Colts Capture Title in Sudden Death
It has come to be known as “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” but it was never that, especially not for Giants fans. The 1958 NFL Championship Game was the first title game to end regulation play in a tie and force a sudden-death overtime period, and thus it had an exciting conclusion. However, the game between the Giants and the Baltimore Colts was filled with fumbles and miscues on both sides and was hardly the best game played by either team that season. What captivated a national television audience was the expert execution of the two-minute offense by a young Johnny Unitas to tie the game, and then his relentless march in overtime for the win.
Despite having beaten the Colts seven weeks before, the Giants were 3.5-point underdogs on this mild December day at Yankee Stadium. New York boasted the NFL’s best defense, but Baltimore had the second-best defense to go with the highest-scoring offense in the league. The Giants were just ninth in points scored and were worn down from having to win a playoff game over the Browns the week before to get to the championship game.
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The two starting quarterbacks, Unitas and Don Heinrich, traded fumbles in the first quarter and then Unitas was intercepted by Carl Karilivacz, but New York was forced to punt. The Colts’ offense could be explosive, and Unitas proved that by quickly hitting Lenny Moore for a 60-yard bomb. However, the Giants defense stiffened, and Colts kicker Steve Myhra missed a 26-yard field goal.
The Giants followed the unusual practice of keeping Charley Conerly on the sideline at the outset of games to observe, as backup quarterback Heinrich probed the opposing defense. Conerly now entered the game and led the Giants into Colts territory for Pat Summerall to kick a 36-yard field goal with two minutes left in the first period.
Early in the second quarter, Frank Gifford lost a fumble at his own 20-yard line, and the Colts capitalized to take a 7-3 lead. The Giants were forced to punt from
Colts back Alan Ameche scores the winning touchdown in overtime of the 1958 NFL Championship Game, also known as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” (Photo courtesy of AP Images)