11 greatest moments in pro football history

NFL’s greatest moment: Johnny Unitas passes the Colts past the Giants in the 1958 championship game. The game was watched by a national television audience and signified the rise of professional football.

A panel of football writers, historians and other experts recently selected the 11 greatest moments in pro football history for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 50th anniversary book. The only criterion was that the moment had to have an enduring impact on the game.

The top three moments occurred during a three-year period in the late 50s and early 60s, led by the Colts-Giants championship game in 1958. The league’s founding and pro football’s first marquee star were ranked fourth and fifth respectively. And the final four moments took place during a four-year span that began with the AFL/NFL merger and ended with the advent of Monday Night Football in 1970.

The beauty of these lists is that fans can easily come up with dozens of other candidates. You could make a strong argument for  moments like the rules changes in 1933 that opened up the forward pass, the Immaculate Reception in 1972 and the Giants Super Bowl victory over the unbeaten Patriots in  2008.

11 players on a side, 11 top events; Here’s the list:

1. The 1958 NFL Championship Game — The Colts beat the Giants 23-17 in sudden death overtime in what is often referred to as  “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” Soon after, pro football exploded on the American scene.

2. The formation of the American Football League, 1959 — Lamar Hunt, a 26-year-old Texas oil man, along with eight original owners. announced plans for a new professional football league, the AFL, to begin play in 1960.

3. Pete Rozelle named commissioner, 1960 — After 23 ballots failed to produce a new leader following the death of long-time czar Bert Bell, NFL owners selected the relatively unknown GM of the Rams. Rozelle, right,  became the visionary behind the Super Bowl.

4. The formation of the National Football League, 1920 — The league’s organizational meeting was held in the showroom of Canton Bulldogs owner Ralph Hays Hupmobile dealership. The American Professional Football Association quickly became the NFL.

5. Red Grange turns pro, 1925 — The Bears signed the nation’s biggest star, who made his pro debut five days after his final collegiate game at the University of Illinois. Several weeks later, Grange drew 70,000 fans to a game against the Giants at the Polo Grounds in New York.

6. The first NFL draft, 1936 — Bert Bell’s innovative idea to help the weaker teams in the league was instituted, and Heisman Trophy winner Jay Berwanger was the first pick. Selected by the Philadelphia Eagles and traded to the Bears, Berwanger decided not to play

7. The reintegration of pro football, 1946 — Pro football had a color barrier from 1934-46, when the  Rams signed Kenny Washington and Woody Strode and the Browns signed Marion Motley, left, and Bill Willis — a year before Jackie Robinson’s debut in Brooklyn.

8. Monday Night Football, 1970 — The first Monday night game, between the Browns and the Jets, televised on ABC,  kicked off a weekly tradition and changed the viewing habits of a nation.

9. Super Bowl III, 1969 — In one of the greatest upsets in sports history, Jets quarterback Joe Namath guaranteed victory, then delivered in a 16-7 win over the Colts that put the AFL on the map.

10. The Ice Bowl, 1967 — The Packers beat the Cowboys 21-17  in arctic-like conditions in the Green Bay in the last game that Vince Lombardi ever coached at Lambeau Field.

11. The AFL/NFL merger, 1966 — The two rival leagues announced a phased merger, which called for an annual world championship game (later known as the Super Bowl) and full integration by 1970.


Top 10: Giants kings of big game drama

 

The New York Giants have been involved in more dramatic big games than any other team in NFL history. From three classic Super Bowls to overtime NFC Championships to “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” the Giants have given New York fans (and football fans everywhere) a full load of  fantastic finishes.

In the past 25 years, the Giants are 4-1 in Super Bowls and 5-0 in NFC Championship games. Six of those games came down to the final play…..and the Giants won ’em all.

Here are the 10 most exciting big games in New York Football Giants history:

1. Giants 17, Patriots 14, Super Bowl XLII, 2008 — Sparked by an impossible catch by David Tyree, Eli Manning then hits Plaxico Burress for the winning touchdown with 35 seconds remaining as the Giants knock off previously unbeaten 18-0 New England in a huge upset.

2. Giants 20, Bills 19, Super Bowl XXV, 1991 — Scott Norwood’s 47-yard field goal sails wide right at the finish and the Giants, behind backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler and MVP Ottis Anderson, defeat the heavily-favored  Bills in the closest game in Super Bowl history.

