Fifty years since "Greatest Game Ever Played"

Mon Dec 22, 2008 2:13pm EST
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fifty years ago the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts took the NFL title game to sudden death and launched pro football on a ride to the top of U.S. sports with what came to be known as "The Greatest Game Ever Played."

The golden anniversary of that 23-17 upset win on December 28, 1958 by a Colts team led by young quarterback Johnny Unitas has inspired a passel of books this holiday season, a television retrospective and musings on how far football has come.

"A crowning moment at the right time," Pro Football Hall of Fame spokesman Joe Horrigan told Reuters about the 1958 title contest in a telephone interview from Canton, Ohio. "It lifted the game to new heights."

Television networks saw football's potential as entertainment on the small screen, entrepreneurs figured there was room for expansion and the game went on a dizzying growth spurt that matured into a business with $7 billion in revenues last year.

"That was the game that definitely put professional football on the map," Super Bowl champion coach Tom Coughlin of the Giants said in an ESPN show in which modern-day Giants and Colts reflected on the game with men who played in it.

That contest showcased 15 future Hall of Famers, including Baltimore's Unitas, wide receiver Raymond Berry and running back/receiver Lenny Moore, and New York halfback Frank Gifford, linebacker Sam Huff and defensive end Andy Robustelli.

Baltimore coach Weeb Ewbank, who later led the underdog New York Jets to a 1969 Super Bowl triumph over the Colts, also ended up in the Hall, as did the Giants' offensive and defensive coordinators Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry.

The see-saw struggle at Yankee Stadium produced the first "fifth quarter" in pro football, which ended with fullback Alan Amache's one-yard plunge into the end zone, and coincided with the blossoming of television.   Continued...