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And Another Thing


Timeout for a JFK moment

And now a timeout from sports, sort of.

(My Blob, my rules. Remember?)

And now a timeout, because 50 years ago today a man was shot to pieces in broad daylight in the middle of downtown Dallas, Texas, and we were never the same nation thereafter. And all these years down the pike, those of us who were old enough to process the moment commemorate it with a parlor game -- Where were you when you heard President Kennedy was assassinated? -- and if that's the natural reaction to the anniversary of any great historic turning, it's also flawed by the imperfect nature of human memory.

Where was I when I heard Kennedy had been shot?

I was 8 years old and on the bus home from Village Elementary, and all I remember for sure, 50 years along, is some kid's voice behind me saying "Hey, did you hear somebody shot Kennedy with a rifle?" Or words to that effect.

Aside from that, I can't tell you much. The curtain comes down. The years tumble and boil along. And the curtain becomes thicker and harder to penetrate with every one.

I vaguely remember going home and the TV was on and my mother was watching it, and I have this very hazy recollection of asking her what was going on. Even hazier is her response, which I don't remember anything of except that it was unsatisfactory to my 8-year-old's notion that there was a certain order to the world, or at least there should be.

(Odd, though, that I do remember with great specificity that the kid on the bus used the words "with a rifle." I don't know why that gets through the curtain, but it does.)

Aside from that?

Well, now I know that the NFL decided to play on, less than 48 hours after the president's head was blown apart, and that, much later, commissioner Pete Rozelle said it was the biggest mistake of his career. I know, because players at the time have said so, that hardly anyone wanted to play, and that it was an eerie experience, drained of any semblance of life or passion.

"You didn't hear anything," recalled Washington receiver Bobby Mitchell, in Charles Pierce's epic 2003 Sports Illustrated piece about that day. "I don't remember any noise from the stands, and in the pileups, where guys are always shouting and jiving, there was none of that. It was one play after another, trying to get the game done."

None of that registers for me now, and this time it's not because of imperfect memory. It's because CBS, the NFL network at the time, didn't air any of the games. They stuck with live coverage of the assassination and its aftermath, which is how a horrified nation watched Jack Ruby commit a lynching on national TV. That weekend was the birth of 24/7 news coverage, for better and for worse.

All I remember of it, through the curtain of years, is that our TV was pretty much on all weekend. And that someone had shot the President of the United States with a rifle. And that there was no certain order to the world, no matter what a certain 8-year-old boy believed.

Ben Smith's blog.