Nebraska and Oklahoma were not only undefeated coming into the game, but totally undefeated. The Sooners led the nation in scoring, averaging 45 points a game, while the Cornhuskers had won their ten games by an average of 27 points, allowing only 50 points in the process. With the nation's leading offense facing the nation's leading defense, something had to give. ABC's cameras were there to cover it as part of their Thanksgiving doubleheader with their number one announce crew of Chris Schenkel and Bud Wilkinson, and there's no question, even before the kickoff, that the game overshadows anything the NFL has to offer that day.
And what a game it is, everything it was expected to be and more, see-sawing back and forth and leaving everyone involved emotionally drained. Nebraska, behind a spectacular punt return from future Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers, leads 28-17 going into the fourth quarter before the magnificent wishbone quarterback Jack Mildren rallies Oklahoma to take a 31-28 lead with barely seven minutes to play. Alas for Oklahoma fans (including me), it won't be enough, as Nebraska grinds out a late drive and scores with 98 seconds to play, outlasting the Sooners 35-31. Nebraska will go on to demolish the new #2 team, Alabama, 38-6 in the Orange Bowl, winning their second consecutive national championship. Oklahoma, defeating Auburn in the Sugar Bowl 40-22, finishes second. Colorado, losers only to Nebraska and Oklahoma, finishes third - the only time three teams from the same conference (the Big 8) finish 1-2-3 in the final polls.
To this day, Nebraska-Oklahoma 1971 is considered one of the greatest games ever, and maintains a special place in the memories of fans. Certainly the high quality and nonstop thrills of the game itself has something to do with, but perhaps in addition it's the Thanksgiving day scheduling, with many families watching the game together. Whatever the case, it's drama that's seldom been equaled, and rarely surpassed.
I have this game on DVD, and sometimes watch it on
Thanksgiving if the live games are too boring.
One of the swell things about Thanksgiving, from my TV Guide-reviewing perspective, is that because it falls at different times of the month I can write about it more than once a year. And this is a great Thanksgiving to write about. It starts, as always, with parades. CBS, as is its wont back in the day, presents a kaleidoscope of festivities from Detroit, Philadelphia, Toronto and New York, with Bill Baird and his marionettes hosting the overall broadcast, and CBS stars (Bob Crane, Greg Morris, Beverly Garland, June Lockhart and Herschel Bernardi among them) covering the parades themselves. Meanwhile, NBC has its traditional broadcast of the Macy's parade, with Joe Garagiola and Jack Paar's daughter Randy hosting the pre-parade show, and Lorne Greene and Betty White assuming their traditional roles identifying the balloons, floats and bands.
There's more football as well. In addition to the Game of the Century, ABC has a prime-time nightcap between Georgia and Georgia Tech at 7 p.m. CT. Meanwhile, the NFL's covered by NBC, presenting Kansas City and Detroit at 11 a.m., and CBS following with Los Angeles and Dallas at 2:30.
*It would be nice to report that General Mills owns King Arthur Flour, as it would make such a perfect tie-in. Alas, such is not the case.
Aside from ABC's football, there's nothing extraordinary about Thursday night, sadly. CBS has a double feature of news programs, beginning with 60 Minutes and followed by a special on the American Dream. NBC has Ironside, now occupying a new date and time, followed by Dean Martin, with guest stars Carol Channing and Dan Blocker. Interestingly enough, none of these programs are reruns; the networks must have figured there'd be an audience out there for their regular programs.
One more note about holiday programming - it doesn't quite end on Thursday. ABC has a great Friday planned for those kids out there on break, presenting their regular Saturday morning lineup in a cartoon festival from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Included: The Reluctant Dragon and Mr. Toad, Jerry Lewis, The Road Runner, The Funky Phantom, Lidsville, The Jackson 5ive and Bullwinkle.) That's followed by a special presentation of ABC's NBA game of the week, with the Baltimore Bullets playing Pete Maravich and the Atlanta Hawks.
I was hoping that the cover blurb, "TV Newsmen's Favorite Patsies Fight Back," named some names, but the "favorite patsies" are businessmen undergoing training and coaching from public relations agencies used to preparing people to meet the media. Oh well.
