NFL – Throwback Thursday: Where Were You?

26 Oct

This week’s Throwback Thursday feature game was played on a Monday night, October 8, 1980 between a pair of clubs who meet on this week’s NFL slate. They are the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins.

If you’re as old as I am, you’ve witnessed a number of “where were you when you heard the news?” moments in your life. The Kennedy assassination, the space shuttle Challenger explosion and of course, the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This week’s feature game was one of those “where were you when you heard the news” moments for a lot of football fans. The game itself was not a very memorable one. The first 3 quarters were a boring field goal fest, with New England’s John Smith hitting a pair of three-pointers in the second quarter, and Miami’s Uwe Von Schamann matching him in the third quarter. Both clubs finally found the end zone in the final quarter. The Patriots took a 13-6 lead when Matt Cavanaugh found tight end Russ Francis open for a 38 yard touchdown pass. Then Dolphin QB David Woodley hooked up with Nat Moore from 8 yards out to tie the game.

The shocking moment then came after the telecast returned from a commercial break, with Smith taking the field to try a winning field goal with 3 seconds left. Then play-by-play man Frank Gifford implored his counterpart, Howard Cosell, that he had to let the viewing public know the news they had just confirmed. Cosell reluctantly agreed:

“Remember, this is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses. An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City: John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City — the most famous, perhaps, of all the Beatles — shot twice in the back; rushed to Roosevelt Hospital; dead on arrival. Hard to go back to the game after that news flash, which, in duty bound, we have to take.”

It was a terrible moment that gets permanently etched in your memory. Watching the game myself, I remember my first thought was “why the hell would anyone shoot John Lennon? He was all about peace and love.” Lennon was a friend of the Monday night crew, and especially Cosell, having been present at an earlier game in 1975 where Cosell interviewed him at halftime. It was reported by MNF producers later that the crusty announcer struggled to break the news as he was overcome with emotion.

For the record, Miami blocked Smith’s field goal attempt to send the game to overtime, and Von Schamann eventually won it 16-13 for the Dolphins with, of course, a field goal. John Smith had a 10 year career as the Patriots’ placekicker, but his name will be forever linked in my mind to that tragic announcement on a Monday night in December of 1980.


Howard Cosell interviewing John Lennon on MNF (11/20/75)


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