Children cheer 'Heidi,' but football fans angry

United Press International

NEW YORK -- When Heidi, an orphan girl, first went to live with her granddad and goat herd in the Swiss alps, 98 years ago, little did she know she wouldn't live happily ever after.

That was before the birth of the American armchair quarterback. And that was before television.


For almost a century, children the world over have read with happy eyes Johanna Spyri's story of Heidi's sweet, simple life.

But when the small orphan stepped onto television screens across America Sunday night, millions of enraged adults, and some kids, booed.

They were angry because Heidi, tiny and blonde, knocked down their huge heroes -- fellows named Preston Ridlehuber, Daryl Lamonica, Joe Namath, Jim Turner, Charley Smith -- all large, grown men who make their living by running into each other.

It all started when the National Broadcasting Co. (NBC) cut off the last minute and five seconds of the Oakland Raiders-New York Jets American Football League game so a two-hour color special on Heidi could start on time.

At that point, New York led 32-29 and seemed assured of a victory with just 65 seconds left in the game.

But on came Smith, Lamonica and Ridlehuber to score two touchdowns in that brief spell to give Oakland a 42-32 win -- a win millions of television viewers from Denver all the way East didn't see.

While Heidi was leading the goat herd and Ridlehuber was toting the pigskin, millions of angry television fans were jamming switchboards at NBC, telephone companies and police stations wanting to know what happened.

What happened was that an unidentified "high official" in the NBC programming department decided that millions of children wanted to see Heidi, so the last 65 seconds of the football game were cut off. As it turned out, they were 65 of the most action-packed seconds of the football season.

Among the television fans who missed the final football minute was Julian Goodman, who said, "I missed seeing the game as much as anyone else." Goodman happens to be NBC president. He said Heidi pre-empted the Jets and Raiders because of the nation's children, not because Heidi's sponsor cost its sponsor $850,000 to produce.

"It was a forgivable error committed by humans who were concerned about the children who were expecting to see Heidi at 7 p.m.," said Goodman of the football cutoff.

"NBC made a mistake," said another network spokesman. "It regrets it deeply."

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