February 10, 2012

Notice anything strange about this?

In case you're thinking that I just can't get enough of old football video, you're probably right.  Today's clip is from a 1963 game between Nebraska and Oklahoma, who were forming a bitter rivalry that would captivate the football nation for probably close to thirty years, and is pretty much dead now that the teams aren't in the same conference.

Now, while the game itself was interesting enough (Nebraska wins 29-20, clinching an Orange Bowl birth), what is most interesting about the whole thing is the date.

November 23, 1963.

In the wake of the Kennedy assassination, it's hard to believe that anyone's minds could have been on the game that day. As a matter of fact, considering that most games that day were cancelled (including the Harvard-Yale game, as well as the entire AFL slate of games on Sunday), one wonders why it was even played. Was this an example of insensitivity to the Kennedy name?*

*I believe that William Manchester mentions that Dallas high schools went through with their regular football schedule that Friday night.  That seems beyond insensitive.  But then again, it was Dallas.

According to the fine Nebraska football site Huskermax, the decision to play was not an easy one and came with significant misgivings:
Friday night, university officers and officials in both states conferred at length. They were counselled by the NCAA and the Big 8 officials. Neither state nor school wanted to play the game because of the national tragedy — but Oklahoma had a game the following week, and Orange Bowl officials were on hand and needed to know about a representative, the game was a sell-out and thousands of people had traveled into Lincoln, TV staffs were on hand.

Finally, late Friday night, it was the decision of all officials concerned that the game be played. However, all pre-planned festivities were canceled and the huge crowd stood in silent tribute to President Kennedy prior to the kickoff. Flags were at half-staff.
There are a few things I don't know about this game. For one thing, was the telecast shown live or was it taped to be shown at a later date? I don't suggest that the commentary was dubbed later - I'm sure that the game was at least taped live. But one of the reasons I ask is that there seem to be no references whatsoever to what had happened the day before (DISCLAIMER: I haven't watched the entire broadcast, so I could easily have missed something). We don't see the moment of silence prior to the kickoff, so it may have been edited out of the broadcast or it may just be missing from the exerpt we see here.  We don't see a close-up of the flag flying at half-staff, and the announcers don't seem to be wondering if the players have been distracted by the continuing events in Washington and Dallas. Again, it may be in a part of the broadcast that I haven't seen.

Regardless, I think this is an interesting piece of cultural history. In a weekend that was marked, in terms of television, by massive disruption, here is an example of people trying to carry on as if everything was normal. Whether or not that was the right decision, the ghosts in the stadium are overwhelming. TV  

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