I think someone’s hand slipped.
Viewers watching the Spurs-Lakers game Wednesday night were treated to a pretty entertaining game, with the game having 21 ties, 17 lead changes and neither team taking a double-digit lead in regulation. With the game tied in the final seconds, the Lakers had the ball with a chance to win with a last second shot. Josh Hart drove to the basket with time expiring, and…ESPN pulled a Heidi.
This has to be the production team’s worst nightmare. Well, actually it would’ve been worse if Hart made the shot. He missed and the game went to overtime, where the Lakers took control of the game and won by ten, but the point remains.
Can you imagine if this happened during the Nuggets-Thunder game earlier this year? Or if this happened during the playoffs? Fans and analysts would be livid with the network and the production team. Well let me introduce you to the “Heidi Game,” where this pretty much happened, except it wasn’t an accident and was actually intentional.
In 1968, the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders were playing a regular season game that kicked off at 4 p.m. and was running close to the end of their three-hour time slot due to multiple in-game injuries and a high score. The broadcast network, NBC, had planned to show the movie, Heidi at 7 p.m. sharp, and had a decision to make.
After the Jets scored a field goal in the fourth quarter to take a 32–29 lead, the Raiders received the ensuing kickoff and returned it to their own 22-yard line with a minute to go. Immediately after, the game went to commercial and NBC switched their east coast stations to the movie. Three plays later, the Raiders would go on to take the lead on a 43-yard touchdown pass with 42 seconds remaining and would add on another touchdown with a fumble recovery and score on the following kickoff, effectively ending the game with a final score of 43–32.
East coast viewers had no idea what happened in the game, and to remedy this, NBC ran a ticker during the Heidi showing.
Viewers of both the game and the movie were outraged, as the football game had a great ending that half of the country didn’t even get to see, while the movie was interrupted in one of its pivotal moments. NBC issued a statement apologizing for what happened and changed their procedures to allow games that ran over their time-slot to conclude before moving on to their next scheduled show, a practice that has become standard in almost every professional sports league.
It’s hard to say which of the two is worse. The 1968 game was a deliberate decision by the network and robbed viewers of seeing a great ending. The Lakers-Spurs gaffe was an accident, evidenced by the quick switch back to the action, and much of the scorn for the incident comes from viewers missing the buzzer beater attempt, as the overtime period was pretty one-sided. For whoever let the broadcast blunder happen on Wednesday, at least they can find solace in the fact that it’s not the first time it’s happened, and maybe this will all blow over in a day or so. Or maybe it’ll become like the Heidi game, a memorable mishap that lives on decades after the fact.