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

4.4 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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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 --This text refers to the Preloaded Digital Audio Player edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press (May 5, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 087113988X
  • ASIN: B001K3IJ0E
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,613,821 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After reading several books on the NFL and its players/coaches, this by far is the most exciting. For those of you, like myself, who grew up on the modern NFL, this is great view into the old NFL when your favorite players would work at the corner liquor store in the offseason.
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Format: Hardcover
The best game ever?

That covers a great many games.

The game in question fell in December, 1958, as the New York Giants hosted the Baltimore Colts for the NFL Championship in Yankee Stadium. That means it's been 50-plus years since it was played, and cries out for a book.

Mark Bowden, the author of "Black Hawk Down," heard that cry. His reply comes in the form of "The Best Game Ever," a quick look at that historic contest.

The history is a big reason why this game is remembered so well even a half-century later. It's still the only NFL championship game (now called the Super Bowl, of course) to go into overtime. Johnny Unitas led the Colts down the field twice, once for a tying field goal in the dying seconds of regulation time and once for a game-winning touchdown.

Bowden takes on this project about the way you'd expect him to do so. After a quick introduction, he works his way through some key personalities and moments leading up to the game itself.

The author talked to many of the participants who were still alive to talk about it. Obviously Raymond Berry was a very valuable source of information, as he gives plenty of insights into his unique approach (the most prepared player in the league) and the game itself.

Bowden grew up as a Colts' fan, and it's easy to see that he loved writing this book. After all, he got to talk to some of the Baltimore players from that era. There are some good stories here. It's funny to hear that many of the players didn't know that a championship game could go into overtime, expecting a split title to be awarded once it was knotted at 17-17 after 60 minutes.

Still, this book feels on the slight side.
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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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