The year that changed history


The year 1968 was described by The Guardian a few years ago as the year that changed history, a “year of seismic social and political change” across the globe.
From the growing anti-Vietnam war and civil rights movements in the United States, protests and revolutions in Europe and the first comprehensive coverage of war and resultant famine in Africa. And then this conclusion: “The world would never be the same again.”
How would the year 2018 be remembered half a century from now? It sometimes feels as if every year in these tumultuous times can be described as The Year that Changed History.
But back to 1968. As I was scrolling through Wikipedia’s list of historical events that happened fifty years ago, a strange heading caught my eye. The Heidi Game. It was not some early version of The Hunger Games. It refers to an American football match played on November 17, 1968, between the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets.
NBC, the network which had the rights to broadcast the game, reckoned that the three-hour time slot allocated for the match, would be more than enough. In those days few professional football games took longer than two and a half hours to play. But a high-scoring contest between the Jets and Raiders, together with a number of injuries and penalties, caused the game to run long.
The programme, which was scheduled to air just after the game, was the popular film version of Johanna Spyri’s children’s classic, Heidi. At exactly 7.00 pm Heidi began as scheduled, cutting off the final one minute and five seconds of the match. This meant that viewers were unable to see Oakland score two late touchdowns to win the match.
Thousands of outraged football fans flooded the NBC switchboards to protest. The Washington Post columnist, Art Buchwald, later wrote: “Men who wouldn’t get out of their chairs in an earthquake rushed to the phone to scream obscenities at the network.”
And that is how the phrase, The Heidi Game, found its place in the annals of American football.