Daryle Lamonica, known to many as “The Mad Bomber” during his days as a deep-throwing quarterback with the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills, completed 164 touchdown passes during his 12-year NFL career, but almost nobody saw his most famous.
Lamonica, who died in his sleep at his home in Fresno, California. Last Thursday at the age of 80, he launched the last of his four touchdown passes to beat the New York Jets with 42 seconds remaining on November 17, 1968, but NBC, which televised the game nationally, had decided to cancel the finals of the game 65 seconds to anticipate, so that the popular children’s film “Heidi” could start as planned at 7 p.m. in the East.
A field goal by Jets kicker Jim Turner had given New York the lead in a slugfest, 32-29, with 1:05 to play. NBC executives in New York and California decided to continue broadcasting until the end of the game, but were unable to communicate this change of plan to NBC technicians at their Master Control Studio because the phone lines were busy with people calling to find out when the movie would start. As far as the technicians knew, that was 7 p.m. because they had been previously instructed to anticipate the end of the game in favor of “Heidi.”
By the time viewers in New York and across the country returned from a commercial break after the Jets took the lead, the silver-and-black-clad Lamonica was gone, replaced by a Swiss kid walking through the mountains in a dirndl. Bad idea.
Under normal circumstances, it might not have been a problem for NBC, but there was little that was normal about this game, the Raiders of that era, or Lamonica. The Mad Bomber had more than enough time to complete three passes, two of them for touchdowns. The first was called back for a penalty, resulting in Jets cornerback Johnny Sample smugly telling Lamonica, “Nice try. Good luck next time.”
Little did he know that “next time” was only two games away.
After a 20-yard completion plus a 15-yard penalty against the Jets, Lamonica fell back and launched a 43-yard scoring strike on Raiders’ halfback Charlie Smith, who had hit a backup safety and gone deep as is trademark of Oakland was an insult in those days. And they weren’t done yet.
With no one but the 53,318 crowd watching at the Oakland County Coliseum, the stunned Jets fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the ball spun wildly to the two-yard line before Oakland’s Preston Ridlehuber picked it up and ran into the end zone for the Raiders. second result in nine seconds. When Jets fans in New York learned that Oakland had returned and won, a result unwisely released during the “Heidi” show, they flooded NBC’s switchboard with angry shouts of protest so loud they turn off the phone system.
NBC would issue a public apology the next day and the now infamous “Heidi Game” prompted the NFL to negotiate a contract change with its broadcast partners whereby all games would be shown in the visiting team’s market until they were completed. Daryle Lamonica had just changed how pro football games were broadcast, although he had no idea this was the case.
Scroll to Next
Lamonica’s final bombshell of the day sparked an historic shift in sports television, but more than his four touchdown passes (including throws from 43 yards to Smith and 48 to tight end Billy Cannon) happened that afternoon. The Raiders and Jets of the time had a violent rivalry that boiled over in the first half. There was fighting, flags, wild punches, an ejection from Jets safety man Jim Hudson, and a slowdown in the game that didn’t make the 4 p.m. EST game start quite enough time to get Heidi on America’s television sets at 7 p.m bring because there were 31 incomplete passes, 19 penalties, Hudson’s ejection and both teams used all six of their timeouts, meaning the clock had an inordinate amount of stoppages.
There was more downtime than action that day, but when the action started it was hot and intense, just as it would be again when the two teams met six weeks later in the 1968 AFL championship game in a rematch that would define , who would go to Superbowl III.
Lamonica rushed for 401 yards and a touchdown that day, but Joe Namath led the Jets to a 27-23 win and set up the Jets’ 16-7 win over heavily favored NFL champion Baltimore Colts in what was considered by many to be the second most important game of the season NFL before history because it created a competitive balance between the nascent AFL and the established NFL.
A year later, the Mad Bomber struck again, throwing a then-remarkable 34 touchdown passes, including six in the first half of a game against the team that brought him to Oakland, the Buffalo Bills. In case anyone thought that was an aberration, he threw six more later in the season in a playoff game against the Houston Oilers.
Designed in the 24thth round of calculations and 12th Round from the Packers in 1963 (the two leagues did not have a common draft until 1967 after an agreed merger that would begin in 1970), Lamonica chose the Bills because he believed his chances of getting a starting job in Buffalo were better as you would face off against Green Bay’s Bart Starr, who led Vince Lombardi’s dynasty in the 1960s. He was half right.
Lamonica never beat Bills quarterback Jack Kemp, but he showed enough to convince Raiders owner Al Davis to trade for him ahead of the 1967 season. Lamonica would take over at quarterback and lead Oakland to a 13-1 record and the AFL championship with 3,228 yards and 30 touchdowns. Ironically, Oakland would lose to Starr’s Packers 33-14 in Super Bowl II.
Lamonica was the perfect passer to lead Davis’ offense, which believed in the fast shot and deep ball. Davis adapted the passing game he learned as an assistant coach under Sid Gillman at the Chargers and created what is known as vertical passing, which means getting the ball deep into the field as often as possible.
It was Howard Cosell who first referred to Lamonica as “The Mad Bomber” during a Monday night football show in the early 1970s, and it stuck with good reason. In the New York Times obituary following Lamonica’s death last week, rival quarterback Len Dawson, who often opposed Lamonica during Dawson’s days leading the Kansas City Chiefs offense, said, “You called him right. He went back and dumped the ball. He went all out on every play.”
Lamonica never made it into the Hall of Fame, but was twice named a first-team All-Pro, won two AFL Player of the Year Awards (1967, 1969) and posted a remarkable 66-16-6 as a starter (with just four of them) . Wins come in Buffalo) averaging a notable 14.9 yards per completion, good for 19,154 passing yards and 164 TDs. None of those other 163 touchdowns matched the one nobody saw after Heidi replaced Lamonica everywhere except where it counted most — in the Raiders’ passing pocket, which dropped one last bomb.