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The Greatest NFL Game Ever Played

The day was Dec. 28, 1958 - almost 41 years ago. The site was Yankee Stadium. The matchup in the NFL championship game featured the Baltimore Colts against the New York Giants.

The Colts had a potent offense with quarterback Johnny Unitas, Alan Ameche at fullback, Lenny Moore at halfback, Raymond Berry at end, and Jim Parker at tackle. Baltimore's defensive line showcased defensive tackle Art Donovan and end Gino Marchetti.

The Giants had halfback Frank Gifford, tackle Roosevelt Brown, and middle linebacker Sam Huff. The assistant coaches were Vince Lombardi on offense and Tom Landry on defense.

A Pat Summerall field goal got the Giants off to the early lead, but the Colts in the second quarter recovered a fumble by Gifford and, five plays later, fullback Alan Ameche scored from the 2-yard line. At halftime it was 14-3 Baltimore.

Late in the third quarter, the Colts seemed primed to score again. It was first down at the Giants' 3-yard line, but the Giants held. The defensive stand gave new life to the Giants. QB Chuck Conerly led them 95 yards, hitting Gifford early in the fourth quarter with a 15-yard touchdown pass. Summerall's extra point made it 17-14 in favor of New York.

Late in the period the Giants tried to kill the clock. Facing third-and-4 at their 40-yard line, they handed the ball to Gifford. The first to hit him was Marchetti. The last was Gene (Big Daddy) Lipscomb, Baltimore's giant defensive tackle who also fell on Marchetti's right leg, breaking his tibia. To this day, many Giant players argue the ball was improperly spotted during the effort to get Marchetti medical attention. They swear Gifford made that first down. The referee said otherwise.

"I'd be lying if I said I knew whether he made it," said defensive tackle Art Donovan. "But I don't think he did.

New York punted, and the Colts got the ball at their 14-yard line with 1:56 remaining.

"When we got in the huddle," Berry said later, "I looked down the field and the goal posts looked like they were in Baltimore."

With the Giants guarding the sidelines, Unitas passed up the middle - 11 yards to Moore, then 3 times to Berry for a total of 62 yards. Steve Myrha's 20-yard field goal tied the game with seven seconds remaining forcing the first sudden death overtime in NFL championship history.

The Giants got the ball first in OT but the Colts shut them down. Unitas went to work again. He hit Berry for 21 yards on third-and-15; he audibled to a draw play when he saw Huff dropping back, and Ameche ran for 23; he hit Jim Mutscheller at the 1-yard line.

Finally, at 4:51 P.M., Ameche bulled into the end zone. The call by Bob Wolff: "The Colts are the world champions. Ameche scores,"the image of the "The Horse," Ameche lying on the grass, the official signaling the touchdown, the fans storming out onto the field - all are now part of NFL legend and lore.

The final score was Baltimore 23, N.Y. Giants 17.

Donovan, who grew up just a few miles from Yankee Stadium, was upbeat in victory.

"My mother had a party in the Bronx a few days later," he recalls. "The only people who came were me, my mother, my father, and my sister. All my uncles and cousins were Giants fans."

Though the game was blacked out in New York, a very large audience had tuned in nationwide. That overtime nail-biter showcased what the National Football League had to offer. And there are many who maintain that not only was it the NFL's "Greatest Game" - it also put the league on the major league track for good.

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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

About the Author:

Harvey Frommer is in his  38th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to acclaim in 2011.  The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

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Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

 

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