Thirty-two years ago, on today’s date, the real world and sports collided in a rather strange way.
The New England Patriots were playing the Miami Dolphins in the Orange Bowl on Monday Night Football. It was a tight game, tied at six going into the fourth quarter, and tied up again at thirteen-all with under a minute left in regulation. Near the end of regulation in a game that was vital to the AFC playoff picture, ABC News informed Howard Cosell, Don Meredith, and Frank Gifford that former Beatle John Lennon had been shot in the back and killed outside of his apartment in New York City.
There’s something you have to remember here: This was back in the days before internet, social media, cell phones, text messaging, E-mail, and just about every other form of instant communication that we have today with the exception of the telephone. Cable TV was still in its infancy, and most Americans didn’t have access to a 24-hour news network like we have entirely too much of today. Monday Night Football was the highest-rated show on at the time, and would get the news of Lennon’s death to the most amount of people.
An ABC reporter just happened to be at the hospital for a completely unrelated reason, and heard the words “John Lennon” and “shot” from down the hallway. That’s how ABC got the story first, and the ABC truck informed the crew in the booth that they had to announce what happened on air. After discussing the situation during a commercial, they decided that there was no good way to break the news, and just decided to come right out with it. Patriots kicker John Smith was actually lining up for a potential game-winning field goal (which he ended up missing) when Howard Cosell told the world about what he called “an unspeakable tragedy”.
Chances are that a story like that will never be reported to the public in the same way again.