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Sunday at the Post

Recollections of “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” Michael Lombardi

Print This December 27, 2009, 07:47 AM EST

QUOTE/STORY OF THE WEEK...

“In the locker room after the game, I said to John Unitas, ‘Weren't you taking a chance on an interception? An interception there and the Giants might have gone 95 yards the other way and won the game.’ And he gave me that wonderful Unitas cold stare and he just said, ‘When you know what you're doing, you don't get intercepted.’” -- From “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” ESPN documentary

Fifty-one years ago, on Dec. 28, 1958, what would become known as “The Greatest Game Ever Played” took place -– the NFL championship game between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants at Yankee Stadium. When Colts fullback Alan Ameche burst through the hole for a one-yard touchdown with 6:45 left in overtime – at 4:51 p.m. on a foggy, drizzly day – he took the National Football League with him into a new era. And what an era it’s been.

Here’s what they said about it:

TOM LANDRY: "I’m sure there have been many games just as exciting. But there were some other forces at work for that game. The way everything blended together – the television, where the game was played and the fact that pro football was ripe for expansion – was the key. I consider it to be the greatest game because of its impact."

KYLE ROTE, running back, New York Giants: "Everything came together for the greatness of pro football. New York is the heartbeat of the media, including Madison Avenue. Those ad men were young guys – young and sharp – and suddenly they happened to tie into pro football, just when television was hitting its peak."

DON JOYCE, defensive end, Baltimore Colts: "It was dusk. The lights were on. Banners were flying. We were world champions and I was in such awe. I walked off the field and stopped three different times. I didn’t want to leave."

Reactions from national media:

TEX MAULE, Sports Illustrated: "Never has there been a game like this one."

ROONE ARLEDGE, chairman, ABC News: "All of a sudden, the networks woke up and saw that they had to have football. The game was a defining moment in the growth of pro football."

LOUIS EFFRAT, New York Times: "(The game) was easily the most dramatic, most exciting encounter witnessed on the pro circuit in many a season."

JACK HAND, Associated Press: "If they play pro football for 100 years, they never can top Baltimore’s first championship snatched dramatically in a sudden-death playoff… It seems pro football has come of age."

MORRIS SIEGEL, Washington Daily News: "One had to come away with the conclusion that the Colts-Giants blockbuster was one of the greatest spectacles in sport’s history."

JOHN STEADMAN, Baltimore Sun: "It will remain a keepsake for the ages."

C.M. GIBBS, Baltimore Sun: "That nothing like this will ever again have such a tremendous and widespread fan reaction in the Baltimore sports realm seems a safe bet."

N.P. CLARK, Baltimore News-Post: "A great day? There was never anything like it around here. And there never will be again. The first is the ever-loving most. Anything from now on can only be anticlimax. Writing it out to the last wonderful drop."

STEVE O’NEILL, Baltimore News-Post: "Yes, the people were crazy. Yes, they went wild. They had a right to be. They’d seen a dream game on TV… I know how they felt. Because I felt that way too."

JESSE LINTHICUM, Baltimore Sun: "Yes, it was Baltimore’s greatest thrill, and mine."

RANDOM FACTS FROM THE GAME…

“Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League”

Sports Illustrated is credited with naming the ’58 championship "The Greatest Football Game Ever Played." Actually, SI used the title "The Best Football Game Ever Played" in its Jan. 5, 1959 issue, because SI editors in those days did not use the word "greatest" to describe events. Soon, though, "best" became "greatest."

A 17-year-old Bill Parcells, attending a skating party in Lake Hopatcong, N.J., sat in a car for three hours listening to the game.

The winner’s share for the championship game was $4,718.77. The loser’s share was $3,111.33.

Alan Ameche left the locker room postgame celebration early. He could earn an extra $500 for an appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Colts defensive tackle Art Donovan was born on the Grand Concourse, only blocks away from Yankee Stadium.

Lenny Moore, nicknamed "Spats" because he did not like the feel of adhesive tape on his bare skin and had trainers tape his cleats, kept a miniature bible in his thigh pad.

Colts center Buzz Nutter chased down a security guard after the game to retrieve the ball Ameche had carried over the goal line – and, with his teammates’ approval, presented it to Gino Marchetti as the game ball.

AROUND THE NFL...

1. All signs point to Mike Shanahan building his staff on and off the field in Washington. He’s working on getting a staff together, and now I hear he will bring in the Goodman family, who were with him in Denver to assist in the personnel department. Washington will become Denver east.

2. My sources tell me that Mike Holmgren is going to live in a condo near the Browns facility and will fly back and forth to Seattle from time to time. Had Holmgren taken the Seattle job, Randy Mueller was going to be the GM. Mueller will now be offered the chance to join Holmgren in Cleveland as well.

3. Even if the Carolina Panthers decide to bring back coach John Fox next year, his return is still a dicey issue. Fox won’t enter next season as a lame duck and will insist the team either give him an extension or fire him. No in between. So stay tuned.

4. Don’t look for Jacksonville to make changes if it doesn’t make the playoffs. The Jags are trying to cut back on costs, and I hear they want to reduce coaches’ salaries. Money is that tight in Jacksonville.

5. If Chiefs head coach Todd Haley keeps his job — which I’m hearing he will – he’s going to shake up his defensive staff during the offseason.

A full version of the Sunday Post will return next week.

Follow me on Twitter: michaelombardi

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