Book Excerpt

Rain Check

How a powerful television executive wanted to make history
 

On the morning of the 1973 Sugar Bowl, Roone Arledge walked into the ABC production trailer outside Tulane Stadium, dropped his rain-soaked umbrella on the floor and approached Andy Sidaris with an agonized expression.

“I wonder if we can postpone this thing?“ he said frantically.

Sidaris looked at his boss like he had lost his mind. “Postpone it? What do you mean, postpone it? You really think we could do that?“

For weeks, Sidaris and his crew had been preparing for the national championship showdown between unbeaten, first-ranked Alabama and unbeaten, fourth-ranked Notre Dame. The historic first meeting between the tradition-rich programs loomed as a landmark event, a clash of enormous talent, will and ghosts lurking in the shadows.

But with only a few hours remaining before the New Year’s Eve kickoff, the area around the ancient bowl was a dark, dank mass of puddles, umbrellas, and drenched television people. The field was soaked. “It was coming down in buckets,“ recalled Sidaris, the veteran college football director. “I was just glad I had a dry place to sit.“

Weather forecasters offered little hope, casting a dark cloud over the most anticipated bowl game ever, a confrontation some folks had been waiting for since the early days of radio.

For Arledge, the near mythic figure who had rewritten all the rules of sports television, the obvious solution was to put the game off for a day or two.

“I couldn’t believe it,“ said Sidaris, a laid-back California dude with a gold chain dangling from his neck. “Roone was dead serious. He started talking about how this huge game between these giant programs should not be played in such bad weather. He said he thought [the teams] would go for it—if ABC thought it was a good idea.“

Did ABC really had that kind of influence? To postpone the Game of the Century? No way. Not even ABC could pull that kind of string, especially given the tens of thousands of fans whose attendance was complicated by jobs, lives, and hotel considerations, to say nothing of the impact on the teams. Can you imagine that conversation with Bear Bryant and Ara Parseghian?

But Arledge thought, if only for a few crazed moments, that his network could sell the game’s organizers on the unthinkable, which reflected the increasingly symbiotic relationship between television and the bowls.

Arledge didn’t act on his brainstorm, the weather slowly improved and the Sugar Bowl went on as planned. Even though the field was wet and slippery, Notre Dame’s 24-23 victory over the Crimson Tide, which vaulted the Fighting Irish to the AP national championship, would go down as one of the most memorable games in college football history.

 

EXCERPTED FROM THE FIFTY-YEAR SEDUCTION BY KEITH DUNNAVANT, PUBLISHED BY ST. MARTIN’S PRESS, COPYRIGHT 2004. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

 

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