The date is Nov. 17, 1968. The time, 6:59 p.m. e.s.t. The Jets lead the Raiders 32-29, with 1:05 left in a nationally televised game on NBC. Suddenly, unbelievably, a network executive switches circuits, sending NBC's Sunday night movie to three-quarters of the country. The him is about a little girl who lives in the Alps. Thousands of callers berate the network, telling it to get the little brat out of there. She stays put. Meanwhile, Oakland scores two TDs and wins 43-32.
The little girl, of course, was Heidi, and the Raiders-Jets encounter came to be known, perhaps forever, as The Heidi Game—a memorial to the ability of network television to foul up. With a nod backward, we hereby offer our Heidi Awards for 1982. We'll credit the networks for exemplary work on sports broadcasting where appropriate, but more often we'll be singling out performances they should have pulled the plug on.
THE BEST LIVE TELECAST—Cowboys vs. 49ers, NFC Championship (CBS). Announcer Vin Scully's lyrical prose and Director Sandy Grossman's tight shots turned a stirring game into something approaching art. NBC's coverage of the "Kellen Winslow game," in which the Chargers and Dolphins battled into overtime in a playoff game, came in second only because of pedestrian announcing.
TITANIC AWARD FOR DISASTER AT SEA—To ABC for its coverage of the Brewers-Orioles game on the final day of the American League season. Director Chet Forte missed Ben Oglivie's sliding catch in the leftfield corner, which may have saved the year for Milwaukee. Keith Jackson and Howard Cosell mistook Ed Romero for Jim Gantner for five innings. Once clued in, Jackson left the impression that Romero, who had started, had just then pinch-hit for Gantner. To the lifeboats, gentlemen.
HEIDI AWARD FOR PERSISTENCE—To CBS for sticking with The NFL Today week after week, strike or no strike. I bet Dan Rather wouldn't show up every night if the world ended.
BEST-EDITED TELECAST—Ironman World Endurance Triathlon in February (ABC). Included perhaps the most dramatic footage ever shown on Wide World of Sports. After swimming, biking and running a total of 140.6 miles, Julie Moss collapsed and had to crawl over the finish line, thereby losing the women's title. Her triumph of heart will stay with us.
WORST-EDITED TELECAST—The Class of '82, CBS's college football preview. Sophomoric in approach, it contained every cliché known to coach, pompon girl and Gary Bender. Cheesecake shots of cheerleaders prancing in the surf to the theme from Chariots of Fire were ludicrous. The Notre Dame Golden Dome bit was fawning.
BEST LINE—By color commentator Pat Haden as CBS returned to covering college football for the first time since 1963 with a boring prime-time game between Pitt and North Carolina: "We waited 19 years for this?"
BEST ANNOUNCER—Al Michaels (ABC). Smooth, knowledgeable, well prepared and versatile, whether he's covering baseball in Milwaukee, football in Tallahassee or gymnastics in Zagreb.
HEIDI AWARD FOR APPLE POLISHING—To Frank Chirkinian, producer of CBS's U.S. Open tennis coverage. Maybe Chirkinian needs a limo or a bigger office. He showed so many CBS executives and TV personalities wearing network hats at courtside that you almost forgot there was a match in progress.
MOST GRATING CLICHES—"He's atop the leader board" (Don Criqui, NBC). "He's awesome" (Bender, CBS). "He dodged the bullet" (Jackson, ABC).
BEST COMMENTARY—Howard Cosell during the Larry Holmes-Randy Cobb heavyweight title bout. Cosell was roundly criticized for calling the barbaric pounding of Cobb pointless as early as the ninth round, but it says here he was right.
MOST HACKNEYED SHOTS—1) The Blimp. We all know what it looks like, and we all know it's Goodyear's. 2) Unexpurgated low-angle shots of cheerleaders. 3) Baseball wives, especially when they cheer on cue.
HEIDI AWARD FOR OVEREXPOSURE—To CBS's Brent Musburger. He still hits .320 and drives in 120 runs a year, but like Arthur Godfrey in the 1950s, he's on camera all the time. Dear Brent: You'd enjoy a ride in the park one weekend.
BEST PRODUCTION OF AN ANNUAL EVENT—The Kentucky Derby (ABC). A little lucky and a lot talented, Director Chuck Howard put one of his three isolated cameras on 21-1 shot Gato del Sol, who was 19th out of 19 horses in the first turn. Guess who won.
