Strange But True: The Heidi Game

During the football season television schedules can cause headaches for the networks. Usually Sunday games are shown during the afternoon or very early evening. The rest of the night is prime time, when situation comedies, police shows, and network specials are presented.

What can happen when a football game runs too long? Does the show that follows have to wait for the game to end? Is the football game cut off and the new program begun? What do television viewers think? The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) found out on November 17, 1968. It was a lesson they never forgot.

The New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders were to clash in a very important game. It was scheduled to start at 4:00 in the afternoon. At 8:00 NBC was presenting the children’s classic Heidi. Surely four hours was enough for any football game.

It was an exciting game, with the lead changing hands constantly. In the third quarter the Jets led, 19-14, but the Raiders rallied to take the lead, 22-19. Finally, with only a little over 40 seconds left to play, the Jets were ahead, 32-29. But Oakland was driving and had the ball on the Jets’ 43-yard line.

At eight o’clock a commercial came on. Television viewers thought it was just another ad, since it was exactly 8:00. They waited patiently for the action to resume. One commercial followed another, which made the viewers unhappy. Then the ads were over.

What next appeared on the screen was a charming little 10-year-old girl named Jennifer Edwards who acted the role of Heidi. The children’s special had begun. As far as NBC was concerned, the Jets-Raiders game was over.

Maybe the network thought so, but not New York fans. By the thousands the viewers began to call NBC; they called the newspapers; they called everybody. More than 10,000 calls flooded the NBC switchboard as enraged fans protested loudly.

Then NBC flashed “streamers”–bulletins–across the bottom of the screen. The first streamer gave a new score: Oakland 36, Jets 32. Moments later a new streamer gave the final score: Oakland 43, Jets 32.

Only when fans heard the nightly news or read the details in the newspapers the next morning did they find out what had happened during the last seconds of the game. A touchdown pass and the recovery of a Jets fumble had given Oakland two quick touchdowns and the victory.

All the executives at NBC offered different stories about the sudden change in programs. Nobody knew which story to believe. But the networks got the message.

Forever after, if a football game runs too long, the program that follows has to wait until the game is over. Rabid football fans usually get what they want.

From The Giant Book of More Strange But True Sports Stories by Howard Liss. Illustrations by Joe Mathieu.

About butcherbakertoiletrymaker 581 Articles
When you can walk its length, and leave no trace, you will have learned.


  1. A couple of corrections from Liss’ story:
    1.  “Heidi” was scheduled to start at 7:00, not 8:00, so the game ran just over three hours of air time.
    2.  NBC did the same thing just three years later.  Although they switched from one football game to another, they still managed to piss off a whole lot of people.  Again.

  2. over here theres no adds during live sporting events…even on free view 
    im pretty sure i can thank irate fans for that…guess they are good for something after all
    free view does like to show the wrong sprots sometimes tho…like..the snooker world championship..and darts when there could be motorsprots instead *sigh* 
    oh well..beggars cant be choosers…

  3. I had some time today and read your The Road Trip From Hell post!

    1. nice story. moving sucks!

    2. the hearse don’t coming loose at the last 50 miles was a damn miracle! especially when you started after stopping at the light on the steep hill. …


    All this time, I’d had to start the truck from second gear because first was simply too low to get any acceleration.  I’d gotten so used to it—and I was so tired—that I had completely forgotten about first gear.

    too low?


    After about 200 miles we stopped for dinner at a Pizza Hut in Texas.  We were already tired and kind of strung out from the day.  At some point, after ordering but before the food showed up, someone noticed that we didn’t have any silverware on the tables where we were sitting.  I said (not quietly), “well, come on, it’s Texas.  What did you expect?”  Not for the first time during that trip, or even in my life, I was told to shut it.  Eventually the food, and the silverware, arrived.  But, after the server walked away, someone else noticed that we had no napkins.  Not being able to contain myself, I said (again, not quietly), “they just figured out what silverware is here, and now you expect Texans to know what napkins are, too?!”

    that wasn’t very smart!

    • Thanks, I appreciate it.  I’m thinking about writing something every six months or so and seeing if it provides any interest/enjoyment.
      Yeah, some trucks are geared very low, meaning that first gear is usually reserved for situations when you need a lot of torque–such as hauling a full truck with a trailer up a hill from a dead stop.  So, for normal driving situations (flat road or downhill, or just a light load), you actually start in 2nd gear.

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