Colts-Giants: The Greatest Game Ever Played

chad lamasaCorrespondent IDecember 14, 2008

The first overtime game in NFL history featured 17 future Hall-of-Famers, between players, coaches, owners, and broadcasters.

My dad was 11 years old when this game was played. He told me that he didn't even watch the game on television. He went roller skating with his friends but listened to the game on the radio, from time to time.

This game has been the subject of many books (one of which my dad brought for me to read), articles, and television programs. There is no need for me to try to recap the game here.

ESPN aired a special about the 50th anniversary of the game last night. I watched the Capitals, because I  called my dad on Thursday to see if he wanted to come over and watch the special with me this morning, and I wanted to watch it for the first time with him.

They don't call ESPN the "Worldwide Leader in Sports" for nothing. This special was amazingly put together.

They matched up many of the surviving players with current players. Artie Donovan sat with Michael Strahan, Pat Summerall sat with Adam Vinatieri, Tony Dungy sat with Ray Berry, Lenny Moore sat with Brandon Jacobs, just to name a few.

It was very cool to watch the respect that the new guys had for the Hall-of-Famers and vice versa.

One of the neatest things was the fact that ESPN had the game colorized. Not in that terrible way they have used on classic movies in the past. The color was drab and dingy. It looked like it could have been filmed on some of the early color film and faded over time.

As stated in the special, much of the original broadcast footage had been lost, so they spliced together what they could, and used some still photos in between and players would comment on what was going on.

It was really great to sit with my dad and listen to him talk about this game and the Colts in general.

He told me he went to the 1959 Championship game with my grandfather, at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. In the rematch, the Colts dominated the game and won 31-16.

He also told me that his aunt went to the game in 1958. Afterward, she was riding the subway back to the train station, or the hotel, and she over heard a Giants fan exclaim that the Colts got lucky and she burst out laughing.

Apparently the Giants fan didn't appreciate that, and gave her a nasty look that made her a bit scared for the rest of the ride.

While watching the footage, several players commented on how poor the quality of the field was. I couldn't see a single blade of grass. It just looked like dirt. Players had a hard time getting traction on the field and many turnovers occurred.

One of the things that was discussed between the current and former players, was how the game was different then, but at the same time very much the same.

The main differences were the rules. For example, pass interference was called back then but it had to be very blatant. Not like today where if there is the slightest bump, a flag will be thrown.

There was a disputed third-down play in the third quarter, where a ball spot caused the Giants to miss a first down. Art Donovan said that he saw Frank Gifford in Baltimore last September, and he was still talking about that play 50 years later.

ESPN brought in a forensic mapper and reconstruction expert. They used a technique called photographic mapping to show that Gifford indeed came up short of the first down.

This game not only featured all those HOFers but also the birth of the two-minute drill.

My dad commented that is where Johnny Unitas was unsurpassed as a QB, and this drive made me understand why he said he that. Late in the game, the Colts were trailing 17-14 after being up 14-3. Unitas picked apart a very talented Giants defense and got the Colts into field goal range.

Steve Myhra was not a great kicker. When he came in, the Colts players were worried, but he made the kick to cause the first over time period in professional football history.

Apparently, during the overtime period, the television signal was lost. Someone had kicked out a cable. An NBC employee pretended to run on the field being chased by three policemen in order to delay the game until the feed was fixed.

On the final drive of the game, Unitas threw a dangerous pass to Jim Mutscheller, who ran out of bounds at the one. This play set up the game winning touchdown from Alan "The Horse" Ameche.

Mutscheller's reaction to seeing himself run out of bounds was kind of funny. He said "stay in bounds you stoop."

Pat Summerall called the play a "dangerous pattern."

If the ball had been intercepted, it would have been what we call today, a pick six. The Giants would have returned the ball 98 yards to win the game.

In the locker room after the game, Johnny demonstrated why he was one of the greatest players in the history of the NFL, quarterback or otherwise.

Dave Anderson, a reporter for the New York Times, asked Unitas, "Weren't you taking a chance on an interception?"

Unitas stared back with "his wonderful Unitas cold stare" as Anderson put it, and said, "When you know what you're doing, you don't get intercepted."

This game is responsible for the NFL the way it is today. Forty-five million people across the country watched the game on television, which was the largest audience for a football game at that point.

The game, however, was blacked out in NY. The owners were worried that TV would have taken attendance away from the stadium and hurt their box office.

The fact that this game put up a great rating made people realize that there was a lot of the country without a pro team, as there were only 12 teams at the time. This led to the formation of the AFL which merged with the NFL a few years later.

If you get a chance to watch this special, please do. And if possible, watch it with someone who got to experience it in 1958. This is a memory I will hold on to for a long time.


Photo above courtesy of AP images.