1958 NFL Championship Game

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Musing with Cecil Buffington HOME




I remember it like it was yesterday.  I was 13 years old. I thought football was the only reason a young man had for living.  The "star" players of that time ~ Y. A. Tittle, Norm Van Brocklin, Jim Brown, Don Bosseler, Sonny Jurgerson, Johnny Unitas, Charlie Conerly and Frank Gifford, were all bigger than life personalities to me.  I never missed an opportunity to watch them on my uncle's 13-inch television when ever I could. 

I don't remember alot about the pre-game hype before the 1958 NFL Championship game at Yankee Stadium.  I sure do remember the game.  It was truly the greatest game ever played.  An overtime game that has been the signature game for the NFL since the day it was played. 

Now as we prepare for another super-hype Super Bowl, most of which have been one-sided and anti-climatic, the memories of that amazing game come back to me.

The 1958 National Football League Championship Game was played on December 28, 1958 at Yankee Stadium in New York City. It was the first ever National Football League (NFL) playoff game to go into sudden death overtime. The final score was Baltimore Colts 23, New York Giants 17. The game has since become widely known as "The Greatest Game Ever Played". The game was the 26th annual NFL championship game. The game marked the beginning of the NFL's popularity surge, and eventual rise to the top of the United States sports market. A major reason was that the game was televised across the nation by NBC. Baltimore receiver Raymond Berry recorded 12 receptions for 178 yards and a touchdown. His 12 receptions are a championship record that stands to this day. I remember seeing Unitas motioning for Berry to go deeper before firing a pass to him somewhere during the game.

After the Giants scored first late in the first quarter with Pat Summerall's 36-yard field goal, a second quarter fumble by New York running back Frank Gifford set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Colts running back Alan Ameche. Gifford fumbled again later in the second quarter, and Baltimore converted that turnover into another touchdown with quarterback Johnny Unitas' 15-yard pass to end Raymond Berry to make the score 14-3 by halftime.

Then early in the third quarter, Baltimore reached the New York 1-yard line. But on third down, Ameche was stopped for no gain, and the Colts turned it over on downs after Ameche was tackled trying to go wide at the 5-yard line on a great play by linebacker Cliff Livingston, on a fourth down halfback option play. It was a huge reversal of momentum.

The Giants then went 95-yards in just four plays, scoring on a 1 yard touchdown run by Mel Triplett to cut the lead to 4, with a score of 14-10. The drive was highlighted by an unforgettable 86-yard pass play from deep within the Giants own territory at the closed end of the stadium: Quarterback Charlie Conerly threw to Kyle Rote downfield left-to-right across the middle where Rote then broke an arm tackle at about mid-field; then Rote fumbled when hit from behind, but NY Giant running back Alex Webster, who was trailing the play, picked up the ball and ran it all the way to the 1-yard line where he was knocked out of bounds.

The Giants then went ahead early in the fourth quarter with Gifford's 15-yard touchdown reception from Conerly. But with about two minutes left in the game, the Colts took over at their own 14-yard line and Unitas engineered one of the most famous drives in football history—a "2-minute drill" before anyone called it that—moving the ball all the way to the Giants 13-yard line. This set up a 20-yard tying field goal by kicker Steve Myhra with seven seconds left to send the game into overtime—the first overtime game in NFL playoff history. As Unitas later stated, the players had never heard of overtime before the game. "When the game ended in a tie, we were standing on the sidelines waiting to see what came next. All of a sudden, the officials came over and said, 'Send the captain out. We're going to flip a coin to see who will receive.' That was the first we heard of the overtime period." An NFL preseason exhibition game played three years earlier in Portland, Oregon had been settled by sudden-death overtime, but this was the first time an NFL game of any significance needed overtime to determine a winner.

In overtime, New York received the opening kickoff (which was muffed but recovered by the Giants) but was forced to punt. On their ensuing drive, Baltimore drove 80 yards in 13 plays (all called by QB Johnny Unitas) on a tired NY defense and scored on a 1-yard touchdown run by Ameche to win the game, 23-17. This drive is known as one of the best drives in NFL history.

During overtime, when the Colts were on the eight-yard line of the Giants, a fan ran out onto the field of Yankee Stadium, causing the game to be delayed. He was actually an NBC employee who was ordered to create a distraction because the national television feed had gone dead. The difficulty was the result of a pulled plug, and the delay in the game bought NBC enough time to fix the problem before the next play.

Scoring summary

NYG - FG Summerall 36 3-0 NYG 

BAL - Ameche 2 run (Myhra kick) 7-3 BAL

BAL - Berry 15 pass from Unitas (Myhra kick) 14-3 BAL

NYG - Triplett 1 run (Summerall kick) 14-10 BAL

NYG - Gifford 15 pass from Conerly (Summerall kick) 17-14 NYG

BAL - FG Myhra 20 17-17 TIE

BAL - Ameche 1 run 23-17 BAL

Players in the Hall of Fame

Seventeen individuals (including coaches and administration) who 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

Defensive Coordinator Tom Landry

Owner Tim Mara

Vice President / Secretary Wellington Mara

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

This game created alot of football fans.  It was pure competition between rough 'n tumble guys with over-sized salaries.  Johnny Unitas was reported to have an annual salary of over $ 100,000. 

They had baggy britches with thigh, hip and knee pads, high top cleats, a single face protector and a one-button on each side of the helmet chin-strap.  They didn't have that silly little check mark on their jersey or wear a scarf, head-band or use wrist bands.  Most had short hair and would sing along as the Nation Anthem was being presented.  They were proud to be a football player and spoke admirably about ownership and their country.   It was a time when pro-football was good for America. 

A "Game of the Week" came on television every sunday at 1:00 pm.  Usually in Jefferson it was the Redskins.  They were the "Local" team for the south at that time.

Now as we move on to Super Bowl XLV ( 45 ), I long for a game that can match that '58 game in suspense and drama.  Will that happen?  Probably not!

The 1958 NFL Championship Game.  Now that was really a SUPER-BOWL.


Musing with Cecil Buffington HOME