The New York Jets were leading the home team Oakland Raiders by a skinny three points, 32-29, on the afternoon of November 17, 1968. NBC was airing Heidi1the game for sports fans throughout the country.
It was a game between two formidable adversaries, and a hard fought one. The intensity of the play had led to injuries, penalties, extra timeouts and lots of scoring, with the lead changing eight times. As a result, the game ran longer than usual, longer than the three hours NBC had allotted for it. That meant that on the East Coast the game ran right into the 7 p.m. time slot when the evening’s prime time schedule was set to begin.
With just minutes left in the game, eastern viewers were switched to Switzerland for the television movie Heidi, the heartwarming story of a sweet little girl and her kindly grandfather, filled with Alps and yodeling and stuff, but no football. Worse, still, as Heidi cavorted with her goats, the Raiders scored two touchdowns in nine seconds to win the game. Football fans were not pleased.
As it turns out, NBC executives had decided to postpone the start of the film, but they couldn’t get through to the studio because the switchboard was jammed with irate football fans.
The Heidi Game, as it came to be called, led to a change in the television broadcasting of football; the NFL inserted a clause into its TV contracts that guaranteed all games would be broadcast completely. Television networks had separate telephone exchanges installed (known lovingly as Heidiphones) to prevent such incidents from happening in the future.
In 1997, the Heidi Game was voted the most memorable regular season game in U.S. professional football history. Heidi remains the most memorable film about little girls and mountain goats.