CBS reported yesterday that it received several thousand telephone calls protesting the cutoff of the telecast with 30 seconds remaining in the game at Philadelphia between the Atlanta Falcons and the Eagles on Sunday.
The network switched simultaneously to three other games just as Steve Bartkowski of the Falcons was intercepted by cornerback Richard Blackmore of the Eagles.
There was no explanation that the interception was nullified by a holding penalty against Blackmore on the play, or who won the game. In fact, a CBS sportscaster Curt Gowdy reported from the New York Giants game in Seattle that the contest in Philadelphia went into overtime, which it did not.
The Falcons won the game with seven seconds remaining on a 37-yard field goal by Tim Mazzetti.
Jay Rosenstein, director of press relations for CBS, said from New York City yesterday that the telecast was cut off at 3:58 Eastern Standard Time in New York, Dallas and New Orleans to show the Giant game in Seattle, the Cowboys in Oakland and the Saints in San Francisco, but the "NFL Today" program interrupted at 4:06 and showed a recapitulation of the finish of the Falcon victory, including the interception, the nullifying holding penalty, and the winning field goal.
Rosenstein noted that the controversy was the lead item during halftime on television at Seattle, "but six minutes (between the interception and the NFL Today explanation) was like an eternity to the viewers."
He likened the furor to that of the "Heidi" incident in 1968, when a game between the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders was cut off before an exciting finish to start a special.
The Falcon-Eagle game incident may grow in significance because the holding call against Blackmore conceivably could cost the Eagles the Eastern Division title in the National Football Conference, a home field advantage in the playoffs, and a week's rest while the four wild card teams play one another.
An NFL figure who was watching the Falcon-Eagle telecast said, "Blackmore was seen intercepting Bartkowski's pass and making a return cast, you were hit in the face during a tie game (17-17) withe three commercials and no explanations.
"Then there was an open shot of the stadium at Seattle, the national anthem, and an interview of Giant Coach Ray Perkins by Curt Gowdy and Hank Stram. The Giants-Seahawks kickoff was scheduled for 4:04, but was late. Nobody says what happened at Philly. They could have warned the audience that a 'live' cut to the Philadelphia situation was going to be shown."
Val Pinchbeck, director of broadcasting for the NFL, pointed out that since the first package sale of television rights to networks it was stipulated road games had to be piped back to the home areas of league members in their entirety, to keep faith with fans who bought tickets to home games.
He remarked that it is becoming harder for games to be finished within three hours since the revision of rules to produce more offense, passing and scoring -- plus occasional overtime games.
"Incidents like Sunday's are rare," he said, "but obviously if it starts to happen with any regularity, we'll have to make a change. CBS was obligated to leave the game in Philadelphia, but there was a five- to six-minute period at Seattle when something could have been said about the Philadelphia situation."