3. Giants 21, Patriots 17, Super Bowl XLVI, 2012  — Ahmad Bradshaw backs into the end zone for the winning touchdown with 57 seconds left and Tom Brady’s Hail Mary pass fails to connect as the Giants win their fourth Super Bowl and eighth NFL championship.

4. Giants 23, Packers 20,OT,  NFC Championship, 2008 — Lawrence Tynes, right, who earlier had missed two field goals, kicks a 47-yarder in overtime to beat the Packers at Lambeau Field in Green Bay in one of the coldest games in football history.

5. Giants 20, 49ers 17, OT, NFC Championship, 2012 — It’s a case of deja blue all over again. Following a fumbled punt, Lawrence Tynes kicks the Giants into the Super Bowl with a 31-yard field goal in rainy San Francisco.

6. Giants 15, 49ers 13, NFC Championship, 1991 — Matt Bahr makes a 42-yard field goal at the final gun following a fumble recovery by Lawrence Taylor as the Giants end San Francisco’s dreams of a three-peat.

7. Giants 13, Browns 10, 1958 — Pat Summerall’s 49-yard field goal in a driving snowstorm, below left, gives the Giants a victory and a share of the NFL East title. The Giants beat Cleveland 10-0 in a playoff the following week, but, then lose to the Colts in the NFL Championship game.

8. Giants 13, Cowboys 10, OT, 1981 — Joe Danelo’s field goal — and a Jets win over the Packers the next day — propels the Giants into the playoffs for the first time in 18 years. They go on to beat the Eagles before losing to the 49ers.

9. Giants 23, Packers 17, NFL Championship, 1938 — Trailing 17-16 in the fourth quarter, the Giants rally as former MLB umpire Hank Soar makes a leaping catch of Ed Danowski’s pass for the winning touchdown.

10. Giants 17, Browns 13, 1950 — The Giants trail 13-3 at the half before rallying on touchdown runs by Forrest Griffith and Joe Scott to beat the Browns, who had arrived from the All-America Football Conference to dominate the NFL in their first year..

You Can’t Win Em All

Naturally, the Giants have suffered some heartbreaking losses as well, Setbacks to the Jets in 1988 and the Eagles in 2010 knocked them out of  playoff spots. Then there was an overtime loss to the Cowboys in the final game of the 1993 regular season that cost New York the NFC East crown.

And who can forget the “The Miracle at the Meadowlands” in 1978 when Philadelphia’s Herm Edwards returned a fumble for a touchdown as the Giants failed  to take a knee and  run out the clock.

Here are the Giants five most dramatically horrifying playoff losses:

1. Colts 23, Giants 17, OT, NFL Championship, 1958 — In “The Greatest Game Ever Played” quarterback Johnny Unitas sparks a fourth-quarter rally and Alan Amache scores the winning touchdown Baltimore prevails at Yankee Stadium. It remains the only NFL championship game ever to be decided in overtime.

2. 49ers, Giants 38, NFC wild card round, 2003 — The 49ers overcome a 24-point deficit to win in the second greatest comeback in NFL playoff history.

3. Vikings 23, Giants 22, wild card round, 1997 — Minnesota overcomes 19-3 halftime deficit and scores 10 points in last 1:30 to win a wild card playoff matchup.

4. Bears 23, Giants 21, NFL Championship, 1933 —The  Bears tally a late touchdown on trick play to win the first NFL Championship game.

5. Rams 19, Giants 13, OT, NFC divisional round, 1990 — Flipper Anderson catches a 30-yard touchdown pass from Jim Everett as Los Angeles upset the Giants in the Meadowlands.


Don’t Forget Your Playbook: Glory Days

Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas scrambles against Giants in 1959 NFL championship game at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium. Colts won, 31-16.

It was 1959, the caboose of the 1950s, a simpler time in a different world. President Eisenhower was finishing out his second term, the Barbie Doll was launched, and Castro was running wild in Cuba.

Pro football was a simple game in 1959. A dozen teams in the NFL played 12 games apiece. The AFL was still a dream away.

No playoffs. No Super Bowl. One championship game.

