Coliseum Dreaming: The Heidi Game

With only a few home games remaining, it’s time to look back at the incredible history the Oakland Raiders have made in the Coliseum. While a shadow of the marvel it once was, there are few stadiums in the world that have seen as much history as “the Black Hole” has since it was erected in September of 1966. As time runs out on the Oakland Raiders, we’ll revisit some of the best memories in the stadium’s great history before each of the last five home games.

Coliseum Dreaming: The Heidi Game

In today’s NFL, an average game lasts about three hours and 12 minutes. This is due in part to several variables, namely the stoppage of the clock after each penalty or incomplete pass, both of which happen more often than ever. Back in 1968, that wasn’t the case. Back then, an average game was less than two and a half hours long, mostly based on team’s propensity to run the ball.

However, this game was a different story. Both teams combined for 31 incomplete passes, 19 penalties, all six time-outs, and there was a commercial break after all 13 scores. So even though the game started at 4 P.M. eastern standard time, it was apparent that the game wouldn’t be over before the scheduled showing of Heidi, at 7 P.M. eastern standard time.

Heidi?

Based on two books by Swiss author, Johanna Spyri, Heidi was a made-for-TV film about a young girl living in the Swiss Alps. This movie is one of 25 film or television adaptations of Spyri’s story, and as a result of this specific event, was the most-watched television movie of all-time for three years. NBC must’ve really been high on the movie, because even though the game was not over, they switched the Eastern Standard Time audience over to the film at the regularly scheduled time. The rest of the country got to watch what ended up being a pretty cool finish.

When NBC turned the game off in favor of Heidi, the Jets were up 32-29, with just over a minute remaining. The executives believed the Jets would emerge victorious, and thanks to the switch, that’s what thousands of Americans thought as well. They were wrong.

On the next drive, Daryle Lamonica would find Charlie Smith on a 43-yard touchdown pass, giving Oakland the lead. Earl Christy fumbled the ensuing kickoff, which Preston Ridlehuber picked up and carried into the endzone, scoring yet another touchdown for the Silver and Black.

Thousands of Americans sat down to watch Heidi, thinking the New York Jets were winners, while it was actually the Raiders celebrating a 43-32 victory. It’s one of the most infamous endings in NFL history, and half of the country never got to see it.

The Aftermath

There was so much backlash from fans about missing the ending of the game that they actually installed a special phone, dubbed “the Heidi Phone” just for situations like this. Moving forward, networks also decided to let games be played to completion before switching over, and to this day, it’s a staple in NFL/TV contracts.

Sadly for Raider Nation, the New York Jets won the rematch in the post-season, and went on to beat the Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl, marking the first time that an AFL team accomplished such a feat. On a more positive note, John Madden points to this game as when the Raiders “started being a great team,” citing their ability to have these wild, come from behind wins. Regardless, there’s no denying the Heidi game’s impact on NFL history, and it couldn’t have, wouldn’t have happened anywhere but the good ol’ Coliseum.

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