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The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL Hardcover – May 5, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bowden (Black Hawk Down; Guests of the Ayatollah) tells the story of the 1958 National Football League championship game between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants, a legendary game that proved to be a harbinger of the enormous popularity of pro football over the next 50 years. Bowden writes that the game featured the greatest assemblage of talent ever on one field, including 17 future Hall of Fame inductees. He frames the picture with a wide lens, but then focuses on the roles and lives of a few key players, particularly the Colts' obsessive and methodical wide receiver Raymond Berry and the iconic quarterback Johnny Unitas, as well as the Giants' powerful linebacker Sam Huff. The game, played in frigid Yankee Stadium three days after Christmas, stretched into the evening, garnering the largest television audience in the history of the sport to that time. Bowden begins his entertaining and informative narration in the third quarter, and then delves into backstory on the league, players and the buildup, before returning to the gridiron to conclude with a detailed account of the final plays and an epilogue. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

It’s hard to believe, in this era of Super Bowl overkill, but once upon a time, professional football was considered a minor sport. But one game changed all that. It was the 1958 NFL championship between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts, which began three days after Christmas on a gloomy afternoon and ended early in the evening under the lights at Yankee Stadium. Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down (1999), provides context for the game, along with a perceptive overview of the socioeconomic forces at work in America at the time, but he tells the story of what happened on the field primarily through the testimony of key players: Raymond Berry, Gino Marchetti, and Art Donovan of the Colts and Sam Huff and Frank Gifford of the Giants. His skill in transferring these interviews to the page, capturing the dynamic personalities of his subjects, provides an immediacy and electricity missing from so many sports histories. These were tough, intelligent men who loved competing, cared for their teammates and coaches, and who recall their roles in the birth of pro football proudly. No tapes of the original broadcast exist, but in many ways, Bowden’s book is better than any tape could be. --Wes Lukowsky

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; First Edition edition (May 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 087113988X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871139887
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,111,981 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Mark Bowden is the bestselling author of Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War, as well as The Best Game Ever, Bringing the Heat, Killing Pablo, and Guests of the Ayatollah. He reported at The Philadelphia Inquirer for twenty years and now writes for Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, and other magazines. He lives in Oxford, Pennsylvania.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By John Kendall on May 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Mark Bowden has a proven record as an exciting writer of history. The Best Game Ever is his best book ever. He makes the 1958 NFL title game come alive. I have memories as a high school senior of watching this game on television. The game's black-and-white starkness is imbedded in my memory. Mr. Bowden makes this memory come alive in all its vivid character. His lively style is more that of an analytical journalist than an academic historian, and he offers insights that I have not read elsewhere. The photos of this cold-weather game offered in the book made me want to bundle up in spite of the fact that it is 90 degrees in San Antonio (my home) today. Every football fan should be grateful for this book.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Barry Sparks VINE VOICE on June 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
December 28, 1958 marks one of the most classic moments in NFL history. That's the date the Baltimore Colts defeated the New York Giants in sudden death overtime to win the NFL title as 45 million fans watched on television. It marked the birth of the modern NFL as football began to step out of the shadows of baseball.

The match up featured the greatest concentration of football talent for one game as 17 future Hall of Famers were involved. It pitted a team of self-made men and the league's best offense (Colts) versus a team of glamour boys and the best defense (Giants).

Author Mark Bowden tells the story of the 1958 championship game through a handful of players and coaches such as Raymond Berry, Weeb Ewbank, Sam Huff, Tom Landry (Giants' defensive coordinator) and Vince Lombardi (Giants' offensive coordinator). Bowden's exceptional study of Berry is the cornerstone of the book.

Bowden recounts how Johnny Unitas and Berry teamed up to take the Colts 86 yards in two minutes to tie the game. And, how Unitas engineered the 13-play drive in overtime to secure the thrilling victory. Unitas' greatness and leadership in the game elevated him to the highest echelon of NFL quarterbacks.

