As a nation mourned the assassination of John F. Kennedy, former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle faced a monumental decision: Should the league play its games just two days later or suspend them?
The nation shut down following the death of the president as most Americans were glued to their televisions, much like what occurred after terrorists attacked this country on Sept. 11, 2001. Rozelle, who was 37 years old at the time, was forced to decide if the NFL should play its full slate of games or postpone those competitions out of respect for the dead president.
Rozelle, of course, chose to play the games, a decision that remains controversial half of a century later. Many players who played that day were later quoted as saying their hearts weren't into the games that day.
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Bob Costas examined Kennedy's assassination 50 years later on NBC Sports Network. Costas told the story from the perspective of the 1963 Dallas Cowboys during a program titled “No Day for Games: The Cowboys and JFK," featured interviews with former Cowboys players and front-office personnel.
“For a league that has no presence in Los Angeles, the Dallas Cowboys are as close to Hollywood as it gets,” Costas says in the opening of the show (via a press release). “But half a century ago for the Cowboys of 1963, it was fear – not football – that was on their minds.
“As symbols of the city where the President was murdered,” he continued, “the Cowboys soon found some of the nation’s anger directed towards them.”
Here are some highlights from the show:
THE NEXT GAME – TWO DAYS LATER
Dallas Cowboys at Cleveland Browns, Nov. 24, 1963
Lee Roy Jordan: “We were the team from Dallas, Texas. We were connected with killing the President of the United States.”
Dan Rooney on NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle’s decision to play games as scheduled: “He said that [White House Press Secretary] Pierre [Salinger] felt that Jack would have thought we should play. He would have wanted it that way for the nation.”
Costas on the team 24 hours after the assassination: “The Cowboys were headed to Cleveland where they discovered that, to many people around the country, the city of Dallas and anything that represented it was being held liable for the tragedy.”
Gil Brandt (Cowboys executive from 1960-89) on the team’s trip to Cleveland: “Everybody was told, ‘Go out and have dinner if you want, but don’t say you are from Dallas.’”
Pettis Norman: “I felt totally lethargic on how I would approach this game.”
Bob Lilly: “You’ve got your game face on by Sunday. That means a chip on your shoulder. And I didn’t have a chip on my shoulder that day. And I didn’t have my game face on.”
Just when you thought every angle associated with the assassination had been exhausted, Costas provided a unique view which shows how intertwined sports and “real life” can be during a tragedy.
It was interesting to see how Rozelle, who died in 1996, reached his final decision, and the aftermath. As we remember that tragedy from 50 years ago, Costas provided a fresh and engaging side story stemming from Kennedy’s death.
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