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"The Greatest Game Ever Played": A Chronology

September 09, 1990|STEVEN HERBERT

Howard Cosell would come later: As part of the pioneering telecasts connected with the New York World's Fair, NBC airs the Brooklyn Dodgers 23-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles from Ebbets Field on Oct. 22, 1939. Despite the many baseball-sounding ties, it is the first National Football League game televised. It is seen on the few sets that existed in New York City.

The blackout is born: The Rams become the first team to have all their games televised in 1950.

Admiral Television, which is sponsoring the games to promote television sales, and NBC, which carries the games on its Los Angeles station, agree to make up the difference in home game income if it was lower than it had been the season before. Attendance fell, reportedly costing Admiral and NBC $307,000. Home blackouts are born the next year and would survive court challenges. (In 1973, Congress would outlaw blackouts on games that sold out 72 hours before kickoff.)

A first and a last: The NFL Championship Game is telecast coast to coast for the first time, Dec. 23, 1951. The DuMont Network pays $75,000 for the rights. The Rams defeat the Cleveland Browns, 24-17.

"The NFL Today" would come later: CBS becomes the first network to broadcast regular season games to selected markets across the nation in 1956.

A cliche is born: The Baltimore Colts defeat the New York Giants, 23-17, in overtime to win the championship. The Dec. 28, 1958, NBC telecast reaches 10.8 million households, despite being blacked out in New York City. The headline in Sports Illustrated calls it, "The Best Football Game Ever Played." This would later be revised to, "The Greatest Game Ever Played."

The boom continues: Lamar Hunt leads a group of wealthy gentlemen in organizing a rival league to the NFL, the American Football League. The AFL receives much-needed income, exposure and credibility when ABC pays $10.5 million to televise its games for five years, beginning with the inaugural 1960 season.

It is also another step by the then-laughable ABC to gain an identity as "The Sports Network." The AFL gets another boost from television in 1964, when NBC signs a five-year, $36 million contract to begin in 1965.

Congress Gets in the Act: After a federal court in Philadelphia rules the NFL's contract with CBS violates antitrust laws, Congress grants football, baseball, basketball and hockey leagues an exemption from the laws in 1961.

This allows the NFL to negotiate a league-wide television contract and receive riches it never had when individual teams handled the negotiations.

A Not So Super Start: As part of the 1966 agreement to merge the leagues, the AFL-NFL World Championship game--the first Super Bowl--is to be held Jan. 15, 1967 at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Both CBS and NBC felt it should telecast the game, and both did. CBS provided the pictures, and both networks used their own announcers. The game proved to be a dud both on the field and in the stands. The Green Bay Packers 35-10 win over the Kansas City Chiefs was seen by only 61,946 fans.

The Game is Over When the Little Girl Sings: The New York Jets lead the Oakland Raiders, 32-29, with 1:05 left on Nov. 17, 1968. NBC has a two-hour musical version of "Heidi" scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Penalties cause the game to run long. But at 7 p.m. Eastern Time, a button is pushed starting the "Heidi" telecast.

Calls from irate fans cause NBC's switchboard to break down. Other callers, unable to reach NBC, call the New York City Police Department, tying up the emergency number for several hours. Operators at New York Telephone also are deluged.

Meanwhile, at the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum, the Raiders are rallying. Daryl Lamonica hits Charles Smith with a 42-yard touchdown pass giving the Raiders a 36-32 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, Preston Ridlehuber recovers Earl Christy's fumble and returns it four yards for another Oakland touchdown. The next day, the headline in the New York Daily News is "Jets 32, Raiders 29, Heidi 14."

NBC later said specific orders were issued to continue the game to its conclusion, but an NBC operations manager could not reach the engineer in charge because of the jammed switchboard.

Postscript: NBC reruns "Heidi" on Oct. 19, 1969. A Raiders-Buffalo Bills game runs eight minutes past the start time for "Heidi." This time, the game is carried to its conclusion.

Enter Howard: After laying claim to Sunday afternoons through the 1960s, the NFL enters the brave new world of prime-time football in 1970. At first, even Commissioner Pete Rozelle is skeptical of a network's acceptance of pro football in prime time, as he prepares to sell the rights to the games to the Hughes Sports Network, which in turn would syndicate the games.

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