Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Pillars of the NFL: Heidi Game

In Patrick McCaskey's Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships  he covers the ten greatest NFL coaches of all-time.  Among the pillars is Weeb Ewbank  who coaches the Baltimore Colts and New York Jets.  He built up the Colts in the 1950s and brought Johnny Unitas and team to two NFL Championships in 1958 and 1959.  He took on the fledgling Jets in 1968 with Joe Namath and company and won another NFL Championship Brown in January 1969.  Ewbank was a team builder and greatly underestimated because he took poor teams and built them up.  This post comes from Pillars and tells the story of one of Ewbank's seasons. 

Heidi Game

The Jets played the Raiders on November 17, 1968, in a game that would later be called the “Heidi Game.”  It was another famous game in pro football history that featured a Weeb Ewbank team.  The game was famous for the last minute of the game that TV fans did not get a chance to see and for what they did get to see instead.  The Raiders featured household names in quarterback Daryle Lamonica, kicker and  backup quarterback George Blanda, halfback Pete Banaszak, wide receiver Fred Belitnikoff, and  tackle Art Shell.  Many of these players forever represent “Raiders football” to American fans.  Likewise, given the cast of players on the 1968 Jets, any Jets-Raider contest that year was likely to be memorable.  

Daryle Lamonica hit Warren Wells for a Raiders’ touchdown and the Jets’ Jim Turner kicked two field goals in the first quarter making the score: Raiders 7–Jets 6.  Billy Cannon caught a 48-yard touchdown pass from Lamonica and Joe Namath rushed one in from the one in the second quarter.  After the Jets missed a two-point conversion, the score stood at 14–12 in favor of the Raiders at the half.  In the third quarter, Jets’ Bill Mathis rushed one in from the 4-yard line for a touchdown.  Weeb Ewbank opted to kick the extra point rather than risk another missed two point conversion.  When the Raiders’ Charlie Smith rushed for a touchdown from the 3-yard line, the Raiders made a statement with a two point conversion to give them a 22–19 lead.  In the fourth quarter, Namath connected with Maynard on a 50-yard scoring play.  When Turner followed with a field goal, the Jets were ahead 29–22.  Lamonica responded with a touchdown toss to Belitnikoff, but Turner hit another field goal to maintain the lead for New York, 32–29 with a minute and change to go.  It was at this time that network television opted to end coverage of the game and go to the regularly scheduled program, which in this case was the movie “Heidi.”  

While viewers were frustrated, and perhaps most thinking that the Jets had come away with a victory, the Raiders’ Charlie Smith caught a Daryle Lamonica pass to give the Raiders the lead with seconds left.  Amazingly, the Raiders scored again when the ensuing kickoff was fumbled, recovered by the Raiders’ Preston Ridlehuber at the 2-yard line, and run in for the score.  Oddly enough, the Raiders won a very tight game, but by a convincing 43–32 margin.  

The Jets won their last four games of the season by wide margins.  The last minute loss to the Raiders in the Heidi Game was a good exercise leading up to the Conference Championship match with Oakland.  

 See "The Day Dick Butkus Caught a Bobby Douglass Pass for the Win."