Today is the 50th anniversary of the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.

Three-quarters of the people in this country today are not old enough to remember the tragedy, but Baby Boomers forever will recite where they were and what they were doing when they got the news from Walter Cronkite.

Two days after the assassination — the day before the president was buried in Arlington National Cemetery — the NFL went ahead with its full schedule of seven games. The decision was made by NFL comissioner Pete Rozelle and it haunted him for the rest of his days.

“Whether it was the right call, I can’t say,” said former Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy Wednesday. “We were devastated by what occurred, but there has to be some notion that the country can recover.”

Joe Kennedy was JFK’s nephew. His father was Robert Kennedy, the president’s brother and the attorney general of the United States. Joe Kennedy has never been bitter about the NFL’s decision to play on the weekend of his uncle’s assassination.

“I was a 12-year-old boy,” said Kennedy. ”I was standing next to my father at our home in Hickory Hill (Va.) that afternoon when he took the call. We went outdoors and played football. In some ways, that was how we dealt with it. We went right out and started tossing the ball around.”

While Bobby Kennedy consoled his family and waited for Air Force One to arrive from Dallas, Rozelle reached out to his college classmate (University of San Francisco) Pierre Salinger, who was JFK’s press secretary. Rozelle said Salinger told him the president would have wanted the games to be played.

Former Patriots general manager Upton Bell, who was working with the Baltimore Colts in 1963, believes Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom also was involved in the decision.

“Rosenbloom and my father (Bert Bell, who was NFL commissioner before Rozelle) were friends and neighbors in Atlantic City,” said Bell. “Rosenbloom was also a friend of Joseph Kennedy (the president’s father).”

Most NFL games were scheduled to kick off less than 48 hours after the president was killed. Neither the Washington Redskins nor Dallas Cowboys were home on the weekend of Nov. 24. This made it easier for Rozelle to blunder.

The Cowboys went to Cleveland to play the Browns. Dallas players said bellhops at their Cleveland hotel turned their backs on the team.

Before the game on Sunday, Dallas coach Tom Landry was diagramming plays on a chalkboard in the visitors locker room at Municipal Stadium when a security officer came into the room and told the team that Lee Harvey Oswald, the man charged with assassinating the president, had been killed while being transferred to a Dallas jail.

In an interview with USA Today, former Cowboys boss Gil Brandt said Landry “kept on writing, only as Tom could, very concerned but not letting anybody else know he was concerned.”

At the urging of Browns owner Art Modell, the visitors were introduced to the Cleveland crowd as “the Cowboys,” rather than “the Dallas Cowboys.”

The Browns defeated the Cowboys, 27-17. Dallas quarterback Don Meredith completed 13 of 30 passes for 93 yards and was intercepted four times and later told the Dallas Morning News, “I remember we were in no frame of mind to play a ballgame.”

It was the same in Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Green Bay, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and New York. None of the games was televised.

Covering the Giants and Cardinals at Yankee Stadium (a game attended by Rozelle), New York Herald Tribune columnist Red Smith wrote, “In the civilized world, it was a day of mourning. In the National Football League, it was the 11th Sunday of the business year, a quarter-million dollar day at Yankee Stadium.”



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