Quick Takes


        I was hoping I’d be congratulating St. Louis for winning the NLCS last night. The Mets won instead, so it’s Game 7 tonight. Here’s to the Redbirds.



        Here's to the Redbirds.....................in the World Series.


        Former Negro Leagues legendary star, “Buck” O’Neil, who passed away on October 6 at age 94, was viewed by thousands of fans at his memorial at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. I am planning a feature story on the Negro Leagues. O’Neil had a great impact on many players who went on to major league stardom, my idol, Jackie Robinson, included.


        The trademark of the Arizona Cardinals is “mistakes.” It was the trademark of the St. Louis Cardinals when I lived there. So why should Monday night have been different?! A beautiful new stadium filled to capacity. A 20-point lead on the undefeated Bears after the 3rd. quarter. It was a cinch, but only until you realized it’s the Cardinals. Chicago looked like anything but a top team, and even after they won, the same could be said. After all, the Bears’ only offense was their defense and special teams. Their offense was inept all night; the last time a team committed six turnovers and won a NFL game was 1812, right after the war. But Chicago had a special 4th. quarter weapon; they were playing the Arizona Bidwills, and that alone spells mistakes, mental and physical. Arizona's Matt Leinart and Anquan Boldin were super, and they both have my sympathy.


        We don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, but I was surprised that Ken Macha got canned. Of the eight MLB playoff teams this season, Oakland had the lowest payroll at $62 million. He got a lot out of the talent he had to work with. (See my feature story in a couple of weeks on MLB Payrolls.)


        The NFL has two undefeated teams through week 6, Chicago (bear-ly) and Indy. Forget how it looks right now; neither one is gonna run the table. The 1972 Miami Dolphins’ record is safe!  


        In response to my article of 8/17 regarding baseball’s best pinch-hitters, Louis Delsarto wrote me about a tremendous player who also was a fine pinch-hitter. In 1983, Rusty Staub tied a National League record with eight straight pinch-hits, and in the same season he tied a major league record of 25 RBI’s by a pinch-hitter. Louis is correct; I should have included Staub.


        Chris Collinsworth had a great story on ESPN radio last week. He was once told he doesn’t know what it’s like to be in a minority group. Collinsworth jokingly pointed out in response that being a white wide receiver in the NFL is as minority as it gets.


Story of the Week



        I was going to write the events of that infamous game, but I didn’t have to as Phil Barber of NFL Publishing did it for me years ago.


November 17, 1968

Oakland Raiders 43, New York Jets 32


You want an indication of the bizarre nature of the football war waged by the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets on the afternoon of Nov. 17, 1968? Though the game was filled with marquee-worthy stars — Joe Namath, Daryle Lamonica, Fred Biletnikoff and Don Maynard among them — the two most notable acts were turned in by guys named Preston Ridlehuber and Dick Cline.


Ridlehuber would be permanently out of football little more than a year later. Cline never set foot on a NFL field.


The event now known as the Heidi Game featured a most remarkable ending. But what earned it a spot in sporting lore is the fact that most of the nation was not allowed to see that conclusion. After the Jets' Jim Turner kicked a field goal to give his team a 32-29 lead with 1:05 to play, NBC went to a commercial. When the network returned, it was not to a taut battle of American Football League heavyweights. It was to "Heidi," that pig-tailed Alpine goat-herder, as played by Jennifer Edwards in a made-for-TV premiere movie.


Time out for a little contextual set-up: The Jets and Raiders were the class of the AFL. Each was 7-2 coming into this showdown at the Oakland Coliseum. More than that, their games had blossomed into hate-fests, full of late hits and bloody noses. This one was not a disappointment.


The Heidi Game featured five lead changes and a dizzying show of aerial acrobatics. Namath passed for 381 yards and a touchdown, Lamonica for 311 yards and four touchdowns. Maynard caught 10 passes for 228 yards. The game also included 19 penalties for 238 yards.

It was the penalties, in part, that caused the game to overflow its three-hour time slot. It was due to end at 7 p.m. Eastern time. When it didn't, NBC switched to Heidi in the Eastern and Central zones. The man who threw the switch was Cline, NBC's supervisor of broadcast operation control (BOC).


What happened was a torrent of angry calls from East Coast fans who asked, in colorful terms, why a spunky little girl had replaced their football game. They flooded the switchboard at Manhattan's Rockefeller Plaza and crashed the phone exchange.


As it happened, they missed a fairly exciting 65 seconds. Lamonica threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to halfback Charlie Smith with 42 seconds to play, giving Oakland a 36-32 lead. The ensuing kickoff spurted free and Ridlehuber, the Raiders' reserve fullback, picked it up and ran into the end zone. The Raiders had scored 14 points in a shorter time than it took Heidi to yodel.


NBC president Julian Goodman issued a formal apology the next day. But no heads rolled, least of all Cline's. "I was saved by the set of conditions [distributed to network executives each week]," he says. "I had it in print. In fact, the vice president of my division told me that if I had taken it on my own and stayed with the game, I would have been fired."


The problem was one of policy, not individual decision-making. NBC had sold the Heidi advertising to Timex, and was obligated to show the movie from 7 to 9 P.M. The game's surreal finish altered that practice. Evermore, TV networks would stay with football games until their conclusion. The program to follow would then "slide," rather than being joined in progress.


At NBC, one other lasting change followed in the wake of the Jets-Raiders game. The network installed a new phone in the BOC room, wired to a separate exchange. Of course, it became known as the Heidi Phone.


        What’s the big deal?! The television audience only missed 1:05 and 14 points at the end of a football game. People made too much of it. Yeah, right! Actually, the ultimate capper to this would have been Dick Cline naming his newborn daughter Heidi. He didn’t…………but I sure as hell would’ve!


Last Week’s Trivia


        John J. Berwanger was a star football player at the University of Chicago. He has two distinctions. He was the first winner of the Heisman Trophy in 1935. He was also the first player drafted by a NFL team in the league’s first college draft in 1936; the Philadelphia Eagles selected him, but he chose not to turn pro, and pursued a successful business career instead.


Trivia Question of the Week


        Who were the first brothers to hit home runs on opposing teams in the same seventh game of a World Series? When? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.