1968: The 'Heidi Bowl' Pre-Empts Namath And The New York Jets

Culture | November 17, 2020

Heidi (Jennifer Edwards) bumped Joe Namath and his Jets off the air. Sources: Amazon.com; Photo by Bill Young/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

The New York Jets faced off against the Oakland Raiders on November 17, 1968, in a hard-fought football game that was dominated in the final minutes by Heidi. She was neither a Jet nor a Raider; she was a young orphan who goes to live with her grandfather in the Swiss Alps. You know, Heidi.

Televised sporting events were not the perfectly-planned productions we know today, and in one of the all-time broadcasting blunders, NBC cut away from a nail-biter of a game featuring future hall of famers "Broadway" Joe Namath and Fred Biletnikoff. The network opted to show the program scheduled to start at 7 pm, which happened to be a made-for-TV movie version of Heidi starring Jennifer Edwards (the daughter of Blake Edwards and step-daughter of Julie Andrews). The game ended in a wild finish that changed the outcome -- a finish that Jets fans didn't get to see. Rabid Jets fans never let NBC, Joe Namath, or Jennifer Edwards ever forget the travesty that will forever be known as the "Heidi Bowl" or "Heidi Game,"

The Jets Looked To Win A Close One

When the gridiron outgrew movies. (rayonsports)

In 1968, it was nearly inconceivable for football games to overrun the allotted three hours set by television networks. Also, whether it was the NFL or AFL, football hadn’t taken over as the national pastime in ‘68 so the idea of preempting a football game wasn’t considered sheer lunacy yet.

However, the Jets and Raiders were locked in a barn burner and both teams owned playoff aspirations. When the Jets took a 32-29 lead with 1:05 minutes remaining, every Jets fan across the country was on the edge of his seat. That’s when NBC cut to a little Swiss girl named Heidi, traipsing down a scenic mountain.

Decision Time, With The Clock Ticking

The little girl that outraged a football loving nation. (newsday)

As the Jets kicked a field goal to take that slim lead, the 7 PM EST window was fast approaching. It’s important to note that Timex had plopped down $700,000 to sponsor Heidi and made it abundantly clear that the show must start promptly. NBC acquiesced, instructing producer Dick Cline to switch over to Heidi regardless of what was happening in the game.

According to NBC, at the last second, higher-ups frantically tried to reach Cline and order him to not switch over. Unfortunately, the switchboard was jammed up by calls from curious viewers: fans wanted to know whether the game would be shown to its conclusion and parents inquiring whether their children's beloved Heidi would be starting on time. 

On the field, the Jets kicked off to the Raiders, who advanced the ball out of their end zone to the 22 yard line. There was just over a minute left.

Then Cline gave the order to switch over to Heidi, and every Jets fan in New York nearly had a coronary. 

The Outcome

Don’t mess with football was one of the lessons learned. (rarenewspapers)

Just minutes after Heidi took over televisions all over the east coast (and in the Central time zone as well), Raider quarterback Daryle Lamonica completed a bomb for six that seemingly put the game out of reach. Amazingly, that play was called back due to a penalty. Jets cornerback Johnny Sample reportedly mocked Lamonica saying, “Nice try, Lamonica. Better luck next year."

As they say, it’s not over till the fat lady sings and in this case, it was only a tiny Swiss girl. Another 15-yard pass and a penalty against the Jets put the Raiders across midfield to the Jets 43. On the next play, running back Charlie Smith outpaced Jets’ safety Mike D’Amato, scoring the winning touchdown. To add insult to injury, the Jets fumbled the ensuing kickoff, allowing the Raiders another touchdown. Final score: Raiders 43, Jets 32.

Jets Fans Actually Held Heidi Responsible

One of the biggest stars in football got preempted by a tiny blonde girl. (daily-journal)

As Art Buchwald put it, “Men who would not get out of their armchairs for earthquakes made their way to the phone to call in to NBC.” Jets fans were not happy, to put it lightly. Even all the way over in London, a precocious Jennifer Edwards felt the backlash, "I remember one caption in some paper that said something about 'the little brat in white stockings that ruined the football game." It was the infamous “Heidi game” that taught television producers that football programmed television and not the other way around.

Thankfully for Jets fans, Broadway Joe made up for everything by winning the Super Bowl that year. He went as far as guaranteeing their victory before the game, securing his place in New York sport’s history. They even got revenge on the Oakland Raiders in the AFL Championship game 27-23.

Many years later, Edwards met Namath on a flight, "At one point, I leaned over and I said, 'Do you remember "The Heidi Game"?' And he looked at me, like, 'Well, duh!' and I said, 'Well, I want to formally introduce myself. I'm Heidi.' "

Tags: AFL | Heidi | New York Jets | NFL | Oakland Raiders | Sports | TV In The 1960s

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Kellar Ellsworth


Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!