Blog Entry

The Fabulous 1950's (1958 & The Game)

Posted on: March 17, 2011 7:11 pm
Edited on: March 17, 2011 7:28 pm

The 1958 season is considered by many to be the year professional football cast itself into the public light, forever changing the way Americans viewed the sport as a whole. In reality that happened the prior year when CBS began televising weekly games across the nation, giving fans that weekly taste of football. What did happen in 1958 was the first overtime game between the Eastern and Western Conference champions to determine who would claim the NFL title. For one of those teams the regular season was like a dream come true and was settled by week ten. For the other it came down to the final week of the regular season and then it took one more, in the form of a playoff game, to get to that fateful day in December.

The Baltimore Colts started the 1958 season with six straight wins, four of those compliments of the Lions and Packers, beating both teams home and away. The Colts didn’t lose their first game till the week seven match-up against the New York Giants, 21-24. Baltimore then reeled off three more wins and clinched the conference title in week ten. The Colts would lose their final two games of the season to the 49ers and Rams, though they had beaten both teams late in the season.

Georgia born Jim Parker only played on year of organized football in Ohio and that was his senior year in Toledo. That one year in Ohio was all that it took for Jim to get noticed by the legendary Woody Hayes of Ohio State. Some would argue Woody Hayes’s phrase “Three yards and a cloud of dust” was coined behind the blocking of Jim Parker. While at Ohio State, Jim was a two way tackle, two time All-American and winner of the Outland Trophy.

As Jim entered into the NFL, Woody Hayes thought Parker’s best chance of success would be as a defensive lineman. Colts coach Weeb Ewbank thought different when he drafted Jim in the first round (8 overall) in the 1957 draft and had every intention of using Parker as an offensive left tackle.

During the first day of training camp, in a moment that resembled a scene from the motion picture “Blindside”, Ewbanks informed Parker he could become the most unpopular man on the team if the quarterback got hurt. Ewbanks told Parker “Just keep them away from John (Unitas).” It didn’t long for Jim to understand that rule and become the great protector of the Colts Hall of Fame quarterback.

What is amazing about Parkers career is he played half of it at left tackle from 1957 to 1962, earning All-Pro honors five of those six years, and the othe half at left guard, earning All-Pro honors three times at that position. Some say Parker moved to left guard as a favor to Woody Hayes, in order to make room for former Buckeye teammate Bob Vogel.

Many football historians consider Parker the greatest lineman to play the game. In 1994, Parker was named to the NFL’s 75 Anniversary All-Time Team. In 1999 he was listed as number 24 of Sporting News list of the 100 greatest football players. In 1973, Parker was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, a first for a full time offensive lineman. The Colts have retired the number 77.

The Eastern Conference was a two team race for the entire season, with the Brown holding a slight edge of over the Giants till the two teams met in the the final week of the regular season.

The game was played on December 14, 1958 in Yankee Stadium and the conditions could hardly be called ideal. As the wind driven snow whipped across the field the two teams found themselves tied 10-10 deep into the fourth quarter. With only 4:30 left the Giants Pat Summerall missed a 31 yard field goal, leaving the Browns with an opportunity to run the clock out and win the conference with a tie game. Unable to covert a first down the Browns were forced to punt and give the ball back to the Giants. With two minutes left in the game, and in a raging snow storm, Summerall redeemed himself by nailing a field goal from 49 yards out, giving the Giants a 13-10 win. The two teams had tied for the division and would met again the following week for a trip to the title game.

The playoff was also conducted at Yankee Stadiums and with all the points coming in the first half of play the game was again a defensive standoff and a low scoring affair. In the first quarter, Frank Gifford darted for eight yards and then tossed a lateral to Charley Conerly who scored from ten yards out. In the second quarter Summerall kicked a 26 yard field goal for the final score of the game. The Giants would win the contest 10-0 and would face the Baltimore Colts for the 1958 NFL Championship.

If you’ve never heard of the name Frank Gifford, then let me be the first to welcome you to the planet earth. Here on the third rock from the sun that name envokes everything good about the game of football and has been doing so for over 50 years. Hell, my grandpa loved Frank Gifford and he’s was born in 1900.

If football ever needed a poster boy in the 1950’s, then there was no one better for the job than Francis Newton Gifford. Born on August 16, 1930, in Santa Monica, California, Gifford was graced with the looks of a Hollywood leading man and the football skills of a Hall of Fame player. In high school, college and in the NFL, Gifford played on offense, defense and special teams. More importantly, he played every assigned position well. There was a time when I disliked Gifford, then I took a closer look at his playing career and realized the reason I didn’t like him was he had the life and career that every little boy dreamed of having, except for him the dream was real.

