With 16 seconds remaining in what had already been a classic Elite Eight game between No. 1 North Carolina and No. 2 Kentucky this past Sunday, the unthinkable happened —a TV station cut away from the NCAA tournament.
For the thousands who were ready to explode following Kentucky’s Malik Monk’s game-tying three-pointer, or UNC’s Luke Maye hitting what’ll go down as one of the all-time greatest shots in Tar Heel history, CBS affiliate WBNS in Columbus, Ohio instead flashed a blank screen—for six minutes—for a tornado warning. Suffice to say, Twitter was not amused:
Several Ohio counties received the tornado warning, but those folks gladly would have rather watched the scintillating 16 seconds of March Madness glory before hunkering down in the basement or root cellar as any potential storm passed above ground. But instead, WBNS pulled the feed, followed by a less-than-endearing mea culpa:
We had a massive technical failure in the final seconds of the NCAA basketball game between the University of Kentucky and the University of North Carolina.
Once the situation was remedied we were under a tornado warning and lives were in danger. Upon the conclusion of the warning we aired the remaining minutes of the game.
We apologize for the inconvenience.
The similarities between this Elite Eight snafu and the infamous Heidi game are glaring. Forty-nine years ago, 65 seconds was all that stood between the New York Jets and a 32-29 victory against the Oakland Raiders. The game had drawn millions of eyeballs, who were all eagerly waiting to see the Jets win its fifth straight game when NBC, which aired the contest, switched to the TV adaptation of Heidi. The channel had planned to air the movie regardless of the game’s score, and so rather than watch the Raiders rally with a 43-yard touchdown pass (followed by another TD after the Jets fumbled the ensuing kickoff), viewers were treated to the story of an orphaned Swiss girl.
As SB Nation’s David Pincus recounted in 2009:
The network, bombarded with complaints and hate mail, issued a formal apology. Many fans were so irate at the discovery of what happened that they complained to the NYPD (since the NBC switchboards were still out). The gaffe made the front page of the New York Times, where Cline was described by David Brinkley as a “faceless button pusher in the bowels of NBC”; the New York Daily News covered it with the headline, “Jets 32, Raiders 29, Heidi 14.” … The fiasco brought many changes to football telecasts. The NFL now includes a stipulation in its television contracts stating that local games must be aired to their completion, regardless of what the score is. It’s also why paid programming or filler typically follows NFL broadcasts on Sundays, so as not to repeat the same mistake. NBC installed a phone in the control room to separate calls from irate customers and network executives; to this day, the phone is referred to as the “Heidi Phone.”