Saturday, October 27, 2007

The New York Giants Five Worst Losses, Part Four

2) 1958 NFL Championship Game
Baltimore 23—New York 17 OT

Though we now refer to it as the “Greatest Game Ever Played”, for most of three quarters this game was anything but. Frank Gifford’s two 2d quarter fumbles led to two Baltimore touchdowns and a 14-3 halftime lead for the Colts. In the 3d quarter, Baltimore drove to the Giants’ 1-yard line with a chance for the knockout blow. Instead the Giants’ defense stopped Alan Ameche for a loss on 4th down. Moments later, the game began to turn in the Giants' favor. New York QB Charlie Conerly hit Kyle Rote with a 62-yard pass that Rote fumbled at the Colts’ 25. Alex Webster alertly picked up the ball and took it to the Colts’ 1-yard-line where the Giants scored on the next play, completing a 95-yard drive. Early in the 4th quarter, Gifford, trying to atone for his earlier fumbles, caught a 15-yard TD pass that gave New York a 17-14 lead.

The game then settled into a defensive struggle. With less than three minutes to go, the Giants faced a third-and-4 from their own 40. A first down would allow them to all but run out the clock. With a chance to wipe away all memory of his earlier fumbles, Gifford got the ball on a sweep and appeared to make it just past the first down marker as he was tackled by Colts defensive end Gino Marchetti. Marchetti caught a bad break, literally, when his teammate "Big Daddy" Lipscomb then fell on him and broke his leg. But Gifford may have caught a worse break. Marchetti's scream of pain supposedly distracted the official who spotted the ball because where that official marked the spot left the Giants inches short of the clinching first down. Years later, Giants announcer Chris Schenkel said it was the worst placement he’d ever seen. But the refs ignored Gifford’s protest and Colts DT Art Donovan told him to "stop crying and get off the field!" To this day Gifford swears he made that first down (of course Giff probably also swore to his wife that he wasn’t banging that airline stewardess a few years back either).

The Giants chose to punt it away and Baltimore took over at their own 14 with one last shot to pull it out. Colts receiver Raymond Berry thought the Giants’ goalposts “looked a million miles away", but Unitas quickly took advantage of the Giants’ prevent defense with several underneath throws to Berry. The Colts reached the New York 13 with 20 seconds left. Out of time outs, Baltimore’s kicking team ran out onto the field and Steve Myhra kicked a 20-yard field goal to tie the game and force the first sudden-death overtime in NFL history. The Giants won the OT toss but went three-plays-and-out. The Colts took over on their own 20 and Unitas choreographed a legendary 13-play drive. The biggest play was a 21-yarder to Berry on 3d-and-14 that put the Colts into Giants’ territory. Mixing runs and passes perfectly, Unitas drove his team to the Giants’ 1 where Ameche ended the game with a TD run (“16 Power”). Colt fans swarmed the field and tore down the goalposts as NFL Commissioner Bert Bell shouted out to anyone who could hear him: “This is the greatest day in the history of professional football”. He may have been right. The high drama of the game captured the attention of the TV-watching public like no other NFL contest ever had and sent pro football on its way to becoming America’s most popular sport. It’s a loss no Giants fan could ever forget. How could they? Even the generations of Giants fans born since that game are probably sick of hearing about it and dealing with the countless books, articles, and TV shows endlessly rehashing “The Greatest Game Ever Played”.

Related Posts:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Five

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