behind to defeat the Raiders in New York in the 1968 AFL Championship Game, 27-23. Two weeks later the Jets upset the Baltimore Colts 16-7 in Super Bowl III. In a 1997 poll taken in conjunction with the NFL's 10,000th regular season game, the "Heidi Game" was voted the most memorable regular season game in pro football history by a select group of media.