The 1958 NFL championship overtime “sudden death” game between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants is considered by many sports historians as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” One man, Andy France, longtime former rector of the historic Trinity Episcopal Church in Williamsport, was there. And Webb Weekly would like to bring you France’s recollections of that epic game.
“I was 22 years old and had just been discharged from the Air Force and lived in Madison, New Jersey, while attending Drew University,” France recalled for Webb Weekly. “My parents lived in Parkton, Maryland, a small farm village five miles below the Pennsylvania/Maryland line. A friend of theirs gave them two tickets to the game. They did not want to make that trip, so they said I could use them. It was an offer I could not refuse. My sister and her husband also lived in Madison, so my brother-in-law and I left in the morning for Yankee Stadium.”
He continued, “My recollection is that there were 25,000 tickets for Colt fans. All of them were in one end zone. By the end of the game, those seats were priceless. We were a noisy, loud bunch of crazy Colt fans.”
“The game was hard fought throughout. The NFL in those days focused on fullbacks and running as well as quarterbacks throwing. It was special to watch many all-pro players on both teams play their hearts out. For the Giants, it’s Frank Gifford, Rosey Brown, and Sam Huff. For the Colts — Johnny Unitas, Raymond Berry, Artie Donovan, Alan Ameche, Larry Moore, Big Daddy Gene Lipscomb, and Gino Marchetti.
“The lead went back and forth. The final two minutes were over the edge with excitement. The Colts kicked a field goal to tie the score, and the game went into the first-ever sudden-death game in the NFL. The Giants had the ball to begin sudden-death play. They went three and out and punted to the Colts. Johnny Unitas began offensive play on the 14-yard line right in front of 25,000 of us cheering for the Colts. Johnny took the team down the field, and Alan Ameche scored the winning touchdown.
“Gino Marchetti broke his ankle during that final drive. Back then, injured players who had to go to the dressing room were carried on a litter by four men. While play continued, Gino and his litter passed right in front of 25,000 crazy Colt fans. Gino made the four men lower the litter to the ground. He sat up, watched the play, and would not leave for the dressing room.
“The 25,000 of us in the end zone seats were able to see that entire final series develop play by play. The seats were priceless.
“I knew I had seen the first ever sudden death game, but was not aware of two items that developed until sometime after the game. The winning drive to victory took roughly two minutes, which soon became known as the two-minute drill. Also, as we know now, that game became the tipping point that allowed the NFL to become what it is today. Why is that? It was a great game and the first-ever sudden-death game, and it was televised nationally, so millions of people were part of the excitement. It soon became known as the greatest game ever played.
“One final point. We were in my car with a Maryland license tag. As we were leaving in heavy traffic, I wanted to go left as many cars were doing, but the policeman who was directing traffic made me go right. Did he do that on purpose because I had a Maryland tag? No matter — we won the game.”
Many football analysts and observers believe that the 1958 championship game marked a coming of age for pro football and helped put it on the road to supplanting baseball as the most popular sport.