November 17, 1968: A Girl, a Goat and a Football

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 the game for sports fans throughout the country.heidi1 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.


I always advise people never to give advice. ~ P. G. Wodehouse



October 7, 1916: What It Was Was Football

Back in the days when football was still known as that game with the pointy ball, the son of German immigrants became the coach at the Georgia Institute of Technology (known to its friends as Georgia Tech). John Heisman became the first coach in college football to be paid for his services. They got their money’s worth. He led the school to its first national championship and had a career winning percentage of .779 which remains the best in Tech history.

The most memorable — or perhaps infamous — game in Heisman’s Georgia Tech career was played on October 7, 1916, with Tech playing host to Tennessee’s Cumberland University. Talk about a nail biter! The plucky Cumberland Bulldogs got off to a bad start, losing the coin toss.  Georgia Tech returned the Bulldogs’ first punt for a touchdown. Score 7-0 in less than a minute played. Cumberland fumbled on its first play after the following kickoff. 14-0, with just seconds off the clock.   On their next possession, the Bulldogs fumbled once again on their first play.  21-0. It went pretty much the same until the game mercifully ended with a score of 222-0.  A record, of course, that still stands.

In Cumberland’s defense, it should be pointed out that the college, on the verge of bankruptcy, had eliminated its football program at the beginning of the season. The school was forced to field a team (fraternity brothers of the team’ student manager) to avoid a $3,000 forfeit fee.

Heisman, who went on to be elected to the Football Hall of Fame and give his name to the trophy for the outstanding college football player of the year, up by 18 touchdowns at the half, told his players not to relent. “We’re ahead, but you just can’t tell what those Cumberland players have up their sleeves.”

June 12, 1349: If You Outlaw Bows and Arrows . . .

In a letter dated June 12, 1349, England’s King Edward III wrote how the people of his realm, archboth rich and poor, had in previous times exercised their skill at shooting arrows and how that practice had brought honor and profit to the kingdom. But, he continued, that skill had been laid aside in favor of other pursuits. Therefore he commanded sheriffs throughout the realm to proclaim that every able citizen in their leisure time use their bows and arrows, and learn and exercise the art of archery.   And furthermore, they should not in “any manner apply themselves to the throwing of stones, wood, or iron, handball, football, bandyball, cambuck, or cockfighting”  or any other such trivial pursuits (that includes golf).

A hundred years later, Edward IV continued the tradition, decreeing that all Englishmen, other than clergymen or judges, should own  bows their own height, keeping them always ready for use and providing practice for  sons age seven or older. Fines were levied for failing to shoot every Sunday.

Sir Wayne of LaPierre complained that the law did not go far enough, that it lacked a provision that citizens should carry concealed bows and arrows and quivers with more than a ten-arrow capacity.  And a ban on background checks for potential archers, of course.

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I got to dress up in funny clothes and run around New Zealand with a bow and arrow for 18 months, how bad could that be? Orlando Bloom on Lord of the Rings

May 8, 1854: A Mile in Whose Shoes?

walkingCelebrated pedestrian Robert Barclay Allardice, 6th Laird of Ury, generally known simply as Captain Barclay, died on May 8, 1854. During his life he accomplished many feats in the world of walking, and is, in fact, considered the father of pedestrianism, a popular sport of the 19th century.

His first feat, at the age of fifteen, was to walk six miles in an hour ‘fair heel and toe.’ Heel and toe was a rather vague rule of pedestrianism, that the toe of one foot could not leave the ground before the heel of the other foot touched down. It was randomly enforced. In 1801, at the age of 22, Barclay walked from Ury to Boroughbridge, a distance of 300 miles in five oppressively hot days, and in that same year, he walked 90 miles in 21 and a half hours, winning 5000 guineas for his fancy footwork.

His most famous feat came in 1809 when he undertook the task of walking 1000 miles in 1000 successive hours, a mile within each hour, a challenge in which many had failed and none had succeeded. At stake was 100,000 pounds (roughly 8 million dollars today). This feat captured the imagination of the public, and 10,000 people came to watch over the course of the event, cheering him on or wishing him ill fortune depending on the direction of their own wagers. He began his course at midnight on June 1 and finished it at 3 p.m. on July 12.

Pedestrian races were popular with both the media and the public throughout the 19th century, drawing throngs of spectators, along with bookies, touts and other unsavory characters who frequent such competitions. With the coming of the automobile, however, pedestrianism became an endangered sport as pedestrians themselves became an endangered species, serving mostly as targets for mechanized sporting types.  It does remain in our popular culture, however, with such paeans to pedestrianism as “The Stroll,” “Walk on the Wild Side,” “Walk Like a Man,” and “Walk This Way.”

Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them you are a mile away… and you have their shoes. – Jack Handey

April 2, 1931: Hear Me Roar

The baseball season was just getting underway as 17-year-old Jackie Mitchell took the mound for the minor-league Chattanooga Lookouts in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and on April 2, 1931, became  one of the first and female pitchers in professional baseball history.

The game had gotten off to a rocky beginning for the Lookouts with their starting pitcher (male) giving up hits to the Yankees’ first two batters. The teenage Mitchell was brought in to face a couple of guys named Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Mitchell’s first pitch to Ruth was a sinker that darted low for ball one. She followed with a sinker on the outside corner, which the Babe swung through and missed. Grinning, the “Sultan of Swat” swung at her next pitch and missed again for strike two. Another sinker on the corner of the plate, and Ruth watched it sail by for a strike three call. “The Babe kicked the dirt and gave his bat a wild heave as he stormed unhappily to the dugout.”

Gehrig came to bat and promptly missed three straight dipping sinkers, swinging early each time. On seven pitches, the Chattanooga teenager had struck out Ruth and Gehrig, two of the game’s greatest hitters. The hometown crowd rewarded her with a standing ovation. The next day, one newspaper cleverly suggested that “maybe her curves were too much for them.”

Unfortunately, Mitchell’s game against the Yankees was also her last.  Just days after her legendary performance, (male) baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis voided her contract because the sport of baseball was “too strenuous for women.” Although Jackie went on to tour with other prominent female athletes and play on women’s teams for a short time, Landis had pretty much wrecked her professional career, and she bowed out of sports at age 23.


Freddie experienced the sort of abysmal soul-sadness which afflicts one of Tolstoy’s Russian peasants when, after putting in a heavy day’s work strangling his father, beating his wife, and dropping the baby into the city’s reservoir, he turns to the cupboards, only to find the vodka bottle empty. ― P.G. Wodehouse


January 22, 1951: Cuban Holding a Grudge

Tiger Hoak was a major league third baseman who played for ten seasonscastro beginning in the mid-1950s; his baseball career followed a stint as a professional boxer that ended after being knocked out in seven straight matches. His biggest claim to fame may have been his writing about a game that took place on January 22, 1951.

Before signing on with the majors in the United States, Hoak played for one season in Cuba with the Winter Baseball League. Hoak described one of those Cuban games in an article “The Day I Batted Against Castro.”

According to Hoak, Castro and some friends commandeered the park where Hoak’s team was playing. Castro was a law student at the University of Havana at the time and a player on an intramural baseball team. Castro took the pitcher’s mound, and after some warmup pitches, turned to face batter Hoak. Castro shouted out something in Spanish that translated to “die, American imperialist pig” or perhaps “batter up.” Castro’s pitches were wild, and Hoak was no doubt thinking at the time “I hope this guy’s never in charge of missiles or anything.” Castro grazed Hoak’s head a couple of times, then beaned him. Hoak turned to the umpire and said, “Get that idiot out of the game!” The umpire spoke to some park policemen, who in turn marched Castro off the field.

Hoak went onto the U.S. majors, and Castro went on to the really big Cuban majors, taking over the government in 1959. In 1960, Castro had his revenge when he outlawed all professional sports, including the Cuban Winter Baseball League.



January 5, 1920: Curses, Foiled Again

January 5, 1920, marks the official beginning of the curse that was visited upon the major league baseball team whose home was Boston, Massachusetts. Yes, the Red Sox whose each babeplayer might as well have worn an albatross around his neck for the next 86 years. The Curse of the Bambino was upon them. For just as the Ancient Mariner shot the albatross and lived to regret it dearly, the powers that be in Boston baseball sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. (“And a thousand thousand slimy things lived on, and so did I.”)

Never mind that in his six seasons with the Red Sox, Ruth had led them to baseball3three World Series victories. Never mind that in those three Series, he had pitched 29 scoreless innings, a record that stood for 43 years. Never mind that during the 1919 season he hit 29 home runs and had 114 runs-batted-in. And never mind that he was professional baseball’s star attraction. The Red Sox got $125,000. for him.baseball2

As a result of their investment, New York chomped on year after year of Big Apples. Ruth hit 54 home runs in 1920, 59 in 1921. Yankee revenues grew so rapidly that by 1923 they were able to open Yankee Stadium, “the house that Ruth built.” And during those 86 years of the Curse of the Bambino, the Yankees won 26 World Series titles while the Red Sox wandered in the desert.