In other news, NBC is worried about its ratings. The Doan Report covers how the Peacock Network has just cancelled Sarge, The D.A., The Funny Side, The Partners and The Good Life. I have a vague recollection of some of these; if you don't remember them any better than I do, that's a good explanation for why they're no longer on the air. Doan notes that the most unusual aspect to the announcement is that it's made so early; the shows won't be going off the air until the end of the year. As for replacements, there's a Jack Webb number that's slated to premiere in January; it doesn't even have a cast yet, but it does have a title - Emergency! And then there's the British import that NBC is hoping will be its answer to All in the Family. It's an adaptation of Steptoe and Son called Sanford and Son. I'd say those two turned out pretty well.
As far as movies this week, there are only two that Judith Crist has any time for - South Pacific on Born Free, Sunday on CBS, with a lot of lions.
ABC Wednesday night, with Mitzi Gaynor and Rossano Brazzi, making its network TV debut, and
And seeing how dominant football is over Thanksgiving week, it's perhaps only appropriate that George Plimpton's series of ABC specials debuts on Friday night. Plimpton, who's best known for his seminal book Paper Lion, in which he details his adventures as a journalist going through training camp with the Detroit Lions, is at it again, this time with the Baltimore Colts. It's a fun special on its own, but at the same time kind of proof that you can't go back home again. When it comes to football and Plimpton, Paper Lion will be what everyone remembers.
I've had many things to say about living in the World's Worst Town™, but it does provide one with a different perspective when it comes to television, particularly shows that weren't available in our market, and we'll see an example of that this week.
All in the Family is on the cover, supporting a feature piece on star Carroll O'Connor. It debuted in January of 1971, and already it has become a national sensation, dealing with sensitive topics in a most unsensitive way, using frank language, and giving America a portrait of the family that is decidedly not that of Donna Reed and Father Knows Best. I was not yet 11 when the show premiered, but I remember liking it for the 18 or so months that it was on before we moved out of the Twin Cities in August of 1972 - as was the case with many viewers at that point in time, I failed to see that Archie Bunker was a character being satirized, and actually agreed with most of what he said. Because there was no CBS affiliate in that God-forsaken town, I would not see an actual episode again until returning to the Cities in 1978.
During that time, the Norman Lear-helmed sitcom solidifies its place as the nation's top-rated, and most talked-about, television show. But even though the show wasn't available to us, I was able to keep track of what was going on (thanks to TV Guide and the newspapers), so I had a very good idea of what was what. I learned more about the world, about politics, about how television shows had their own agenda. By the time we returned to civilization, I wouldn't have had anything to do with the show, and haven't to this day. I think it's a show that doesn't age well - it's not only dated, but polemic in a most unsubtle way, and it did the family unit no favors with its crassness. But, you see, I picked up most of that by reading about the show, rather than watching it. My opinion of the show, and my fervent hopes that another series would knock it off its #1 perch, were formed from a distance, yet it's as vivid to me as if I'd had the opportunity to watch every episode.
Those six years I spent in exile shaped my outlook on many shows of that era. Sometimes I mention it specifically in these articles, and other times it simply informs my writing. My image of ABC in the mid-70s, the years the network truly came to prominence, have been affected by not being able to watch them, sometimes creating a mystique about a certain series, other times causing me to somewhat underestimate a show's cultural impact. I missed many of the years in which CBS had its Saturday-night Murderers Row of sitcoms (including All in the Family, but also Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, and M*A*S*H, followed by Carol Burnett, but reading about them in the TV Guide each week lent Saturday nights an air of urbane, adult sophistication. Who wouldn't have wanted to live in the Newharts' apartment in Chicago, or next door to Mary's home near the lakes? Some of the shows had already premiered by the time we moved to the boondocks, but they reached their pinnacle while I was gone, and except for the times when we might be back in Minneapolis on vacation, they were lost memories.
I bring this up because I think the same thing can happen reading through the TV Guides from my youth, before I could appreciate what was actually on. I particularly like that word mystique, because it's easy to feel that way about shows one never saw. I've been able to track down a fair number of them through the years, the ones that particularly attracted my attention when I read about them, or that I had had a vague memory of having seen, and while many of them are quite good, a good number of them are less than that. Which proves that the Golden Age wasn't all golden, that the memory can play tricks on you, and that older isn't necessarily better. But you know what? I don't think I would have had it any other way.