In 1989, the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals faced off in Super Bowl XXIII in Miami, Florida. Like most Super Bowls, the broadcast of the game reached far and wide. NBC held the broadcast rights to the Super Bowl, and an estimated 81.6 million people watched the game — and a bevy of 30-second commercials costing roughly $675,000 each — throughout the country and the world.
Most of those viewers were treated to an incredible game. With just over three minutes left on the game clock, the 49ers — lead by Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana — were trailing, 16-13, with the ball on their own eight yard line. The Niners marched down the field and, as seen above, and with only 34 seconds left on the clock, Montana threw a game winning touchdown to Pro-Bowl wide receiver John Taylor, giving San Francisco a 20-16 victory.
But some viewers had a different experience.
Century Southwest Cable, an NBC affiliate with, at the time, 100,000 or so customers in West Los Angeles, had an interruption which, unlike the six-figure ads, was unplanned, unanticipated, and unwelcome. During the first half of the game, per the AP, the theme song from The Jetsons started playing as an unauthorized audio message ran over the live action (and announcers). Two men, identities unknown, began talking about Bill Rosendahl, a vice president at Century Southwest. (Rosendahl was probably well known in the community; he had a weekly television show where he interviewed community leaders.) Per the JTA, one of the men then said “This is Century Southwest Cable with Bill Rosendahl. There are too many [expletive] Jews in the entertainment industry.” At that point, the other man told “Bill” that they had to cut him off “because you can’t say those things on TV.” And there, the hijacked broadcast ended, retiring viewers to the game’s official one.
The FBI was called in to investigate, especially given the large Jewish population in Century Southwest’s broadcast area — and because the next day, a (false) bomb threat was called into Century’s offices. But government and cable officials alike were stumped. The station’s studio was vacant throughout the broadcast and weekend, and the cable company’s broadcasting equipment was not tampered with. Rosendahl — the real one — told the JTA that “the piracy probably came from ‘a transmitter that beamed to our antenna’,” which would hardly be a pedestrian occurrence, especially for 1989.
The perpetrators — and their motive, other than ones implied by their stated message — were never uncovered.
From the Archives: O Say Can You Sync?: Why the National Anthem at the Super Bowl is lip-synced.
Related: “The Ultimate Super Bowl Book,” at least according to the book’s title. 12 reviews, each of five stars, so maybe the title is right.