The Greatest Game there ever was

I just finished doing something my dad wished he had done but never did. I just watched the 1958 NFL Championship Game and it was in color. Sports people all over call it the greatest football game ever played.

When I was growing up you like steamed crabs, the Baltimore Colts, the Baltimore Orioles and Johnny Unitas better known as Johnny U or The Golden Arm.. He had a flat top hair cut, I had a flat top hair cut. His uniform number was 19, mine was 19. He was my idol.

Remember, back in 1958 there was no over time. There had to be in this game so there could be a winner. There was no instant replay. The top salary was $10K and there were no guarantees. The Colts won in overtime 23 - 17.

As I got older I went to many games. Johnny U was the master. He was a record-setting quarterback and the National Football League's most valuable player in 1959, 1964 and 1967. His record of throwing a touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games (between 1956-1960) remains unsurpassed as of today. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest.

But like most childhood hero's, time is their enemy. Following the 1972 season, the Colts would see an end of an era when Johnny Unitas is traded to the San Diego Chargers. However, Unitas would not leave without one final great moment, as he came off the bench his final game at Memorial Stadium to replace Marty Domres leading the Colts hitting Eddie Hinton on a 55-yard Touchdown pass late in the 4th Quarter to help beat the Buffalo Bills 35-7, as Memorial Stadium gave the legendary a standing ovation as a small plane carried a banner reading "Unitas We Stand". I was there.

As you know, the Baltimore Colts no longer exist. The Indy Colts do thanks to the former owner, Robert Irsay, sneaking them out of Baltimore in the middle of the night so the fans wouldn't know in 1984. A move reviled to this day in Baltimore as "Bob Irsay's Midnight Ride," Unitas was so outraged that he cut all ties to the relocated team (though his #19 jersey is still retired by the Colts). Other prominent old-time Colts followed his lead. He asked the Pro Football Hall of Fame on numerous occasions (including on Roy Firestone's Up Close) to remove his display unless it was listed as belonging to the Baltimore Colts. The Hall of Fame has never complied with the request. That's when I stopped watching football until tonight one more time.

Later on, Sports Illustrated voted Johnny U the greatest athlete in the NFL's first 50 years. Johnny U passed away on September 11, 2002 never acknowledging the Indy franchise.

For the game following his death, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning requested to wear a pair of black cleats as a tribute to Johnny's signature black boots. The league denied his request and threatened Manning with a $25,000 fine. Manning decided not to wear them. Ravens QB Chris Redman wore the cleats without asking permission and was fined only $5000.

I watched this game tonight and thought of my father often. The game was narrated by Johnny U's fellow players, the NY Giants players, the radio and TV commentators of the time and some of today's more famous players. If you want to see what football was, watch "The Greatest Game Ever" on ESPN.

Photo's borrowed from the Baltimore Sun and Sports Illustrated.


Clare said…
Nice Post Dave.
robin andrea said…
Even though I'm not much of a sports fan, I really get how exciting the game must have been. You actually make me want to watch this game. And that's saying something, dave!
John said…
There is something seriously wrong with the NFL if it would fine players for honoring one of its all-time greatest players. said…
I watched the game Saturday night and I remembered being with your Dad when the games was going on. We never saw the game, just listened to it on the radio while on a Sunday drive with the family. You could have heard a pin drop in the car we all listened so carefully.

Like most Marylanders, we like Payton Manning, but not the Indy Colts. We will never forget.

Next time you go to Raven's stadium, stop by and rub Johnny U's shoe for luck, most people do.
Meggie said…
In the 70s I traveled to Detroit to see a friend play for the Lions.
When I got to the stadium I caught sight of Johnny U...don't know why he was there (he was not the opposition)...I knew I was seeing a legend. It was the thrill of a lifetime!
Dave said…
Thanks Robin & Clare!

John - it was a safety issue. 30 cleats aren't as safe as the newer ones.

Diane _ I'll rub a toe for sure.

Meggie - he had that presence. You could show me his shadow and I would know who it was. I worked in his house for a week when I was 16. I was one nervous kid. He was cool.