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Amid tragedy of JFK's assassination, NFL games still went on

| Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, 10:36 p.m.
Former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, sitting between George Halas (left) and Lamar Hunt, let the NFL games go on in the wake of President John F. Kennedy's assassination. Halas' Bears and the Steelers tied 17-17 on Nov. 24, 1963, at Forbes Field. *

Forty-eight hours after President John F. Kennedy was slain in Dallas, the NFL kicked off a seven-game schedule before some of its biggest crowds of the 1963 season.

Pete Rozelle later called his decision to play games as Kennedy lay in state to be the worst mistake he made as NFL commissioner. Steelers owner Art Rooney was among those who lobbied strongly for games to be postponed.

But the NFL didn't stand alone in its decision to keep playing. The NHL and NBA also played games, and at least 34 college football games went on as scheduled the day after Kennedy was assassinated. Only the American Football League fully shut down, postponing its four-game schedule.

In Dallas, only miles from the shooting, some high school football games were postponed, but numerous others were played Friday night, hours after Kennedy was slain.

N.C. State declined to call off its Friday night game against Wake Forest — the kickoff was about seven hours after Kennedy died — with chancellor John T. Caldwell saying, “I deeply believe President Kennedy would have wanted the game to go on.”

The NBA called off its Friday games, but there were two Saturday — Knicks 108, Pistons 99 in New York; Hawks 133, Royals 121 in St. Louis. On Sunday, the Royals beat the Hawks, 122-113, in the second game of a home-and-home before a crowd of 5,650 in Cincinnati.

The NHL, with only six teams at the time, played Saturday and Sunday. “Hockey Night in Canada” went on as scheduled Saturday with Toronto beating Boston, 4-1. The Bruins' home game against Detroit the following night was called off, but two U.S.-based games went on. Chicago beat Montreal, 7-3, and Toronto tied the New York Rangers, 3-3.

Most major college football games were postponed, including Pitt vs. Penn State and West Virginia vs. Furman, yet nearly three dozen games went on.

At Lincoln, Neb., jubilant Nebraska fans stormed the field to celebrate after the Cornhuskers upset No. 6 Oklahoma, 29-20, to clinch an Orange Bowl bid. And No. 9 Auburn beat Florida State, 21-15.

Rozelle said he received “90 to 100” phone calls protesting the decision to play — one made, he said at the time, “because football was Mr. Kennedy's game. He thrived on competition.”

Rozelle attended the Giants' 24-17 loss to the Cardinals at Yankee Stadium, then said, “I cannot believe playing the game was disrespectful.”

Eagles players voted to donate $50 each to the widow of slain Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit before a 13-10 loss to Washington.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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