NFL and the Kennedy Assassination

November 19, 2010 | Marty Mossa

“The president’s car is now turning onto Elm Street and it will be a matter of minutes before he arrives at the Trade Mart, I was on Stemmons Freeway earlier, and the even the freeway was jammed packed with people waiting their turn to see the president.  There appears that something has happened in the motorcade route.  People are running up the hill along Elm Street.  Parkland Hospital, there has been a shooting, Parkland Hospital has been advised to stand by for a “severe” gunshot wound..  I repeat, there has been a shooting in ther motorcade route, perhaps one or all in the vehicle have been hit.”  “AP is reporting that the president’s wounds could be fatal.” (CBS News 11/22/63)  “Two priests have said that the president is dead.” (NBC Radio, 11/22/63)  From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official, President Kennedy died at approximately 1:00pm Central Standard Time, that’s 2:00 Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago…”  (Walter Cronkite, CBS News, 11/22/63)  Monday Novemer 22, 2010, marks the 47th annaversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas.  The United States and the entire world was in total shock.

While ambulance driver Aubrey Rike was assisting the removal of President Kennedy’s body from Dallas’ Parkland Memorial Hospital  for its journey back to Washington and Lydon Johnson was awaitng Federal Judge Sara Hughes to swear him in; decisions were being made world wide in regards as what to do about scheduled events.  Most all public activities planned for that weekend before Thanksgiving in 1963 were postponed.  The Yale and Dartmouth game was cancelled.  The great white way of Broadway went dark as all the shows were cancelled.  The Metropolitain Opera House in New York postponed all its show.  The young American Football League postponed their games as well.  But then NFL Commissioner Peter Roselle decided to continue with its regular season games.  Two days after that infamous Friday, Sunday, November 24, 1963 was a dark and solemn day.  President Kennedy’s body was being moved from the White House to the rotunda of the U.S. Capital Building.  Accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was murdered by Jack Ruby in front of a live NBC television audience.

While this was being played out in Washington, and Dallas, the NFL continued their normal Sunday schedule (there were no Thursday, nor Monday night games in 1963).  The schedule was as follows:







Baltimore Colts @ LA Rams














Dallas Cowboys @ Cleveland














49’s @ Green Bay Packers














Cardinals @ New York Giants














 Bears @ Pittsburgh














Lions @ Minnesota









“Many NFL players were bitter that Pete Rozelle ordered the games to be played as Kennedy’s body lay in state in the U.S. Capitol. “Worst mistake Rozelle ever made.” says Hall of Fame linebacker Sam Huff. Over the years, few have disagreed with that view.” (Sports Illustrated, November 1993).  But Roselle did not make this decision with haste.  Rozelle himself said in 1989 that he “struggled” mightily with this decision.  It was one that had to be made quickly.  Many teams left for their road games on Fridays back then.  He said that some teams were sitting in air planes ready to take off.(Mental Floss/Ethan Trex/2/09).  He consulted Kennedy/Johnson Press Secretary Pierre Salinger, who thought that the games should be played. “Absolutely, it was the right decision.” said Salinger who thought it would be a good idea to play.  He and the Kennedy family felt that the country needed some “normalcy” on a day that was far from normal.   (Sports Illustrated, November 1993) 

The Dallas Cowboys had an away game against the Browns.  “In Cleveland,  Brown’s owner Art Modell fearing that someone might try to seek revenge on the visiting Cowboys, ordered extra security for Dallas owner Clint Murchison .” (Sports Illustrated, November 1993).  Players and other team personnel were asked questions like “where were you this Friday?” (11/22/63) It was as if those team members from Dallas took part in or could have prevented the assassination.

During the 1964 preseason, former Attorney General and presidential brother Robert Kennedy visited the Philadelphia Eagle’s locker room.  “He came into our locker room,” says Hill, “and went around shaking our hands. He said he appreciated us playing the games that weekend.” (Sports Illustrated, November 1993)

Rozelle frequently said that his largest regret was not canceling the NFL games the Sunday after the President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.  And for that, he spent “a week getting lambasted in the media for allowing the games to go on.” (Mental Floss/Ethan Trex/2/09)