A Date To Remember is an occasional series Big Blue View will be running through the Super Bowl, highlighting the glory of the Giants’ past and celebrating the biggest playoff wins in franchise history.
The Greatest Game Ever Played
Dec. 28, 1958
NFL Championship Game
Colts 23, Giants 17 (OT)
Two titans playing for the championship in front of a national television audience.
An NFL title game that came down to sudden death — for the first time in league history.
Seventeen future members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame were involved, from Johnny Unitas to Art Donovan to Gino Marchetti to Roosevelt Brown to Frank Gifford to Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi.
And it was played in the greatest venue imaginable, Yankee Stadium.
The 1958 NFL Championship became known as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” It might have been the league’s most important as well.
It is the game historians point to as launching the modern NFL into the juggernaut it became.
It was the stuff of legend — a game that was such a breakthrough event, it brought tears to the eyes of Commissioner Bert Bell in the minutes after it ended.
”He was so happy because this was the game he had been waiting for,” Gifford told the Chicago Tribune on the game’s 40th anniversary.
Despite the bitter defeat, the Giants played an indispensable role in the meteoric ascent of the NFL.
They rebounded from a 14-3 halftime deficit to take a 17-14 lead early in the fourth quarter. Charlie Conerly found Gifford for a 15-yard touchdown pass and the advantage.
But Unitas (26-of-40 passing for 349 yards) — in his third season and just beginning to write the Legend of Johnny U — wasn’t done.
He drove the Colts down the field to set up Steve Myhra’s 20-yard field goal with just seven seconds remaining and send the game to overtime.
Unitas then drove the Colts down the field again, setting up Alan Ameche’s heroics in The Bronx. Ameche muscled his way in from the 1-yard line at 8:15 into overtime for a 23-17 victory.
“We lost, but I feel proud to have played in that game,” Giants linebacker Sam Huff told the Tribune. “Forty years later, and they’re still talking about us. It’s great to be remembered. You don’t take much out of the game but a few coins. But you always have the memories.”
The Giants nearly put the game away in regulation.
Gifford thought he earned a first down on a run with 2:30 remaining. The referees said no.
The Giants punted.
And Unitas took over the game, starting from the Colts’ 14-yard line with 1:56 remaining in regulation. The quarterback would hit Berry on three straight passes to set up the Myhra kick to tie the game.
Unitas then led the Colts 80 yards in 13 plays in overtime, executing two third-and-long passes to keep the drive going.
”John was the difference in the game,” Huff said. “For 40 years it has been ringing in my ears, `Unitas to Berry, Unitas to Berry.’ “
But Ameche’s touchdown was as much a beginning as an end.
More than 45 million Americans had tuned their TVs — black and white, of course — to witness the drama, then an eye-popping number. That audience included President Dwight Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon.
Pro football was never the same again.
It began its rise in the American consciousness. After all, baseball was truly the national pastime in 1958. Even college football was more popular than the pro game.
But most importantly, after The Greatest Game Ever Played, TV networks were sold on football.
“That game is the reason why pro football is what it is today,” Unitas told the Tribune. “It’s the reason why the games are in everyone’s living rooms on Sunday. I played in a lot of better games, but that game definitely had the biggest impact.”