NFL plunged into greatness
The pro league went from diversion to pastime with the 1958 NFL Championship.
The final play of the most important game in NFL history: Colts back Alan Ameche runs through a gaping hole for a 1-yard touchdown..
By JOHN ROMANO
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2001
The National Football League was created in 1922. More than 36 years later, on Dec. 28, 1958, it came to life.
It was the Sunday after Christmas on a cold, cloudy day in New York. In baseball's most famed park, Yankee Stadium, professional football made its first real imprint on America.
The Baltimore Colts met the New York Giants in the NFL Championship, mirroring the cities in Sunday's Super Bowl XXXV at Raymond James Stadium. The Colts would win 23-17, but the NFL would reap most of the rewards.
A dozen Hall of Famers played in that game. Three more were on the sidelines coaching. It was the first overtime game in regular or post-season history in the NFL. Lenny Moore broke a rib and Gino Marchetti broke an ankle. As America watched in fascination on NBC, network executives began to realize the potential for the NFL on television.
"I think that particular game accelerated football into what it's become now," Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas said during celebrations for the 40th anniversary of the game in 1998.
Many participants agree the game was not the greatest ever played. It was just the most important.
Because of the setting, the time of year, the individuals involved and the dramatic outcome, it caught America's fancy. And for the first time, the NFL began to intrude on baseball's turf as the nation's pastime.
The Colts had the league's best offense and the Giants had the top defense. Baltimore had a 14-3 lead in the third quarter, but New York scored a pair of touchdowns to go up 17-14 in the final minutes.
The Giants were trying to run down the clock when Frank Gifford went around end on third and 4. Gifford, to this day, swears he made the first down easily. But the play ended in confusion with Marchetti breaking his ankle while making the tackle. When officials spotted the ball, the Giants were short.
New York punted and the Colts took over from their 14 with about two minutes remaining. Unitas hit Moore for 11 yards. He went to Raymond Berry on passes of 25, 15 and 22. A Steve Myhra field goal tied the score as time ran out. Overtime was not in the NFL rulebook during the regular season and the situation had never before arisen in the post-season.
When the logistics were sorted out, the Giants received the kickoff and went three-and-out. Back on the field, Unitas drove the Colts to the 1-yard line where Alan Ameche scored the winner over right tackle.
"The longer I live," Berry said in 1998, "the more amazed I am by what an absolutely special time it was."
-- Researcher John Martin contributed to this report.
Greatness begets greatness
Hall of Famers who participated in the 1958 NFL Championship Game:
(Player, Team, Pos, Inducted)
Raymond Berry, Colts, WR, 1973
Roosevelt Brown, Giants,T, 1975
Art Donovan, Colts, DT, 1968
Frank Gifford, Giants,HB, 1977
Sam Huff, Giants, LB, 1982
Gino Marchetti, Colts, DE, 1972
Don Maynard, Giants, WR, 1987
Lenny Moore, Colts, RB, 1975
Jim Parker, Colts, T/G, 1973
Andy Robustelli, Giants, DE, 1971
Emlen Tunnell, Giants, S, 1967
Johnny Unitas, Colts, QB, 1979
* * *
(Coach, Team, Title, Inducted)
Weeb Ewbank, Colts, Head, 1978
Tom Landry, Giants, Asst, 1990
Vince Lombardi, Giants, Asst, 1971
Today's Super Bowl story lineup