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5 things to know about Raiders’ 1968 Heidi game

Updated April 11, 2020 - 3:44 pm

Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series acquainting fans with the Raiders’ illustrious 60-year history as the team moves to Las Vegas for the 2020 season.

Some may find it ironic that a pro football team defined by its ruffian image would emerge victorious in a famous game nicknamed for a little girl whose story was transformed into family entertainment.

By now you probably know the story.

How on Nov. 17, 1968, after trailing the New York Jets 32-29, the Raiders scored two touchdowns in the final 42 seconds to post a stunning 43-32 win in a rivalry game with playoff implications.

And how NBC pulled the plug because the game was running long, causing viewers in the eastern United States to miss those touchdowns and crazy final seconds. A message to stay with the game was not delivered because the telephone switchboards were jammed.

It wound up being called the “Heidi Game.”

Here are five things about it not as widely known:

1. Who was Heidi, anyway? Heidi was a fictional character from literature. The original story of the little girl who grew up in the Swiss Alps was told in two parts by the Swiss author Johanna Spyri in 1881. More than 25 adaptions of the original stories were created for the movies and television.

2. Was “Heidi” a ratings disaster? Quite the contrary. “Heidi” was a ratings bonanza, with a Nielsen rating of 31.8 and an audience share of 47 percent. In fact, it was the most-watched television movie of all time until it was surpassed by “Brian’s Song” in 1971.

3. What was the Heidi phone? It was a hotline that prevented switching away from future games and other programming because of switchboard meltdown. The Heidi phone became common equipment. Networks soon began showing games to their conclusion, which became a common practice.

4. Were the Jets able to avenge the crushing defeat? Yes. They defeated the Raiders 27-23 in the AFL championship game at Shea Stadium in December and went on to shock the heavily favored Baltimore Colts to become the first AFL team to win the Super Bowl.

5. Which Raider scored the clinching touchdown? Hint: It was not Fred Biletnikoff, Warren Wells or Charlie Smith on a pass from Daryle Lamonica. Answer: Preston Ridlehuber. The seldom used running back from Georgia scooped up a fumble by Jets’ kickoff returner Earl Christy at the 12-yard line and carried it into the end zone from 2 yards out.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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