The MMQB presents NFL 95, a special project—unveiled every Wednesday from May through July—detailing 95 artifacts that tell the story of the NFL, as the league prepares to enter its 95th season. See the entire series here.
The NFL’s luck with the weather at the Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey was nothing compared to what happened in 1958.
The Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants met in the NFL Championship that year, three days after Christmas at a sold-out Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. They had an even bigger audience across America: 45 million viewers watched the first championship to be nationally televised. The eight fumbles aren’t what distinguishes this game in history. The finish did that.
Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas led the first famous (and maybe best-ever) version of the “two-minute drill,” marching downfield from his own 14-yard line for the tying field goal that sent the game into sudden-death overtime. The Giants won the coin toss, but punted. Unitas again drove his team for the winning touchdown, a 1-yard run by Alan Ameche to cap the 13-play, 80-yard march.
Recent Super Bowls have had thrilling finishes—look no further than the Giants’ upset of the undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII—but this game stands alone in two significant ways. It’s still the only championship game to be decided in overtime, and even greater, the national audience was enchanted by a burgeoning sport. Next came national TV contracts in the 1960s, a catalyst to the unparalleled popularity the NFL enjoys today. The “Greatest Game Ever Played” might also be the league’s most important.
Photograph courtesy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.