Interestingly, many of the players didn't realize that the game would continue into sudden death overtime after it was tied in regulation.

As a writer, Bowden makes the reader feel like he's in the middle of the game. He makes you wish you had been able to witness this great game. You envy those who did. NFL Commissioner Bert Bell called the Colts-Giants sudden death overtime game, "The greatest day in the history of professional football."

While I thoroughly enjoyed the book, it's definitely a lightweight treatment of the subject. The book is 239, easy-to-read pages. When I finished the book, I wanted to read more about the game and its impact. I suspect many other readers will feel the same way.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By John Galluzzo VINE VOICE on October 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Bostonians like me are as parochial as sports fans get. In fact, we're sometimes downright myopic. "Who cares about the Giants and Colts? Well," we'd think, "Raymond Berry played in the 1958 championship game, and he later coached the New England Patriots. Maybe I'll read it."

The beauty of Bowden's treatment of the game - of course debatable as to its superlative (American publishing marketing working overtime) - is that it allows the football purist to read all the way through cheering for neither side in particular, but for the game and the sport itself. I wasn't alive when the game was played, and didn't have a rooting interest when I picked up the book. I just wanted a good read on a favored topic, and got just that.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Bruce J. Wasser on January 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Appropriately dedicated to David Halberstam, "The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL" seamlessly blends a gripping journalistic description of the thrilling National Football League championship game with riveting personal stories of participants and witnesses. Author Mark Bowen clearly outlines the background and significance of the contest; he does so with both admiration and considerable affection for the men who fought on the semi-frozen Yankee Stadium turf that late December afternoon and evening. If Bowen extols the performance of the favored Giants, he reserves his greatest warmth for the underdog Baltimore Colts. Seventeen members of the NFL Hall of Fame participated in the contest, "the greatest concentration of football talent ever assembled for a single game."

Bowen provides compelling portraits of some of the sport's iconic figures: Vince Lombardi, Sam Huff, Tom Landry, Frank Gifford, Art "Fatso" Donovan, Lenny Moore and Johnny Unitas. However, Raymond Berry, the self-made wide receiver for the Colts holds a special place in Bowen's heart. Undersized and undervalued, Berry quietly revolutionized the sport with his meticulous preparation and unceasing quest for information. As the Colts marched down the field for the winning touchdown, the public address announcer's repetitious statement, "Unitas to Berry," exemplified two emerging stars summoning peak performances during moments of unbearable pressure.

"The Best Game Ever" contains marvelous anecdotes about the game and its witnesses. Bowen informs us that some of the players did not know about the "sudden death" rule, designed to produce a winner in a championship game.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Brian Lewis on December 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Bowden is a tremendous non-fiction writer, and I enjoyed this book tremendously, but it is a quick, light treatment of a subject loaded with nuance and historical context. The subtitle is Giants vs. Colts, 1958 and the Birth of the Modern NFL, but other than an epilog chapter, it does not really cover much ground after 1958.

This is the work of a terrific author churning out a quick book between his more serious efforts. There are strong portraits of several players, particularly Unitas (one of my boyhood idols) the Giant linebacker Sam Huff, and the methodical Raymond Berry, whose meticulous preparation altered the future of the wide receiver position, as well as the outcome of this championship game.

In light of a recent story about Donovan McNab, the Eagles quarterback being unfamiliar with the rules of overtime football during a regular season game, it was amusing to note how many of these now iconic NFL players actually thought the 1958 championship game could have ended in a tie. Sam Huff was walking off the field and mentally figuring out how the playoff shares would be divided when he first learned about the concept of sudden death.

The book misses many opportunities. The Giants had Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi on the same coaching staff, which strikes me worth a story line or two, but is not developed here. And Bowden makes some really odd choices I felt, perhaps reaching for a new angle on a frequently covered subject. For example, at the moment of the clinching touchdown the focus suddenly shifts to the amateur photographer who caught the moment Alan Ameche broke into the end zone.
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