When Landon Donovan scored in the 91st minute of the USA's world cup game against Algeria, he may have started a revolution. Donovan and this moment in USA soccer may come to share a place in history with events that occurred in Yankee Stadium on December the 28th, 1958.
On that day the New York Giants faced off against the Baltimore Colts in the 1958 NFL Championship. As many a wise sports fan knows, the game was a classic. The event became a turning point in the popularity of the NFL.
Much like the USA's dramatic victory in extra time, the 1958 NFL Championship was decided in overtime.
After the Giants received the overtime kickoff they were quickly forced to punt. Future Hall of Fame legend Johnny Unitas led the Colts on a 13-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in a one-yard touchdown run by Alan Amache. The Associated Press' famous photograph of the game-winning touchdown has become one of the best-known photographs in history. The game itself is regarded as the greatest football game ever played and has been the subject of numerous documentaries and best-selling books .
An estimated 45 million Americans watched the drama unfold in the Bronx that day. Suddenly football was a sport that captivated television audiences. Television executives quickly realized that their new medium blended perfectly with the sport of football. Americans, drawn into the drama of the Championship game, quickly developed an affinity for the game of professional football.
Within one year the rival American Football League, or AFL, would be formed to meet the expanding demand of the football loving public. In 1961 Congress passed the Sport Broadcasting Act , which effectively granted an anti-trust exemption to the NFL to bargain with television networks on behalf of all their teams. Such a drastic act of Congress would not have been possible without the growing popularity and new revenue potential of professional football. Professional football's heyday had arrived in America.
Now the original "football" may have officially arrived in America.
There can be little disagreement that Americans were already showing more interest in this World Cup then in any previous. 17 million people watched USA's opening game against England (about the same amount who watched Game Six of the NBA finals). While certainly a competitive game, USA/England's unrewarding finish could not match the drama of Wednesday's final opening round game.
Wednesday, like all those years ago in Yankee Stadium, was filled with high drama and a fantastic finish. The greatness of soccer was on display for a nation to watch Wednesday morning. Millions gathered around TV sets to watch the drama unfold. Frustrated by missed opportunities and crippling bad calls, America's attention was engaged like never before. With Donovan's goal a collective shout of exuberance echoed from a nation now aware of soccer's ability to create a powerful mystique.
Somewhere Alan Ameche and Johnny Unitas smiled in recognition, and the popularity of soccer in America may very well have changed forever.
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