In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
Football fans are enraged as NBC switches away from the end of a thrilling game between the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders to show the movie “Heidi” as scheduled at 7:00. When the switch was made the Jets had just taken a 32-29 lead with a minute left. After the switch, Oakland scored two quick touchdowns to win 43-32 as the NBC switchboard crashed due to thousands of angry fans who called to complain.
It is the game of the year in the AFL versus November sweeps on NBC. As a thrilling game between the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders runs, late executives at NBC programming are forced to decide between showing the end of the game and starting the movie Heidi on time at 7:00 on the East Coast. The events that followed the decision would become legendary, and showed the power of Professional football on television, forever as the game forever known as “The Heidi Game”.
It was the big game of the year in the AFL with the two division leaders the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders meeting at the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum. Both teams came into the game with identical records of 7-2. The game was more important for the Raiders coached by John Rauch as they were locked in a tight battle with the Kansas City Chiefs as the first two Super Bowl participants were looking to get to the third. The New York Jets coached by Weeb Ewbank had no such worry, as they were the only team above .500 in the AFL’s Eastern Division.
That night as part of its Wide World of Disney Sunday Night programming, NBC was set to premiere the movie “Heidi”. The film was based on the popular 1880 children’s novel about a young orphaned girl in Switzerland. The movie sponsored by Timex was the centerpiece for the November sweeps ratings on NBC.
The Jets took control of the game early, driving twice into Oakland territory. However, each time the settled for field goals by Jim Turner. One from 44 yards and the other from 18. The Raiders would get on track at the end of the first quarter taking a 7-6 lead on a nine-yard touchdown pass from Daryle Lamonica to Warren Wells. The Raiders added to their lead, on a 48-yard catch and run by Billy Cannon. The Jets responded with a touchdown on a sneak by Joe Namath, but they failed to tie the game as the two-point try fell incomplete. Down 14-12 at the half, the Jets regained the lead in the third quarter on a four-yard run by Bill Mathis. The Raiders though again grabbed the lead on a three-yard run by Charlie Smith, adding a two-point to take a 22-19 lead. In the fourth quarter, the Jets jumped back in front on a 50-yard pass play from Namath to Don Maynard. Jim Turner added a 12-yard field goal to put the Jets in front 29-22. Though in a game that saw the teams battle back and forth, Oakland rallied to tie the game as Lamonica found Fred Biletnikoff on a 22-yard pass to the end zone. With time winding down, the Jets retook the lead with 1:05 left on a 26-yard field goal by Jim Turner.
After Jim Turner’s kick gave the Jets a 32-29 lead, fans back in New York and in the Eastern Time Zone were switched to the movie “Heidi”. As thousands of angry fans began flooding NBC with complaints, the Raiders regained the lead on 43-yard pass from Daryle Lamonica to Charlie Smith. The Jets fumbled the ensuing kickoff, with Preston Ridlehuber picking the ball up and taking it into the end zone to give Oakland a 43-32 win. The bewilderment and confusion had fans not knowing what happened. Looking to appease angry fans, NBC tried to update the viewers with the final score, but when they ran the update it came during a key emotional moment in the movie, angry those who wanted to watch “Heidi”. Even Coach Weeb Ewbank’s wife was confused as she congratulated her husband when he called after the game.
The switch to Heidi and the angry response became bigger than the game itself and showed the AFL had found its place among football fans and that professional football was becoming the most important part of Sunday programming. The fiasco led to networks deciding to finish the game and start primetime shows on a delayed basis.