NFL Commissioner's Decision to Play Games After JFK Assassination Biggest Regret of Career
Two days after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated 50 years ago, the NFL decided to play all seven of its games in a move Commissioner Pete Rozelle would later say was the big the biggest mistake and regret of his career.
The upstart AFL had canceled its games. Many college football games were canceled the day before. For instance, fans of Ohio State and Michigan found out hours before kickoff on Saturday morning that their famed rivalry game would not be played.
But Rozelle, after consulting with his friend White House Press Secretary Pierre Salinger, decided to play the games on Sunday.
"It has been traditional in sports for athletes to perform in times of great personal tragedy," Rozelle said then. "Football was Mr. Kennedy's game. He thrived on competition."
Dan Rooney of the Steelers and Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers had asked Rozelle not to the play the games, but they ended up supporting Rozelle's decision once it was made. Rozelle may have also been lucky because Dallas and Washington had scheduled games on the road that weekend.
"Absolutely, it was the right decision." Salinger told Sports Illustrated in 1993, a decade before his death. "I've never questioned it. This country needed some normalcy, and football, which is a very important game in our society, helped provide it."
Robert F. Kennedy also reportedly told NFL players in 1964 that it was the right decision to play the games that Sunday, but that did not make Rozelle's decision any less controversial.
Before the games kicked off, Lee Harvey Oswald was shot, and he was pronounced dead before the subdued and somber slate of games concluded.