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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