Reusse: Everything stopped but the NFL following JFK assassination

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 21, 2013 - 11:56 PM

Pete Rozelle called it his biggest regret as commissioner.


The Vikings’ Paul Flatley, catching a key pass against the Lions, said he’s heard that JFK press secretary Pierre Salinger gave his blessing to play.

Photo: john Croft • Star Tribune file,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

The original Midway Stadium was located east of ­Snelling Avenue, down the rise from Hamline ­University. The Vikings used the St. Paul facility as their practice home throughout the season during Norm Van Brocklin’s tenure (1961-66) as coach.

Friday practices were always short. On Nov. 22, 1963, the team’s young trainer, Fred Zamberletti, finished his work by 12:30 p.m. and drove south on Snelling, to make a stop at the Montgomery Ward store.

“I pulled into the parking lot and heard on the radio that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas,’’ Zamberletti said. “I walked inside and the customers and salespeople were all in front of the TVs.’’

It would be an hour before Walter Cronkite would make his famous announcement on CBS that President Kennedy was dead.

Zamberletti was a 31-year-old who had grown up in small-town Iowa. He can still choke up a bit when talking about the assassination 50 years later.

“We had that dream — with a young president, his beautiful wife, young kids, with the energy that came through when we heard him speak,’’ Zamberletti said. “We believed things were going to get better. Civil rights, equal opportunity … we believed in those things.” He paused and said: “That was a sorrowful day.’’

The nation’s confusion in that grave moment ­trickled down to the sports world. What should be done with the events (mostly football) ­scheduled for the weekend?

There were three headlines above the fold of the sports front in the next morning’s Minneapolis Tribune:

“Gopher Game Postponed to Thursday Morning.’’ “Mr. Kennedy, Participant, Avid Fan, Close Friend of Athletics.’’ And, most memorable, ­“Sunday’s Viking Game ‘On.’ ”

Joe Foss, the Marine flying ace of World War II, was the commissioner of the four-year-old, eight-team American Football League. He was quick to postpone the four games scheduled for that weekend.

Pete Rozelle, in his fourth year as commissioner, did not do that in the NFL. He declared that the seven games in his 14-team league would be played on Sunday. Rozelle later would call it the most regrettable decision of his three decades as commissioner.

Did Salinger give the green light?

“What we’ve heard more recently is that Rozelle went to Pierre Salinger, JFK’s press secretary and a friend of Pete’s from college, and asked what he should do,’’ Paul Flatley said. “And Salinger told him to play the games.

“What did I think? I was just a rookie with the Vikings. When the Dutchman [Van Brocklin] said, ‘Play,’ I played.’’

Zamberletti said the ­players’ compliant attitude toward playing two days after the ­murder of a president requires this perspective:

“Those players were the sons of the ‘Greatest Generation,’ the men who won World War II for us. We grew up in the ’50s to have blind obedience to authority.’’

The Detroit Lions were the opponents for the 1:35 p.m. kickoff at Met Stadium on Nov. 24. They were 4-6, with an earlier 27-10 thumping of the Vikings in Detroit, and the third-year Vikings were 3-7.

“We would stay in this low-priced motel out by the ballpark on Saturday nights,’’ receiver Jerry Reichow said. “We were walking through the little lobby to the bus, and glancing at the TV, and somebody said, ‘Hey, did you see that? Somebody just shot that guy.’ ”

The somebody was Jack Ruby, and that guy was Lee Harvey Oswald, JFK’s ­assassin.

“We had seen a lot of people die on television in cowboy and gangster shows, but we never had seen someone actually get shot in real time, in front of our eyes,’’ Zamberletti said.

Flatley said that was all ­anyone was talking about in the locker room before the game — Ruby shooting Oswald.

“And then Van Brocklin came into the room and gave us hell, as only he could do,’’ Flatley said. “He was yelling, ‘Forget about that stuff; start thinking about the Lions, you bleepity-bleeps.’ ”

CBS had made a decision not to televise sports that weekend. Stadium music was a minor issue in 1963, but the Vikings chose to play none. The St. Louis Park Parkettes, the high school cheerleading group, did not appear at the game.

“The Lions were more a veteran team and they didn’t bring much that day,’’ Zamberletti said. “Our players were younger, they had won only three games, and they had Van Brocklin screaming at them. Our guys played our rear ends off.’’

The Vikings still trailed 31-27 in the final four minutes, when quarterback Fran Tarkenton mustered a 68-yard drive ­featuring Flatley, the receiver from Northwestern who would be selected as UPI Rookie of the Year.

Flatley caught passes of 31 and 35 yards on the drive. Tommy Mason scored the winning touchdown, backing into the end zone from 2 yards.

“There really wasn’t much of a celebration,’’ Flatley said. “The crowd was smaller (28,763) and it had been silent for much of the afternoon.

“Remember, the fans were far away from the football field in that ballpark. I’ve talked to people who were at the game and told me they could hear the offensive and defensive signals all afternoon.’’

JFK’s funeral was held the next day in Washington. “John-John saluting the casket,’’ Zamberletti said. “That’s what I can’t forget. Broke our hearts.’’

Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


NY Yankees - LP: M. Pineda 0 FINAL
Toronto - WP: D. Hutchison 2
Detroit - LP: M. Scherzer 3 FINAL
Chicago WSox - WP: C. Sale 6
Chicago Cubs - WP: F. Doubront 5 FINAL
St. Louis - LP: J. Masterson 1
Cincinnati 1 Bottom 4th Inning
Pittsburgh 3
Minnesota - K. Gibson 6:05 PM
Baltimore - C. Tillman
Philadelphia - J. Williams 6:10 PM
NY Mets - B. Colon
Miami - J. Cosart 6:10 PM
Atlanta - A. Harang
Boston - A. Webster 6:10 PM
Tampa Bay - J. Odorizzi
Cleveland - T. Bauer 6:10 PM
Kansas City - J. Shields
Detroit - K. Ryan 6:10 PM
Chicago WSox - C. Bassitt
Texas - R. Ross Jr. 6:10 PM
Houston - S. Feldman
Colorado - T. Matzek 7:10 PM
Arizona - V. Nuno
Chicago Cubs - T. Wada 7:15 PM
St. Louis - M. Gonzales
Los Angeles - Z. Greinke 7:40 PM
San Diego - I. Kennedy
Milwaukee - M. Fiers 8:05 PM
San Francisco - J. Peavy
Oakland - J. Samardzija 8:05 PM
LA Angels - C. Rasmus
Washington - S. Strasburg 8:10 PM
Seattle - R. Elias
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Connecticut 10
(6) Jacksonville St 7 FINAL
(8) Michigan State 45
Bowling Green 31 FINAL
Western Ky 59
TX-San Antonio 27 FINAL
Houston 7
Colorado State 31 FINAL
Colorado 17
Arizona 58
Penn State 26 FINAL
UCF 24
Troy 10 FINAL
UAB 48
Virginia 20
Western Mich 34 FINAL
Purdue 43
(5) Ohio State 34 FINAL
Navy 17
Appalachian St 14 FINAL
Michigan 52
Ga Southern 23 FINAL
NC State 24
Boston College 13 3rd Qtr 8:43
Massachusetts 0
West Virginia 10 2nd Qtr 1:57
(2) Alabama 17
Rice 10 2nd Qtr 2:33
(17) Notre Dame 21
(10) South Dakota St 10 3rd Qtr
(24) Missouri 21
Fla Atlantic 7 2nd Qtr 3:45
(22) Nebraska 24
California 24 2nd Qtr 1:01
Northwestern 7
Marshall 28 2nd Qtr 3:10
Miami-Ohio 3
UC Davis 0 2nd Qtr 9:19
(11) Stanford 14
Arkansas 14 2nd Qtr 10:55
(6) Auburn 21
(16) Clemson 4:30 PM
(12) Georgia
Liberty 5:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Ohio U 5:00 PM
Kent State
Louisiana Tech 6:00 PM
(4) Oklahoma
Idaho 6:00 PM
Stephen F Austin 6:10 PM
(20) Kansas State
Fresno State 6:30 PM
(15) USC
Southern Miss 6:30 PM
Miss State
Texas-El Paso 7:00 PM
New Mexico
North Texas 7:00 PM
(1) Florida State 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State
(14) Wisconsin 8:00 PM
(13) LSU
South Dakota 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 9:30 PM
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
SMU 9/6/14 11:00 AM
North Texas
Fla Atlantic 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(2) Alabama
Buffalo 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(24) Missouri 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(8) McNeese State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(22) Nebraska
Central Mich 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Akron 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Western Ill 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(14) Wisconsin
(20) Kansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
(4) Oklahoma 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky 9/6/14 11:00 AM
SC State 9/6/14 11:30 AM
(16) Clemson
Navy 9/6/14 12:00 PM
UAB 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Miss State
South Alabama 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Kent State
New Mexico St 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Colorado 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Fresno State 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(1) Eastern Wash 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(25) Washington
(15) USC 9/6/14 2:30 PM
(11) Stanford
Ohio U 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Middle Tennessee 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Northern Ill 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Missouri State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Ball State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Maryland 9/6/14 2:30 PM
So Florida
Eastern Mich 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Georgia Tech 9/6/14 3:00 PM
(18) Ole Miss 9/6/14 3:30 PM
Old Dominion 9/6/14 5:00 PM
NC State
(8) Michigan State 9/6/14 5:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Arizona State 9/6/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico
Louisiana Tech 9/6/14 6:00 PM
San Jose St 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(6) Auburn
East Carolina 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Duke 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Idaho 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(17) Sam Houston St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(13) LSU
Michigan 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
Lamar 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(21) Texas A&M
Northwestern St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
BYU 9/6/14 6:30 PM
Citadel 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(1) Florida State
San Diego St 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Virginia Tech 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(5) Ohio State
Memphis 9/6/14 9:00 PM
(7) UCLA
Colorado State 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Air Force 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Oregon State 9/6/14 9:30 PM
Texas Tech 9/6/14 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Colorado 0 2nd Half
Seattle 0
New England 4:00 PM
Toronto FC
Columbus 6:30 PM
FC Dallas 7:30 PM
Real Salt Lake 9:30 PM
San Jose
Portland 9:30 PM
Vancouver FC
Ottawa 10 FINAL
Montreal 20
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Brt Columbia 9/5/14 6:30 PM
Calgary 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Saskatchewan 9/7/14 3:00 PM
Chicago 6:00 PM
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters



Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis Noon
Sep 14 - vs. New England Noon
Sep 21 - at New Orleans Noon
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pm
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pm
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit Noon
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo Noon
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay Noon
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon




question of the day

Poll: How many fantasy football teams do you draft?

Weekly Question