Chicago 14—New York 10
Could any loss actually be more gut-wrenching than the loss the Giants suffered in the 1958 Championship Game? The goal-line stand, the comeback, the controversial ball placement erasing a seeming victory, and then the first overtime loss in National Football League history. It’s hard to top that. But rather than think of that heartbreaking defeat as just as a loss, consider it as the mere beginning of an era of championship game failure unmatched in the annals of football. The 1958 defeat didn’t demoralize the Giants. Far from it. They returned to the title game in 1959. This time the Colts crushed them. After a year away from the postseason, New York returned for the 1961 championship game. Lombardi’s Packers overwhelmed them. They did the same to New York in the 1962 title game. Five years. Four championship game losses. The last three games weren’t close. The 1963 Championship Game would be different.
The Giants returned to the title game one more time to battle for that elusive ring. Their leader: 37-year-old quarterback Y.A. Tittle. Tittle posted one of the greatest seasons any quarterback has ever had, throwing a then record 36 TD passes and winning the MVP award. Facing brutally cold weather and the league’s best defense, Tittle opened the 1963 title game by leading his team on an impressive 83-yard drive ending with a 14-yard TD pass from Tittle to Frank Gifford. Later in the quarter, New York recovered a fumble at the Chicago 31. Tittle immediately found his great receiver Del Shofner wide open in the end zone. According to Bears’ defensive end Doug Atkins:
I don't know if his hands were cold or what, but it bounced right off them. Hell, I could have caught that one. If he would have caught that pass, the Giants would have been in command, and I think they would have won. But that's what kind of a season it was for us. We got just about every break.
The Giants didn’t score. Shortly thereafter, Bears linebacker Larry Morris picked off a screen pass and ran 61 yards to the New York 5-yard line. Two plays later Bears’ QB Billy Wade scored the tying TD on a quarterback sneak. In the 2d quarter, Tittle and the Giants drove to the Bears’ 3 but the Bears held and New York settled for a field goal and a 10-7 lead. When New York got the ball back again, Tittle moved his team to a first down at the Chicago 32. On his next pass, Tittle got blasted as he threw and he limped off the field with torn knee ligaments. The Giants' drive ended in a missed field goal. Tittle came back in the 3d quarter after getting some pain-killing injections but he wasn’t the same player. He couldn’t plant his leg and he later admitted he knew he should have come out of the game. Late in the quarter, the Bears picked off a Tittle lob and set themselves up at the New York 14. Five plays later, Wade scored on his second sneak of the game and Chicago took the lead 14-10. Tittle kept fighting but he couldn’t stop throwing interceptions (five on the day), the final one coming in the Bears’ end zone with 10 seconds left, sealing the win for the Bears, and giving George Halas his final NFL championship.
The Giants were left with plenty of what-might-have-beens: What if Shofner held onto that ball? What if Tittle had come out of the game after the injury? What if New York had just run the ball more? This crushing defeat proved to be the capstone to a spectacular era of championship game losing, the likes of which the NFL has never seen before or since. The Buffalo Bills lost four Super Bowls in a row, but the New York Giants lost five title games in six years! The 1958 defeat had to hurt. The 1963 loss, magnified by years of disappointment leading up the game combined with the defeat itself, had to be absolutely devastating. Especially since that great Giants team had reached the end. They wouldn’t return to the title game for almost three decades, and would need another 18 years just to reach the playoffs.