MOST UNKIND REMARK—Cosell, referring to Cardinal Outfielder Willie McGee during the National League playoffs: "He looks a little like E.T."
OUR FIRST ANNUAL SHAME-ON-YOU AWARD—To WTBS-TV, Ted Turner's superstation, for allowing the NCAA to have veto power over its football announcers. TBS had to get rid of Pepper Rodgers and Paul Hornung when the censors from Shawnee Mission, Kans., found them unsavory.
WORST LIVE EVENT—The Fiesta Bowl, Penn State vs. USC (NBC). Soporific from start to finish: You couldn't hear the crowd, the camera coverage rated a Zzzzzzzzz, and announcers Charlie Jones and Len Dawson seemed to take a New Year's holiday.
BEST SHORT FEATURE—CBS Reporter Pat O'Brien's backgrounder on Alexis Arguello's life in Nicaragua, shown shortly before Arguello's Nov. 12 fight with Aaron Pryor. Arguello confided that he fears assassination should he return home.
BEST JOURNALISM—To Cosell's SportsBeat (ABC). He's still a voice crying in the wilderness—and asking the trenchant question.
THE HEIDI-HEIDI AWARD—To HBO in the aftermath of the Arguello-Pryor fight. Instead of staying at ringside to check on Arguello's condition after he was knocked cold, HBO cut to a regularly scheduled movie about a werewolf that terrorizes plain old folks who mind their own business.
BEST SPECIAL EFFECT—Producer Mike Weisman's black-and-white machine-gun montage of baseball and American history preceding most World Series games (NBC). Our attention riveted to the set, we picked up more history each night.
WORST COMMENTARY—Tommy Lasorda on the NL playoffs (ABC). He bombarded us with his repertory of after-dinner jokes. What we wanted was analysis. Clearly the front-runner for next year's George Jessel of the Dugout Award.
BEST INTENSITY—ESPN's 6½-hour coverage of the decisive John McEnroe-Mats Wilander match in the Davis Cup quarterfinals. The main reason tennis adopted the tiebreaker was to satisfy the needs of conventional TV. ESPN proved that the old format, with its cumulative tensions, can pack more wallop.
BIGGEST SLIPPAGE, TV ANNOUNCER—Bill Russell (CBS). Once refreshing, he mumbles worse than ever during NBA games, tunes out the action and doesn't seem to do much homework. If he doesn't care about the game he's watching, why should we?
HEIDI TRASH-BAG AWARD—To NBC for airing the World Belly Flop and Cannonball Diving Championships before a crowd of female surtbathers. If you've seen a 413-pound man on fire as he dives into a pool, you've seen it all.
MOST HEARTWARMING SHOTS—1) Georgetown Basketball Coach John Thompson hugging the Hoyas' Fred Brown after Brown's game-ending turnover in the NCAA basketball final (CBS). 2) Bengal QB Ken Anderson carrying his son off the field to the strains of The Winner Takes It All after Cincinnati lost the Super Bowl (CBS).
MOST CUTTING CANDOR—To Beano Cook, the middle-aged rookie on ABC's college football pregame and halftime shows. He mocked Vanderbilt (which finished the season 8-3), laughed at NCAA "brain power" commercials, derided Big Ten football and was invited back for next year. Good for ABC.
WORST PRIME-TIME PROGRAMMING—ABC's Battle of the Network Stars. This gets a 10 on our yecch scale: a pretentious vehicle that allowed Cosell to call sitcom stars "Baby" and to interview a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader.
Finally, lest you think us needlessly national, we present the first annual Heidi Spittoons for Bone-headedness and/or Bad Taste in Local Sports Coverage. This year we award two spittoons: 1) To Stu Klitenic of WJBK-TV, Detroit. Last April when Jack Dempsey took ill in New York, Klitenic went on the air to report: "Former heavyweight champ Joe Louis has been taken to the hospital in critical condition tonight. We'll keep you up to date on his condition." Louis had died 12 months earlier, but that didn't keep Klitenic from subsequently getting a promotion.
2) To Vic Jacobs of KTVV-TV, Austin. Before the hometown Longhorns' football game with the Arkansas Razorbacks, Jacobs, wearing a butcher's apron, went to a local packinghouse, had some yuks over a few hog carcasses and showed some pork being ground into sausage. Chew 'em up, 'Horns.
ABC was skylarking when Oglivie made his key catch.
The belly-flop competition was a flop on NBC.
CBS watched its own people instead of the ball.