In his eight Pro-bowl appearances, Gifford earned honors at three different positions, defensive back, half back and late in his career at flanker. In 1953, due to his versatility, Gifford averaged 50 minutes of playing time per game. In 1956 he was named MVP of the league while leading the Giants to their third NFL championship. The New York City Giants have retired the number 16 and Francis Newton Gifford is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Unfortunately for Gifford, every star has a bad day and his two early fumbles in the 1958 Championship may have cost the Giants a shot at the NFL title. Now it’s time to get on to the greatest game ever played.

The title game took place on December 28, 1958 in Yankee Stadium. 64,185 fans watched the two teams play to a near perfect defensive standoff in the first quarter, the only scoring was a 36 yard Pat Summerall field goal giving the Giants a 3-0 lead. In the second quarter a Frank Gifford fumble lead to a Alan Ameche 2 yard touchdown plunge. Gifford's second miscue eventually allowed the Colts to score on a 15 yard pass play from Unitas to Raymond Berry, giving the Baltimore a 14-3 halftime lead.

The third quarter gave way to a Baltimore blunder on the offensive end of the football. The Colts had taken the ball to the New York 1 yard line, only to be rejected from the end zone on three straight plays. Instead of option for a field goal the Colts went for it on fourth down. Testing the hands of fate an Alan Ameche halfback option was stuffed at the five yard line by Giants linebacker Cliff Livingston. Momentum immediately shifted and the Giants began to march.

Buried deep in their own territory Giants quarterback Charley Conerly dropped back and hit Kyle Rote running a left to right crossing pattern over the middle. After catching the ball Rote broke an arm tackle around mid-field and was heading towards the end zone till he was hit from behind that forced the ball loose. Trailing the play was Giants running back Alex Webster, who scooped the ball up and began his own journey towards the end zone, eventually to be knocked out of bounds at the 1 yard line. The Giants Mel Trippet took the ball in from there, cutting the Colts lead to 4 points. The drive went 95 yards in just four plays, closing the score to 14-10 Colts. Trippett’s touchdown would be the final score of the third quarter.

Early in the fourth quarter, New York’s Frank Gifford redeemed himself by hauling in a 15 yard Conerly pass for a touchdown, giving the Giant a 17-14 lead. The score would remain that way till around the two minute mark.

Many football historians credit the Lions Bobby Layne with the creation of the “two minute offense”, but nobody made it more famous than Johnny Unitas in the 1958 Championship game.

With the clock hovering around the two minute mark the Colts took possession of the ball on their own 14 yard line and began the first of two epic drives. The Unitas lead offense drove the ball down the field, eventually landing on the Giants 13 yard line. With the clock stopped at seven second the Colts brought on kicker Steve Myhra for a 20 yard field goal attempt. The kick split the up-rights, clear the bar, and tied the game 17-17. As the clock struck zero players from both sides found themselves standing on the sideline and unsure as to what would happen next.

Unitas recalled, “All of the sudden, the officials came over and said, ‘Send the captains outs. We’re going to flip a coin to see who will receive.’ That was the first we heard of the overtime period.”

The Giant won the coin toss and elected to receive. The G-Men muffed the kickoff and then found themselves unable to put a drive together forcing them to punt. The Colts would take the ball on a 13 play 80 yard drive that culminated in a Alan Ameche 1-yard plunge for the winning touchdown. The Colts final drive has become fabled for many reasons, the setting and circumstance and the fact Unitas called all 13 plays in the overtime period.

Including coaches and administrators, there were 17 individuals involved in that game that are now members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They are the following.

Giants- (OL) Rosey Brown, (HB) Frank Gifford, (LB) Sam Huff, (WR) Don Maynard, (DE) Andy Robustelli, (DB) Emlen Tunnell, (Off. Coord.) Vince Lombardi, (Def. Coord.) Tom Landry, (Owner) Tim Mara, (VP/ Secr.) Wellington Mara.

Colts- (WR) Raymond Berry, (DL) Art Donovan, (DL) Gino Marchetti, (HB/WR) Lenny Moore, (OL) Jim Parker, (Head Coach) Weeb Ewbank, (QB) Johnny Unitas.

To this day, the 1958 Championship is without question the greatest game ever played.




Category: NFL
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