- Grove City, Pennsylvania

May 1, 2013

EXTRA INNINGS: Root Sports imitates 'Heidi' game

By Jim Sankey
Allied News Baseball Columnist

OPINION — I’m old.

I so old that I remember clearly a nationally-televised game on a November late afternoon in 1968, a game once voted by several groups as the most memorable regular season game in pro football history.

In what has been dubbed “the Heidi Bowl,” NBC broke away in the eastern part of the country from a New York Jets game in Oakland with the Jets holding a 32-29 lead with 1:01 left to play in the game in order to show the highly-advertised tv movie “Heidi,” a film about a little girl in Switzerland that was to begin at 7 p.m. EST on November 17.

But the Raiders scored a touchdown on two plays covering 78 yards with :42 left, then returned a Jets fumble nine seconds later for another TD and an improbable 43-32 win, a surprising ending not seen by millions of viewers in the East.

Back in 1968, television viewers had a choice of three networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC). There were no sports networks, no DVRs, no saturation; neither were there DVDs nor movies available for rent, so many people looked forward to special events like “Heidi,” which under its contract had to begin promptly at 7 p.m.

NBC executives had decided to delay the start of the movie and continue to air the exciting game, but couldn’t get through to the network switchboards, that were jammed with callers who wanted the network to keep with the game and others who wanted the family film to air on time.

The mess it created forced a change in the way pro football is shown on network television, with contests now shown to their conclusion before regularly-scheduled programming begins.

Too bad it didn’t affect the way Root Sports handled a Pirates game last Saturday whose ending overlapped the Penguins’ final regular season hockey match.

The Pens’ game was totally meaningless, with the only outcome in question being whether the team could finish the game without losing any more skaters to injury. Nothing that happened would change anything for the first round of the playoffs, no matter which team won.

Still, with fans having invested more than three hours and 30 minutes in the baseball game that would eventually move the Bucs to within one-half game of first place, Root Sports opted to switch to the Pens’ insignificant meeting with the Carolina Hurricanes,

Would all those on the hockey bandwagon have been traumatized had they missed the first 11:08 of the first period, while the Pirates were squeaking out a 5-3 win?

It’s not as though Root Sports didn’t have options.

The network did an excellent job of handling the simultaneous game times of the Pirates and Penguins in April by airing hockey on the regular channel, while broadcasting the Bucs on an alternate channel for four of the five conflicts.

If they didn’t or couldn’t do this last Saturday when all but 18 percent of the hockey game was affected, the network should have carried the complete baseball game and then began the hockey broadcast on a delayed basis. Cutting out the filler between the first and second period would have allowed the second and third periods to be shown live.

A Root Sports spokeswoman told me Monday afternoon that the Pirates’ games on Friday and Tuesday would not be aired, so that the second and fourth games of the Pens opening round of playoffs could be shown — they would not be shown on the alternate channel. (Both teams will be shown today: Pirates at 1 p.m., Pens at 7:30 p.m., while NBC will air Sunday’s game.)

If the Pens don’t sweep, a game five on May 8 would be aired instead of the Pirates game, as would the May 11 game if there is a time conflict; Information about a game seven was not announced, she said.

After the first round, there is no conflict as all additional playoffs will not be aired on Root Sports.

Heidi and I will be pleased.

Jim Sankey writes this baseball column weekly for The Allied News.