Friday, August 1, 2014

The Game That Made the NFL

In 1958, the NFL was no where near the mega sport that it is now.  College football reigned supreme, especially in the South where there was a lack of NFL teams.  This was two years before Lamar Hunt created the rival AFL that would one day merge to give us the modern NFL.  Baseball still ruled as America's pastime having surpassed boxing for our most popular sport by the late 1920s.  All it took was one game to capture the imaginations of the country, and damn, what a game.

NBC carried it live throughout the country though, for some reason it was blacked out in New York City!  An estimated 45 million people watched the New York Giants battle it out with the Baltimore Colts.  (For you new football fans, I'll try to explain briefly.  The Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis and became the Indianapolis Colts.  Then the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens.  Then Cleveland got a new team also called the Browns!)  

Both teams stumbled through the first half which ended with the Colts up 14-3.  It looked like they would cruise to an easy victory in the second half.  But the Giants had other plans.  They stormed back and took the lead late in the game.  While up by 3 points with two minutes left on the clock, the Giants punted the ball and the Colts took over deep in their own territory.  Unfortunately for the Giants, the ball was now in the hands of the great Johnny Unitas, one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever sling the old pigskin around the gridiron.  The Giants defense, led by famed linebacker Sam Huff, forced a 3rd and 11.  Unitas completed a pass and then followed it up with a few more.  With seconds left on the clock, the Colts kicked a field goal to tie the game and force overtime.

And therein lies the problem!  No NFL playoff game had ever been decided by overtime, much less the championship game!  The captains met at mid-field for the toss, just like they had at the beginning of the game.  The Giants won the toss and received the ball, but could do nothing with it.  They punted and the Colts took over.  Again, Unitas put on a football clinic as he drove 80 yards in 13 plays.  The Colts faced a third down on the Giants one yard line.  They called a simple play, really, the old fullback dive.  Alan Ameche took the ball and plunged across the goal line as camera bulbs flashed.  The image (seen at the top of the post) is one of the most iconic photographs of any NFL game.  Ever. 

The NFL had arrived.  The merger of football and television was as significant as the merger between baseball and the radio.  Though it took time, the NFL would take over as America's dominant sport.  The 1958 NFL Championship Game would go down in history as the "greatest game ever played".

Sadly, knowledge of the history of the game is lacking among the younger generation of fans.  By that I mean the fans in their twenties and younger.  I grew up watching the likes of Walter Payton, Joe Montana, Marcus Allen, and Lawrence Taylor.  Mention those names to a lot of young fans and they just give you a blank look.  They have no idea of the long history of the game, just as many of the current NFL players have no respect for the game.  Every time a player performs an elaborate choreographed touchdown dance, they are showing disrespect for the game.  So to are those who taunt their opponents.  My personal favorite are the players who dance after sacking the quarterback when their team is losing by 20 points.  Hey dumbass, spend more time tackling and less dancing and maybe you'd be in the lead!  They get paid to make sacks.  I don't dance every time a I grade a paper, or, when I was a cop, I didn't dance after making an arrest.  Though at times I may have wanted to!

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who only has one thing left to say: WHO DAT SAY DEY GONNA BEAT DEM SAINTS!