The Greatest Game Ever Played (Live Sports Era Blog Post)

12 Nov

The Greatest Game Ever Played

By: James Cleary

Way back in 1958, there was a game played that would be remembered for a very long time for its thrilling content. This game, known as “The Greatest Game Ever Played”, had a first for the NFL when the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants went into the NFL’s first ever sudden death overtime in a playoff game. When you think about it, this isn’t really as exciting as it was back then, seeing as it is not uncommon for NFL games today to go into overtime. However, back in those days, overtime games were not common, and to see a playoff game go into sudden death overtime was truly incredible for the NFL.


Since the beginning of the 1950’s, pro football had been on the rise in popularity. This was especially true in the end of the decade. By the 1960’s, pro football was, and to today still is, America’s favorite sport. Much of the sudden love for football back then came from one particular game. On December 28, 1958, in a cold Yankee Stadium, the 9-3 Baltimore Colts and the 9-3 New York Giants met in the NFL championship to determine who was on top of the pro football world.  NBC covered the game on national television, announced by Chris Schenkel and Chuck Thompson. However, an incompetent NBC employee knocked out a cable during the sudden death overtime period. After being out for almost 5 minutes, NBC finally was back on the air, incredibly in time for the next play.


The 1958 NFL Championship featured 15 future Hall of Famers, including legendary quarterback Johnny Unitas and wide receiver Raymond Berry, and 3 Hall of Fame coaches, including then offensive and defensive coaches for the New York Giants Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry. The game also featured its share of mistakes, including six lost fumbles, missed field goals, interceptions, and conservative play-calling. Because of its Hall of Fame standouts and its sudden death overtime, the 1958 NFL Championship would be infamously known as “The Greatest Game Ever Played”.


The game began sloppy for both teams. Turnovers were constant all throughout the game. Legendary Baltimore quarterback Johnny U fumbled the ball when he was strip sacked by future Hall of Fame linebacker Sam Huff. The next play, Don Heinrich, quarterback for the New York Giants, was strip sacked by another future Hall of Fame defensive player, this time Gino Marchetti of the Baltimore Colts. The first quarter didn’t go so well from there. Johnny U was intercepted, the Giants were forced to punt after no movement of the ball, and after getting the ball to the Giant’s 28 yard line, Baltimore’s field goal was blocked. At the end of the first quarter, the score was 3-0 Giants with plenty of turnovers.


The second quarter did not get any better turnover-wise, however points began to appear on the board. After more fumbles by both the Giants and the Colts, the Colt’s running back, Alan Ameche, ran the ball 2 yards into the endzone for the game’s first touchdown. The Giants were about to retaliate when they fumbled again at the Colt’s 10 yard line. Johnny Unitas then marched the Colt’s offense down field and threw one of the many infamous “Johnny Unitas to Raymond Berry” touchdowns. The half ended with the Colts winning by 11, the score being 14-3.


After a failed halfback option by the Baltimore Colts to open the 3rd quarter, the momentum took a huge reversal in favor of the New York Giants. The Giants went down the field 95-yards and ran it in for 6 to cut the lead to 14-10. After a rather turnover-quiet 3rd quarter, the Giants scored another touchdown after 2 big completions, including a 46-yard pass to the TE and a 15-yard TD. The Baltimore Colt’s got into field goal range two drives in a row, coming up empty in both attempts. The score remained 17-14 New York.


Johnny Unitas, staring down defeat square in the eyes, came up with one of the greatest drives in history to put the Colts in field goal range, where they tied the game with 7 seconds left. This drive has been mimicked quite often since then, and now has a common name: the two-minute drill. With the score 17-17 at the end of regulation, the 1958 NFL championship went into sudden death overtime. This was the first time an NFL Playoff game had gone into overtime, though nowadays it isn’t uncommon. Bert Bell, the NFL commissioner of the time, had just applied the rule of sudden death overtime for playoff games, specifically for this game.


The first coin-toss ever for an overtime game was held at midfield, with the New York Giants winning the toss. After forcing New York to punt, Jonny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts put on a drive that would go down as one of the all time best in the history of the NFL. Alan Ameche, on third down from the 1-yard line, powered his way into the endzone, and “The Greatest Game Ever Played” finally came to an end. The Baltimore Colts emerged victorious from the heavyweight fight of an NFL championship, with the final score of 23-17.


The 1958 NFL Championship will forever be recognized as, not only one of the greatest games of all time, but one of the most innovative. This game helped produce such football staples as the two-minute drill and sudden death overtime, as well as some of the greatest plays and drives in NFL lore. “The Greatest Game Ever Played”, aside from featuring so many future Hall of Famers, was the game that really got the NFL popular in America. If not for this game, the National Football League would not be where it is today, standing as the United States’ most popular and well known sport.




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