In a rematch of their “greatest game” in the 1958 NFL title game, the Colts were looking to defend their championship against the New York Giants in Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium.

Two days after Christmas, in the midst of a tight defensive battle, Giants wide receiver Kyle Rote suffered an apparent concussion. His replacement was Joe Biscaha, a 27th round draft out of the University of Richmond.

Almost A Touchdown
“Near the end of the first half, (Giants quarterback Charlie) Conerly tried to connect   with me on a corner route, but slightly overthrew the pass and I cou022_22ldn’t quite make the catch, even with a diving attempt,” Biscaha, right, recalls more than 50 years year. “If completed. it would have resulted in a touchdown, but it unfortunately fell incomplete in the Colts end zone.

“I continued to play in the third quarter without making any significant contributions to our efforts, and was later replaced by a somewhat ‘foggy’ Rote during the fourth quarter. The Colts had trailed throughout the game by a 9-7 score but eventually scored 24 points in the final quarter to defeat us, 31-16.”

It was the second straight title for the Colts, who beat the Giants 23-17 in a memorable overtime classic to win the 1958 championship.

“In our post-game locker room there was disappointment, but there were also words of encouragement exchanged,” said Biscaha. “And even Charlie Conerly commented to me on the overthrown pass that ‘we almost had one.’.

“Given the fact that he had thrown my way and even had spoken to me, I had felt as though I would be a part of the Giants plans for the coming year. We returned to New York by train that same evening amidst local friends and fans sharing many drinks in commiseration of the loss.”

That would be the last game of Biscaha’s Giants career. When he signed with the Giants he went from $25 a month laundry money at Richmond (part of a football scholarship) to a $7,500 contract.

In eight games that year, he caught one pass for five yards and recovered a fumble.

Playing in The Original AFL
Biscaha failed to make the Giants roster in 1960. He was substitute teaching and making about $100 a week when the Boston (now New England) Patriots of the AFL offered him $4,500 for the last month and a half of the season. So Joe played for that first Patriots team in the AFL’s inaugural season, calling the Kenmore Station Hotel on Commonwealth Avenue home.

“The head coach was Lou Saban, a former Cleveland Brown, who seemed to have been influenced in the ‘General George Patton mentality,'” Biscaha recalled, “while my position coach was Mike Holovak, a likable gentleman from the Boston College coaching background. It seemed like most of the players were from a Boston College or Syracuse (1959 championship team) playing pedigree.

“I was being tried out as a wide receiver and needed to learn the skills to compete against the bump and run techniques utilized by the AFL defensive backs. Having played with the Giants as primarily a tight end, those were skills that I never had to acquire.”

In September of 1961 Biscaha, realizing his playing days were over after a tryout with the New York Titans (now Jets), “signed a teaching contract with the Paterson (NJ) School District for $4,500 for the year and got  $400 more to assist in coaching football.”

His teaching career continued for more than 25 years and was highlighted by three New Jersey State Championship seasons, 1975,1979 and 1980, at Passaic Valley High School, as well as numerous coaching honors. After an eight-year retirement from education, while working in financial services, he returned to serve ten years as a school administrator at Passaic County Technical Institute until his retirement in 2005.

More than 50 years later, he wonders if his career might have taken a different path if Conerly, the NFL MVP in 1959, had not overthrown him in the end zone. “Had I caught that pass would my life have turned out differently?”

Joe’s blog is called “don’t forget to bring your playbook,” a commonly used expression players heard when they were about to be cut. Postings on the blog include his childhood experiences and memories of his pro football career and beyond.


Dom “The Bomb” Randolph Streaking at HC

Holy Cross QB Dominic Randolph has thrown a TD pass in 40 straight games.

The original plan was to head up to Worcester, Mass., with some of my college buddies and see the old alma mater, Holy Cross, and the great quarterback Dominic Randolph, battle Lafayette with the Patriot League title on the line.

But then the rains came. And the plans changed.

Instead this Crusader wound up at a Mass for the Sick in his hometown of White Plains, N.Y. at another alma mater — St. Bernard’s. The Bernies.

You know what they say about the best-laid plans…..In the end, it all worked out. Got closer to God, spent some quality time with my dear aunt and godmother, and the Crusaders prevailed.

