The matchup on this week’s NFL schedule that will give us the Throwback Thursday post is the Monday night game between the New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts. These two franchises played a game on December 28, 1958, that became known as “The Greatest Game Ever Played”. A decade later, the Colts, located in Baltimore back then, would be locked in a historic game with a different New York team, the Jets, and that game changed the course of pro football history as Joe Namath guaranteed a victory for his club and then delivered it. In this Colts-Giants clash in ’58, however, history was also made. It was a game that propelled the sport into the modern era and sent pro football on it’s course to becoming the nation’s most popular sport. It was that season’s NFL championship game, televised across the country on NBC, and turned out to be the first “sudden death” overtime game in league history. Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas became a national hero that day, as he thrilled the TV audience by guiding what today is routinely known as the “two minute” drill, in leading the Colts down the field on a 62 yard drive to set up a game-tying field goal by Steve Myhra to send the game into overtime. Prior to that last drive, the game was actually somewhat sloppy, as both teams turned the ball over multiple times. In all, the teams combined for 7 turnovers, and one Giant touchdown came on a one yard run following a play that saw Kyle Rote fumble, with teammate Alex Webster picking up the ball and running it down to the one yard line. Baltimore defensive back Milt Davis, playing with two broken bones in his right foot, forced a pair of New York fumbles. Colt defensive end Gino Marchetti suffered a broken ankle and refused to be taken to the locker room for treatment. He spent the rest of the game after the injury sitting on a stretcher on the sideline watching the action. Once the game reached overtime, there was a lot of confusion about what to do to begin the extra session, even among the officials. The “sudden death” rule had just been implemented for the game by then-commissioner Bert Bell. They eventually figured it out, and after the Giants went three-and-out on their first drive, Unitas engineered another classic drive down the field, culminating in a one yard scoring plunge by back Alan “The Horse” Ameche, his second TD of the day, to win the game for the Colts. Unitas was brilliant, as was his future Hall of Fame teammate Raymond Berry, who finished the game with 12 receptions for 178 yards and a touchdown. As the Colts drove down the field toward the winning score, there was an incident that delayed the game when a fan ran out on the field. Rumor has it that a television cable had become unplugged causing the game feed to go dead, and an NBC employee was ordered to cause the distraction to buy time to fix the problem. An estimated 45 million people watched the telecast, and that number would have been higher, but the game, played in Yankee Stadium, was blacked out in the New York area. The impact of this game was far-reaching, as pro football became tremendously popular. That spike in popularity is the reason Lamar Hunt and his “Foolish Cub” of fellow owners decided to launch the American Football League in 1960. The game featured 17 people who would go on to become Hall of Famers, including Colt coach Weeb Ewbank, who would also be the winning coach in that Jets-Colts Super Bowl a decade later, and Giant offensive and defensive assistants Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry.
Alan “The Horse” Ameche scores to end “The Greatest Game Ever Played”