It may have been “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” But in New York, it was “The Greatest Game Never Seen.”
The famous 1958 NFL championship game between the Giants and Colts was televised nationally on NBC, but blacked out in New York.
Fifty years later, New York football fans finally got a chance to see the game — or at least a colorized, condensed version of it — on ESPN the other night. The contest, won by the Colts, 23-17, at Yankee Stadium, is still the only pro football championship game ever to go into overtime.
Why was the game blacked out in New York? NFL policy at the time mandated a black-out all home games regardless of whether they were sold out. That policy was in effect virtually from the beginning of the television era, until 1973, and still holds for games that are not sold out. In fact, all Super Bowl games prior to VII were blacked out in the host market.
The TV broadcasters that day were Chris Schenkel, the voice of the Giants, and Chuck Thompson, the voice of the Colts. Many Giants fans listened to Bob Wolff call the game on radio.
Those days, Giants fans would migrate to Connecticut to see games, or build large antennas to pick up TV signals from Hartford and New Haven.
The Giants had a much tougher road to the 1958 championship than the Colts. Going into the final game of the regular season, they needed to beat the Cleveland Browns at Yankee Stadium to earn a tie at the top of the Eastern Conference.
A seven-year-old kid, I vaguely recall that game — the oldest sibling listening to the game in the car on the way back from a family trip to Brooklyn in a driving snowstorm. Pat Summerall kicked a 49-yard field goal to give the Giants a 13-10 win.
The following week, in a playoff game at Yankee Stadium, the Giants limited Jim Brown to a career-low eight yards in seven carries and shut out Cleveland, 10-0, their third win over the Browns that season.
The Colts were the more rested team in the championship game and it showed, as they wore down the Giants in the fourth quarter and overtime to earn the win. The game that is credited with increasing the popularity of professional football in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
A total of 17 players, coaches and owners involved with the 1958 championship game are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Here’s the list:
New York Giants
OL Rosey Brown
HB Frank Gifford
LB Sam Huff
WR Don Maynard
DE Andy Robustelli
DB Emlen Tunnell
Offensive Coordinator Vince Lombardi
Defensive Coordinator Tom Landry
Owner Tim Mara
Vice President / Secretary Wellington Mara
WR Raymond Berry
DL Art Donovan
DL Gino Marchetti
HB/WR Lenny Moore
OL Jim Parker
QB Johnny Unitas
Head Coach Weeb Ewbank