Yep, Randolph passed for 348 yards and a pair of touchdowns as Holy Cross rallied to defeat Lafayette 28-26 and clinch the Patriot League championship and an automatic playoff berth.

Randolph is a stud. He’s a leading candidate for the Walter Payton Award. He’s been written up by the New York Times and the Boston Globe, among others.

He’s generating NFL interest, hardly an every day occurrence at a small school like Holy Cross. He needs a flashy nickname, like Dom “The Bomb.”

The Streak

Of all the school and FCS (football championship subdivision, formerly Division I-AA) numbers and records Randolph has accumulated, none is more impressive than this one — Dominic Randolph has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 40 straight games.

The all-time NCAA record for most consecutive games throwing a touchdown is 41 — held by Mike Reilly of Central Washington, a Division II school, from 2005–2008. Ty Detmer of Brigham Young threw a touchdown in 35 straight games for BYU between 1989 and 1991.

Randolph’s string of 40 is DiMaggio-esque in stature. Johnny Unitas of the Baltimore Colts holds the NFL record with 47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass, and that record is often deemed to the statistical equivalent of Joe DiMaggo’s 56-game hitting streak. Unitas’ record has held for almost 50 years since his streak was snapped against the Los Angeles Rams in 1960.

If Randolph throws a touchdown pass in Holy Cross’ finale next week at Bucknell, and another in the Crusaders’ first playoff game, he would establish the all-time NCAA record with 42.

Randolph’s streak began innocently enough against Marist in September of 2006 when the red-shirt freshman tossed his first career touchdown in a 27-0 Holy Cross win. Few in attendance that warm Saturday evening in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., realized they were seeing the start of history in the making.

Passing Fool

The following week Randolph became a starter against Fordham and passed for 263 yards and three touchdowns. He’s been a passing fool every since.

Randolph is all about putting up big numbers. Consider the following:

  • ·· He has passed for at least 200 yards in 38 straight games
  • · He has tossed 30 touchdown passes this year and 113 in his career
  • · Earlier this year, he broke the Holy Cross and Patriot League records for career passing yards
  • · He has thrown for nearly 13,000 career yards, or nearly seven and a half miles
  • · He broke the Holy Cross career records for completions, pass attempts, touchdown passes and yards of total offense — last year
  • · His career completion percentage of .635 is the best in school history
  • · His 23 career 300-yard passing games and seven 400-yard passing games are both the most-ever by a Crusader.

All that, and he leads his team in rushing too.

Not bad for a quarterback who couldn’t crack his high-school starting lineup

And NFL scouts are taking notice. Don’t be surprised if Dominic Randolph – aka “Dom the Bomb” — winds up inext year n the “league where they play for pay.”

Update: On August 19, 2010, Randolph signed a one-year deal with the New York Giants and reported to training camp.

In four years at Holy Cross, Randolph completed 1,131 of 1,786 passes (63.3 percent) for 13,455 yards and 117 touchdowns. He owns the Holy Cross and Patriot League career records for total offense (14,240 yards), passing yards, touchdown passes, completions and pass attempts. He also set the New England collegiate record for most career passing yards, and broke the NCAA football championship subdivision records for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass (42) and most consecutive games with 200 passing yards (41).


Top 10: The Best of the SportsLifer

1. Woodstock: Better Late Than Never

“The thing the sixties did was show us the possibilities and the responsibility that we all had. It wasn’t the answer. It just gave us a glimpse of the possibility.”

– John Lennon

Well, I finally made it to Woodstock, 39 years too late.

2. Empty Seats at Yankee Stadium

As the Yankees get set to open their final season in the original (albeit renovated) Yankee Stadium, look ahead to what I predict will be the toughest ticket in New York sports history — Opening Day at the new Yankee Stadium in 2009.

Yankee tickets weren’t always tough tickets. Even during the great championship runs and dynasties, an SRO crowd in the Bronx was a novelty, not a daily occurrence.

3. NFC East Is NFL’s Beast
Historically, what’s the best division in the NFL?  If you use Super Bowl titles as the ultimate criteria, then it’s the NFC East, hands down.

4. Running Backs Once Ruled at Syracuse

Just like USC is known for producing tailbacks and Penn State linebackers, Syracuse University was once a football factory for running backs.

