No, the game was not broadcast in Washington. In a story the morning of the game, Dec. 31, 1972, The Washington Post wrote: “CBS television is transmitting the game to 210 stations around the country and Puerto Rico, Canada, Hawaii and Mexico — but not to Washington.”
In another story that day, The Post’s Ken Denlinger wrote: “NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle re-emphasized the league’s television blackout policy yesterday and said the closest station carrying the game would be WMAR-TV, Channel 2, in Baltimore.”
Answer Man is sure plenty of Redskins fans spent the day crimping tinfoil around the rabbit ears of their TV sets, hoping to pull in a ghostly signal from Baltimore.
The television blackout rules back then were incredibly restrictive. NFL games could not be shown within 75 miles of the home market. The league argued that if games weren’t blacked out, fans would stay home, especially if the weather was lousy on game day, even if they had already bought tickets.
Baltimore is within 75 miles of Washington and, indeed, this became an issue the next season. Edward Bennett Williams, president of the Redskins, said the team had no objection to WMAR showing some of the games. After initially hinting that WMAR could show some Redskins games in 1973, the NFL changed its mind.
“We [the NFL] are well within our rights to order the blackout by the Baltimore station,” the league’s Robert N. Cochran told a Post reporter a few days later. “Nor are we going to listen to fan mail saying, ‘I want this’ and ‘I want that!’ . . . In this society, people are always wanting to get something they shouldn’t necessarily have to get . . . they’re so spoiled.”
What refreshing candor, even if it is exactly the sort of thing that drove fans crazy. Among those fans was President Richard Nixon. He reportedly requested that the blackout rules be examined.
A House subcommittee surveyed fans, who were almost universal in their desire to see more football on TV. One Chicago Bears fan wrote Congress: “Good football will sell tickets regardless if home games are televised or not. If your product is bad, you might lose season ticket-holders; however, every business must face the same problem.”
In 1973, the blackout rules were loosened slightly. If a game was sold out within 72 hours of kickoff, the local TV station could show it. That is basically what is in place today, though the FCC is currently reviewing the blackout rules. Today, of course, television provides much of the NFL’s revenue, 80 percent by some estimates.
Television blackouts “are totally counterproductive to building a fan base,” said Brian Frederick of the Sports Fans Coalition, the advocacy group that pushed the FCC to reexamine the rules. “If they’re worried about empty stadiums, lower the ticket prices
As for that 1972 NFC championship game, it was a magical day for the 53,129 souls lucky enough to be in RFK.
“On a gray but surprisingly warm afternoon, the Redskins spread sunshine all over this long-losing town,” wrote The Post’s George Solomon. “Bill Kilmer threw two touchdown passes to Charley Taylor and regular-season whipping boy Curt Knight kicked a playoff record four field goals without a miss.”
The final score was 26-3.
Amazingly, even early Super Bowls were blacked out. Super Bowl VII at the Los Angeles Coliseum — where Washington lost to undefeated Miami after beating Dallas — was going to be blacked out in Los Angeles until commissioner Rozelle agreed to lift it on an “experimental” basis.
How can you see that Redskins-Cowboys game today? Barring the invention of a time machine, that’s tough. People didn’t have VCRs back then. And anyway, the NFL owns the rights to the broadcast. For $50, plus $8.50 shipping and handling, NFL Films will dub a 22-minute highlight reel onto a DVD. (Go to www.nflfilms.com for info.)
The fact that the Redskins’ 1972 NFC championship came after nearly 30 years of mediocrity ought to inspire today’s long-suffering fans.
Send your questions to email@example.com. For previous columns by John Kelly, go to postlocal.com.