As a nation mourned the assassination of John F. Kennedy, former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle faced a monumental decision.
Kennedy was riding in a motorcade on November 22, 1963, and as his car passed the Texas School Book Depository, the president was struck in the neck and head by bullets. He was pronounced dead at 1 p.m.
The nation shut down as most Americans were glued to their televisions, much like what occurred after terrorists attacked this country on September 11, 2001. Rozelle, who was 37-years old, was forced to decide if the National Football League should play its full slate of games and possibly give the nation a boost, or postpone those competitions out of respect for the dead president.
Bob Costas will examine Kennedy's assassination 50 later on Wednesday, November 20th, at 11 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Costas will tell the story from the perspective of the 1963 Dallas Cowboys during a program titled “No Day for Games: The Cowboys and JFK", which will feature 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 provides a unique view which shows how intertwined sports and “real life” can be during a tragedy.
It will be interesting to see how Rozelle reached his final decision, and the aftermath. As we remember that tragedy from 50 years ago, Costas will seemingly provide a fresh and engaging side story stemming from Kennedy’s death.
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