5. Celtics-Lakers Would Be Historic NBA Final

They’re the Lennon and McCartney of basketball, the Rogers and Astaire of hoops, the Batman and Robin of the hardwood.

6. All-Star Game: The Price Ain’t Right
The last time the All-Star game was held at Yankee Stadium in 1977, tickets were priced $10-15 for box and reserved seats. That’s a far cry from the $150-725 price range for the July 15 midsummer classic, and roughly two-three times the cost of tickets for last year’s game at San Francisco.

7. The Lifeline That Is Football

On a November afternoon in 1963, five days before President John F. Kennedy is assassinated, a 12-year old with this mother, father and cousin sees Y.A. Tittle and the Giants pound the 49ers in Yankee Stadium.

 

8. The Best of Yankee Stadium: Post-Season

As Yankee Stadium closes its doors, this is the final of a three-part retrospective on the moments that shaped Yankee Stadium, New York and the world of sports.

9. Top Ten All-Time Quarterback List

1. Johnny Unitas (Colts, Chargers, 1956-73)
A three-time champ with Baltimore, nine times an All-Pro, seventh all-time with 290 touchdown passes. Holds the NFL equivalent of Joe Dimaggio’s streak, 47 straight games with a TD pass.

10. Bidding Adieu to The House That Ruth Built

It’s been compared to the Colosseum, been called The House That Ruth Built.

Mel Allen, the late Yankee broadcaster, once said, “St. Patrick’s is the Yankee Stadium of cathedrals.”


Slingin’ Sammy Baugh a True Legend

Sammy Baugh, one of the greatest quarterbacks in history, passed away this week at the age of 94.

In a list of top 10 all-time quarterbacks presented by The Sportslifer earlier this year, Baugh was ranked eighth overall, sandwiched between Roger Staubach and Bart Starr. Johnny Unitas leads the list.

Sammy Baugh (Redskins, 1937-52)
Slingin’ Sammy dominated the late 1930s and 1940s, winning six passing titles, two NFL championships, and nine All-Pro berths. And if that wasn’t enough, he could punt too….very well.
From the SportsLifer archives

Baugh spent his entire 16-year career with the Washington Redskins. He won NFL championships in his rookie year and again in 1942.

His greatest year was 1943, when he led the league in passing, interceptions (with 11) and punting. In one game that year, Baugh threw four touchdown passes and intercepted four passes.

When he retired following the 1952 season, Baugh had thrown for 187 touchdowns and held virtually all major NFL passing records. During the 1945 season, Baugh completed 128 of 182 passes for a 70.33 completion percentage, which was an NFL record then and remains the second best today (to Ken Anderson, 70.55 in 1982).

And In 1940, he averaged 51.4 yards per punt, still the NFL single-season record.

First Hall of Fame Class
Baugh was in the inaugural class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, one of 17 inductees and the list survivor from a list of legendary players that includes Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski and Jim Thorpe. In 1994, the NFL named Baugh as one of four quarterbacks on its 75th-anniversary team; the others were Otto Graham, Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana.

A graduate of TCU, Baugh led the Horned Frogs to wins in the 1936 Sugar Bowl and first-ever Cotton Bowl in 1937. In 2003, College Football News named Baugh the third best college football player in history.

He was also the first coach of the New York Titans (later the Jets), posting successive 7-7 records in 1960 and 1961 when the team played at the Polo Grounds. Baugh’s 14-14 record was a Jets best until Bill Parcells went 29-19 between 1997 and 1999.

A tale from Baugh’s rookie season in his New York Times obituary typifies his uncanny passing capability and self-confidence.

Baugh was taking the field for his first practice session with the Redskins when his coach, Ray Flaherty, handed him the football.

“They tell me you’re quite a passer,” Flaherty said.

“I reckon I can throw a little,” Baugh replied.

“Show me,” Flaherty said. “Hit that receiver in the eye.”

To which Baugh supposedly responded, “Which eye?”


The Greatest Game Never Seen in New York

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.

Connecticut Migration
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

Baltimore Colts
WR Raymond Berry
DL Art Donovan
DL Gino Marchetti
HB/WR Lenny Moore
OL Jim Parker
QB Johnny Unitas
Head Coach Weeb Ewbank