REFLECTIONS – A CITY/NATION IN MOURNING: Understanding the obstacles of the 1960’s Dallas Cowboys (Special Feature–Revised)
To understand how difficult it was to make the decision about whether or not to play NFL games on Nov. 24, 1963, you must understand how different news and television were 50 years ago.
I had just started working as a radio newswriter in Minneapolis. Radio was the primary source for breaking news for most people, and newspapers still had huge circulations. Television news primarily consisted of two programs — the Huntley-Brinkley Report on NBC and the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. ABC was not a serious competitor. Everything was in black and white, and if you wanted to change the channel, you had to get out of your chair and turn a knob on the set.
News was shot on film, meaning it had to be physically transported to the television station, developed and edited before it could air — a process that took a minimum of one hour and could take several. Sound film cameras were big — think about carrying around a couple of cement blocks — and could record a maximum of 12 minutes before changing the film was required. The only videotape machines were massive items, and tape had to be physically edited, a cumbersome process. To transmit news from anywhere, you had to order — well in advance — physical lines from AT&T. Most news was distributed by two wire services — AP and UPI — on machines that printed 60 words per minute. The news sat on the machine until someone went to read it. If you were in the field and wanted to make a call, you had to find a pay phone or talk someone into letting you use a private phone. And if you called someone and they were not there, there were no answering machines — you had to keep calling until someone answered.
Why is all this important? The coverage and dissemination of news was slow (although the facts probably were more accurate) and this made the decision-making process slow as well. Parts of JFK’s visit to Dallas were being covered locally only because the local stations decided to pool their resources. But NBC and CBS were not carrying the coverage. In fact, the networks were not even on the air — stations were carrying their own local programming. It took some time for the national coverage to begin, but when it did begin, it went commercial-free for four days, the first time that had happened.
JFK was, for my generation, the first president who didn’t look like he could be my father. He was young, he was funny and he had a beautiful wife. JFK also was the first “sports” president anyone of my generation knew. Eisenhower played golf, Truman walked and Roosevelt was limited by his paralysis due to polio. The Kennedy family played touch football on the lawn, sailed on Nantucket Sound and went on lengthy hikes. Kennedy actually played golf but refused to let that be filmed to draw a contrast with the Republicans.
Kennedy had intervened with the National Guard in 1961 to allow Paul Hornung to play for the Green Bay Packers in the NFL title game. He was conscious of his image as a young, sports-minded male, and people bought it.
Kennedy was assassinated around noon on a Friday. Nothing like this had ever happened in my lifetime. No one knew if this was an isolated incident or if there was a plot to assassinate other government officials (both the president and vice president were in Dallas); rumors were flying. In fact, the announcement of JFK’s death was delayed to let Johnson get on his way to the airport and Air Force One. Even after Johnson was sworn in and back in D.C., no one was sure what was happening.
So, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle had to weigh all this and make a decision in a short amount of time, consulting with a number of people who gave him differing opinions. In the end, NFL games were played, although there was no television coverage of them. And Rozelle later said he had made the wrong decision.
RELATED VIDEOS: A look back, fifty years after the JFK Assassination
A CITY IN MOURNING: Understanding the obstacles of the 1960’s Dallas Cowboys
07:12 – When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, it impacted the entire world. See how the Dallas Cowboys were affected by the death as Gil Brandt looks back into history and recounts the JFK experience. (Watch Video)
A NATION IN MOURNING: Understanding the obstacles of the 1960’s NFL
04:12 – When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, it impacted the entire world. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle later regrets deciding the league will play games the following Sunday. (Watch Video)
A NATION IN MOURNING: The NFL has been part of America’s recovery, more than once.
04:12 – When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, it impacted the entire world. The NFL has faced a nation in crisis several times throughout it’s history, including the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, and 911 attacks. This video takes a look at how the NFL, and Americans, moved forward during these difficult times. (Watch Video)
Special thanks: Bob Eaton; Gil Brandt;
November 22, 1963 – Looking back at that moment in American history
Though he was nearly a year away from the 1964 election, President John F. Kennedy knew it was campaign season even in November of 1963. And one of the most important states he needed to win was Texas. Kennedy along with his wife, first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, boarded Air Force One on Nov. 21 for a two-day, five-city trip through the state. Starting with San Antonio, then Houston, they eventually visited Fort Worth. With Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy exits the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth. On Friday, Nov. 22, he will greet crowds and make a speech. It’s 8:45 am.