“No raucous invasion of a Nation’s sadness at home.”

Business "as usual" in the NFL. Bears and Giants at Wrigley Field, Dec. 29, 1963.

Business “as usual” in the NFL. Bears and Giants at Wrigley Field, Dec. 29, 1963.

Shirley Povich was one of those scribes who took exception to the NFL playing two days later, on the Sunday following the Kennedy assassination. At half-time on Monday night, I heard University of Phoenix shill Jim Gray mention that the games were well-attended. It sent me to Povich’s withering criticism in the Washington Post of November 26, 1963, one of his finest columns, laid out with the deft, dispassionate and unerring rationale of a prosecutor:

Rozelle, in his decision to go on with the shows, said he was taking comfort in tradition. “The tradition in sports for all is to perform at times of great personal tragedy.”

He said there has been indeed a precedent for that, but mostly it has been in cases of grieving individuals, not as a league practice.

Harvard and Yale, with a tradition that makes a mockery of the ender roots of Rozelle’s league, refute him bluntly, if not by design. For the first time 88 years they suspended Harvard vs. Yale, unaffected by any feeling that the show must go on. That Harvard was the alma mater of President Kennedy may not have been a deciding factor in this tribute to him. Almost all of the other major games of the Nation were also canceled or postponed.

True, there were no telecasts of the NFL games on Sunday, no raucous invasion of a Nation’s sadness at home. But this was the decision of the networks, not of the league. Theirs was the taste to proclaim that this was no day for football carnival.

Even in Las Vegas, the new bastion of show business, there was no official sentiment that the show must go on. On Monday’s day of national mourning, all productions and gambling casinos, were ordered closed. Unlike business as usual in the NFL.

 

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