50 Years Ago Today

November 21, 2013 | Marty Mossa

“From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official President Kennedy died at 1pm Central Standard Time, that was 2pm Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.” (Walter Cronkite, 11/22/63 CBS Television Network).

This is my 300th blog I’ve written on WNST.net since I began in August of 2009. I can’t think of anything more fitting than to write about the biggest historical passion of mine; The Assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas.

11/22/63 12:30pmCST: “The President’s car is now turning onto Elm Street and will soon arrive at the Trade Mart. I was on Stemmens Freeway earlier, and the freeway was jammed packed with people waiting to see the president. Ah ah ah there appears to be something wrong in the motorcade, I repeat something has happened in the motorcade route. There are many people running up the hill along Elm Street. Parkland Hospital, there has been a shooting; Parkland has been told to stand by for a severe gunshot wound.” WFAA Radio Broadcast

12:31pmCST: “Going to Parkland, looks like the president’s been hit, put some men on the overpass, have Parkland standby” Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry

12:36pmCST: “Here is a bulletin from CBS news, three shots have been fired at president Kennedy’s motorcade in Dallas, Texas, UPI reports the wounds for President Kennedy perhaps could be fatal.” Walter Cronkite

12:45pmCST:” Two shots rang out and he fell on Jackie and she yelled my God he’s been shot” Mary Moorman/Eye Witness 11/22/63

1pmCST: “Ladies and gentlemen the President of the United States is dead. John F. Kennedy has died of the wounds he received in an assassination attempt less than an hour ago. It has just been announced that the President is dead.” CBS Radio 11/22/63

The assassination of President Kennedy on Friday, November 22, 1963 came as a “surgical” shock (Don Garner/ABC Radio) across America. It hit the United States like nothing since Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Hawaii unprovoked. The ambush on Elm Street in Dealy Plaza in Dallas affected every aspect of American society.

The great white way of Broadway shut down with all shows postponed. In Boston, the Symphony Pops announced to a stunned audience that the President of the United States was the “victim”of an assassination. The country came to a sudden halting stop.

6pmEST/Washington, DC: President’s casket arrives at Andrews Air force Base. “This is a sad time for all people, this is a loss that can’t be weighed, for me this a deep and personal loss.” Newly Sworn In President Lynden Johnson.

The New York Stock Exchange STOPPED. All regularly scheduled programming on ABC/CBS/NBC was preempted in lieu of wall to wall coverage of the Dallas aftermath. From a physiological stand point; the country was devastated.

How did the events of November 22, 1963 affect the sports world? Well as mentioned in my previous blog; the 1963 Army/Navy game was postponed for a week. The regular November 30, 1963 game was played on December 7th after much back and force by the Defense Department.

As President Kennedy’s body was being autopsied at Bethesda Naval Hospital in suburban Washington, DC; some colleges played ball. While the president’s body was laying in state at the White House on Saturday, November 23, 1963, more colleges played games.

11/23/63 4:30amEST:”The hearse I believe it’s a gray hearse, now the casket has been removed from the hearse into the White House. John F. Kennedy has come home; he quoted Robert Frost, I have promises to keep and many miles before I sleep. And with that. this is Sid Davis (sobs) reporting from the White House.” Sid Davis CBS Radio

It seems though that the brunt of the attention fell on the NFL who played all its scheduled games on Sunday, November 24, 1963. While the late president’s body was being transferred from the White house to the Capitol Building, the NFL games where up and running.

On Friday the 22nd, then NFL commissioner the late Pete Rozelle labored over whether to play the games two days later. While the Baltimore Colts were in flight to Los Angeles to play the Rams; Mr. Rozelle was in contact to his formal college classmate Pierre Salinger (President Kennedy’s press secretary) to help get a directive on whether to play. Salinger talked the commissioner to commence with the games.

Pete Rozelle weighed his options. Football it was thought could offer a diversion to a grieving country in shock. During World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt encouraged baseball to continue with its schedule. Could playing football games two days after the assassination be viewed as a lack of respect? Such owners like Art Modell, whose franchise then played in Cleveland, were one of the first to call the commissioner. “I told him, ‘Pete, I want you to cancel Sunday’s games,” He said. “I tried to impress on him the need to cancel our games. He said, ‘Let me think about this.”’ Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers also called quickly. “I thought we shouldn’t play,” Rooney said. “Pete said, ‘we’ve got it under consideration.” (http://onlineathens.com/stories/112303/spo_20031123065.shtml)

Although the American Football League decided to cancel their games, the NFL went on. “AFL Commissioner was out of town, assistant commissioner Milt Woodard was in charge of the AFL office in New York. He moved swiftly when he learned of the president’s death, contacting Foss and the league’s owners, then announcing the postponement of the Sunday schedule.” (http://onlineathens.com/stories/112303/spo_20031123065.shtml)

Meanwhile, many of the NFL players were at the games physically but not mentally. While Lee Harvey Oswald was being shot on live TV on NBC; the Browns were beating the Cowboys, the LA Rams beat the Baltimore Colts.

11amCST Dallas, Texas: “Now the prisoner is wearing a gray sweater, he is being moved out toward an armed car, being lead out by Captain Fritz, (HONK) there is the prisoner, do you have anything to say in your defense (BANG), there’s a shot, Oswald’s been shot, an ambulance has arrived, they are carrying in a mobile stretcher, Oswald has been carried back into the hallway, here is young Oswald now, he appears dead, and there goes the ambulance.”Ike Pappas/WNEW

The bottom line was that the NFL played to then season record crowds. Perhaps people needed an outlet and wanted to try to forget what had happened at least for three hours. Although Commissioner Rozell called this the biggest mistake of his tenure as the NFL Chief; it was later learned that Bobby Kennedy the US Attorney General and president’s brother later thanked some Philadelphia players for playing the games to help America to heal and get back to some sort of normalcy.

Tomorrow I will hang my flag at half staff to commemorate the day that changed America forever.