Cardinals assistants Tom Moore and Tom Pratt are two of the longest-tenured coaches in the NFL, each in their 35th year.
Back in 1963, though, they were still in the early stages of their careers. Pratt was in his first season with the American Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs. Moore was stationed in Korea as a lieutenant in the Army, coaching the First Cavalry Division’s football team.
On Nov. 22 of that year, they received the news that shook the country: President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated by a sniper in his motorcade in Dallas, Texas.
There has been debate in subsequent decades about the role of football after tragedies, and if the games scheduled two days after Kennedy’s death should have been postponed. The AFL canceled its weekly schedule, while the NFL played on.
The Cardinals, then located in St. Louis, went on the road and defeated the New York Giants, 24-17, that Sunday. NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle struggled with the decision but followed through with the games on the advice of Kennedy’s press secretary, Pierre Salinger. In subsequent years, he came to regret the move, calling it his biggest mistake as commissioner.
The reaction was mixed, although those who opposed playing the games had stronger feelings. Former Bears safety Rosey Taylor told The Advocate of Baton Rouge he didn’t enjoy competing that Sunday in a 17-17 tie against the Steelers.
“It was a terrible game, a game with no energy,” Taylor said. “I was a guy who loved hitting the field and playing, but I personally just wasn’t in the mood for football that day.”
Even though Moore was not coaching professionally, he faced a similar situation in the Army.
Fifty years after Kennedy’s death, Moore and Pratt looked back on the weekend which forever changed the course of American history:
azcardinals.com: Do you remember where you were when you heard the news of the assassination?
Moore: Very vividly. I was sleeping kind of lightly and I had the radio to the Armed Forces of America station. I remember about 4:30 in the morning I was half asleep and I thought I heard them say the president had been assassinated. That kind of startled me and woke me up. They came back on and (confirmed) he had been assassinated. In Korea, because of the time difference, that was 4:30 Saturday morning.
Pratt: Oh yeah, absolutely. (Moore) and I have lived long enough that we have been through some of those things that never leave your mind. 9/11, Kennedy assassination. When you’re reminded that (the anniversary) is coming up, all the thoughts come back. I was really in my first year of coaching professional football. We had moved the team from Dallas to Kansas City. That was the first year of the Chiefs. There were a lot of Dallas players on the team and a lot of Dallas people that were associated with the team. It really hit home harder to them because it was in their city. We had just finished our meetings and were getting ready for practice about 1:30 in the afternoon. Somebody came in and told us that he had been shot. They didn’t report his death until a little later. It shocked everybody, how that kind of thing could happen. Of course everyone was kind of curious about how it happened and all that and we got some details. And then we went ahead and practiced in the afternoon. We were getting ready to play the Jets, I think, and it was an away game.
azcardinals.com: How was the determination made on whether or not to play football?
Moore: We were supposed to play a game that Saturday, and I know the officers in charge at the divisions huddled around and ultimately we decided to play the game. Should we play? Shouldn’t we play? I think they felt because we had all these gentlemen over there away from their families that it might be better to have some kind of organized activity type thing to help them through it. But it was a very, very sad moment and a very, very tragic moment. It was interesting to see the reaction of the troops. They were just in kind of a state of shock that something like that could possibly happen.
Pratt: As the day went on, the discussion was whether we would play the game or not. Probably everybody was of the mindset that, hey, let this thing cool down and let’s get everybody to absorb what happened. We can surely do without a football game this weekend. I believe all the games were canceled, if I’m not mistaken.
azcardinals.com: Was that the right decision?
Moore: We were all over there without our families. We were kind of each other’s family. Back in the states, the people had their children, families and wives to be with. Over there, it was us against the rest-of-the-world type thing. I think it was definitely the right thing to do over there because it kind of gathered all the troops up in one common place. There was some kind of an outlet. They could lean on each other. I really think it was the right thing to do, particularly in that situation.
Pratt: As I remember it, it was kind of one of those things: Are we or aren’t we? I don’t think there was any hesitation on the parts of players or coaches to put it off for a week. It’ll be fine. It’ll still be here and people will still be interested.
azcardinals.com: What are your feelings now when you look back?
Moore: It’s such a tragedy, such a waste of human life. It’s tragic. Any murder is tragic. It just gets magnified because it’s the President of the United States of America. Any murder is tragic.
Pratt: It’s the President. He’s our leader. For something like that to happen was just tragic. Later on Reagan was shot. Bobby Kennedy was assassinated the same way. Those were hard times. It was a shock to everybody and we went through the grieving period, the funeral, saw all that happen, and it’s a memory that’s always there. You can’t erase that from your mind. You can picture the whole thing. I can still see going back to the dressing room with the players. They all couldn’t believe it.