Saturday, December 13, 2008

Colts-Giants the 'Greatest Game Ever?' Colts vs Giants at Ynakee Stadium, ESPN Saturday 12/13/2008

ESPN is airing a documentary on the 1958 New York Giants-Baltimore Colts NFL championship game that has been called the greatest game ever played. ESPN will broadcast at 9 p.m. Saturday in Hi-Def & Color

The game was played 50 years ago, on Dec. 28, 1958, at Yankee Stadium. It was the first, and only, NFL championship game to go into overtime. Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas led a score-tying field-goal drive at the end of regulation to make the score 17-17. Unitas then threw often to Raymond Berry while moving the Colts 80 yards. Alan Ameche scored the game-winning touchdown on a one-yard run.

There were 12 future Hall of Famers playing on a field that was covered in ice. Fans' breath on the cold day almost formed fog. It was a Sports Illustrated headline that first dubbed the game as the greatest ever.

As of 2007, 12 players and 3 coaches that were involved in this game are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They are:
New York Giants
OL Rosey Brown
HB Frank Gifford
LB Sam Huff
WR Don Maynard
DE Andy Robustelli
DB Emlen Tunnell
Offensive Coordinator Vince Lombardi (Mr. Green Bay)
Defensive Coordinator Tom Landry (Mr. Dallas Cowboys)

Baltimore Colts
WR Raymond Berry
DL Art Donovan
DL Gino Marchetti
HB/WR Lenny Moore
OL Jim Parker
QB Johnny Unitas
Head Coach Weeb Ewbank

It seemed like championship football the way it was meant to be played: raw, hard-hitting, wintry, tingling and filled with adversity for players and fans.
The game was watched by 45 million viewers on NBC, and witnessed live by 65,000 at the stadium. In those days, NFL salaries were relatively small and so were title game shares each Colt earned $4,718.77 and each Giant $3,111.33. So from January through July, NFL players were car salesmen, accountants, gym teachers, businessmen, whatever.

The game turned John Unitas into one of America’s best-known sports heroes. It was Unitas who led the tying drive in regulation and the final touchdown drive in OT. Not only did Unitas call all the Baltimore plays (quarterbacks mostly did in the those days), he went 26-of-40 for 361 yards. Twelve of those passes went to Berry, who gained 178 yards.

The Giants coaching staff featured two future icons of the game: Vince Lombardi on offense and Tom Landry on defense (and they lost). The head coach, Jim Lee Howell, was a caretaker who turned almost all decisions over to the aides who would win Super Bowls in Green Bay and Dallas.

There was even a Hall of Famer whose fame came much later: Don Maynard, a rookie kick returner for the Giants. “I caught the opening kickoff, so I was the first one to touch the ball” he laughs.

Maynard played only one year with the Giants. But he, Unitas and Weeb Ewbank, who coached the Colts, were also involved with the “second-greatest game ever played” — when the Joe Namath-led Jets, coached by Ewbank, upset the Colts in the third Super Bowl a decade later, establishing that AFL teams could play with the NFL.

Here's some of what Giants tight end, kicker and future broadcaster Pat Summerall had to say during an ESPN conference call this week. To call it the greatest game ever played? I don't think any of us realized it would be labeled that way.

The first time I heard it called that, it was a week later. But I was still dejected because we lost. The documentary is two hours long and well worth setting the DVR to record.

Bill Warner
Private investigator
"Giants Fan"
Sarasota Fl