Monday, October 19, 2009
The Heidi Game Part 2
On November 17, 1968, the famous Heidi Game took place between the Jets and Raiders, when their AFL clash was interrupted before its conclusion by NBC's airing of the movie Heidi. The network broke into the game with 65 seconds left and the Jets leading 32-29. Oakland rallied for a 43-32 victory, and the game - and the outrage that followed from fans who were unable to see the dramatic ending - changed the way networks cover sports. That change was networks finally understood that sports rule America and TV and we don't care if 60 Minutes has to start at midnight, do not interrupt the late football games.
The game was such a fiasco that its Wikipedia page contains about 5,500 words. There are some one-term U.S. presidents - or at least some treasury secretaries - who don't have that many words devoted to them.
I wasn't alive for that game. Fortunately, CBS recreated the experience today.
The Vikings and Ravens played at 1 p.m. on the East Coast. I taped the game as I was with my parents at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for most of the afternoon. When we returned, I set the tape to the beginning. We settled in, avoiding the Internet and the late games so the outcome remained a mystery. Such an old-school feeling; it felt like 1990 all over again.
Vikings struck first. Then again. The game looked like a rout as I fast-forwarded through inane commercials, punts, kickoff returns and at least some of Dan Dierdorf's weighty pontifications, the best of which came after two failed running plays near the goal-line for the Vikings.
"If the offensive linemen could vote, they would vote for another running play, I'm telling you." If true, we should begin to immediately disenfranchise the hogs. Strip them of their right to vote, whether it's for a city council race or a play in the Red Zone. Dierdorf - a former lineman who knows how the big guys up front think, and that's the problem - wanted the Vikings to give the guys who had just failed twice another chance. Fortunately they didn't and Favre threw a touchdown pass on the next play.
Even into the fourth quarter the outcome seemed certain. Then the Vikings defense began its collapse and Baltimore scored with ease on three straight possessions. Shockingly, the Ravens now led. The Metrodome hadn't been that quiet in, well, a week. Fans were probably wondering, what was worse: the Vikings defense or Nick Punto's baserunning?
I was tempted to turn to one of the late games to see what the outcome was, but we'd already gone this far. Favre led them down for another score - another field goal - and we went into commercial with the Vikings leading 33-31 with less than two minutes remaining.
Seconds before that field goal, some of the late games started showing up on the CBS scroll at the bottom of the screen. A thought occurred.
"You know, the Jets are the late game on CBS. They might have cut away from this game if it ran late. We might not see the end of it."
My parents didn't even have time to process the information.
Thirty seconds after I said that, CBS broke away from the game. Instead of an adorable little Swiss girl appearing on the screen, it was a car commercial. My prediction had come true. Seconds later, the Jets and Bills game started their fiasco of a game as I sat with my parents, staring in stunned silence at our television. I fast-forwarded through the soothing voice of Dick Enberg and read the scores on the scroll. Finally the Vikings-Ravens game appeared.
Minnesota 33, Baltimore 31. :02.
Two seconds left. If the game stopped at two seconds, that probably meant the Ravens were going to try a field goal.
Good lord, the Vikings had again allowed Baltimore to march down the field? All we could do was speculate. I could already picture Joe Flacco sprinting up to the line to spike the ball as Dierdorf brags about poise and unflappability and the voting records of left guards. Oblivious to what was going on, we sat at the mercy of whatever underpaid office drone CBS placed in charge of updating its scroll.
We waited for the scores to cycle through again. Steelers-Browns. Redskins-Chiefs...Giants-Saints.
Minnesota 33, Baltimore 31. Final.
Final. They somehow held on.
A minute later, Dick Enberg sent it back to JB in the studio for the highlight and, indeed, the Ravens missed a field goal.
Here's what we didn't see live or on tape but did see as a highlight of a taped event, three hours after it actually happened.
The ending didn't lack for drama, even if it was one of the strangest endings any of us had seen. Or, in this case, not seen. It somehow added even more excitement.
The most frustrating experience I had with following a game without access to a television came about ten years ago. Stuck in my car on a long road trip, I picked up ESPN Radio's NFL show, where the hosts throw the games to various correspondents around the league. Or they introduce a score with bold, end-of-the-world announcements like, "Ladies and gentlemen. You will not believe what happened in the Browns-Chiefs game just moments ago."
What? What? Someone completed a pass? Eric Mangini smiled? The middle linebacker tackled a drunk streaker?
That announcement's usually followed by the reporter at the game saying, "Tim, Cleveland kicks a 24-yard field goal and leads 3-0 with 10:25 remaining in the first quarter. Back to you."
But on this day, I was trying to find the Cowboys score as they played the Eagles. Dallas led all the way. Then the hosts updated the game in the fourth quarter by saying Philadelphia had managed to cut into the lead and it was now a one-possession game.
I drove for 10 more miles with no more updates. The hosts bantered back and forth in that grating way that only talk-radio hosts can do, refusing to give their listeners what they really wanted.
"Whoa!" one suddenly said.
"I don't believe it," added the other.
What in the hell? Were they watching the Hindenburg go down? Or had something happened in the Cowboys game?
"What a game in Philly. The Eagles...the Eagles have...wow."
SPIT IT OUT!
The host took us to Philly. The local reporter breathlessly provided an update over the screaming crowd in the background. The Eagles rallied from 10 points down in the fourth quarter and defeated the hated Cowboys.
Bad news somehow gets worse depending on the way it's delivered. If I have to watch a favorite team lose in the comfort of my own home, where couch cushions, pillows and non-fluffy items can be thrown whenever I see fit, I can deal with it a bit better. Having to listen to Edward Murrow wannabes breathlessly spit out the results while studio hosts crack wise about their co-host's lack of dieting skills makes the entire experience about a hundred times more frustrating.
I turned the station in disgust. If I had a cell phone on me I would have called Delilah and asked for a special song to make everything right, something about loss and love or recovery.
There was no such ultimate frustration tonight. Technology lost, but the Vikings won.