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East Coast clash

Super Bowl latest historic battle between N.Y., Baltimore

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Posted: Friday January 26, 2001 4:30 PM

  Alan Ameche Alan Ameche hits the hole to give the Colts a 23-17 overtime win against the Giants in 1958. AP

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- This Super Bowl is a tale of two cities: crab cakes vs. hot dogs, Inner Harbor vs. Statue of Liberty, Camden Yards vs. Yankee Stadium.

Baltimore vs. New York -- or New Jersey for geography purists -- is a sports rivalry with its roots in the "Greatest Game Ever Played," the 1958 NFL championship between the Colts and the Giants.

That game thrust the NFL onto center stage. It was the first one to go into overtime, a compelling sudden-death affair tied on a late field goal by Baltimore's Steve Myhra and then decided when the Colts' Alan Ameche barreled into the end zone for the winning touchdown.

"We played a good game, but it wasn't the best game we played," Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas said. "What made it the greatest game in football history was that it was the first time there was an overtime in a championship game and the way we drove down the field to tie the game and then win the game."

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When Myhra's 20-yard kick tied the game, the NFL moved ever so tentatively into new territory -- overtime.

"Nobody knew what was going to happen," Unitas said. "The officials didn't know what to do, and both teams were standing on the sidelines wondering, 'What do we do now?'"

What the Colts did was drive down the field, finally positioning the ball at the Giants' 1-yard line. Ameche plunged in from there for the winning score.

"That was a pretty basic play," Unitas said. "We knew that with Ameche and our offensive line, they weren't going to stop us."

Eleven years later, the Colts were back in a championship game against another team from New York, this time the Jets in the 1969 Super Bowl. Baltimore was a 17 1/2-point favorite, a point-spread that astounded Jets quarterback Joe Namath.

"For two weeks, we were told how we were going to lose," Namath said. "When you keep hearing your team isn't going to win, you get angry and frustrated. The anger festers. Anger is a good thing to have."

Namath's supply of it spilled over the week of the game when he was heckled during an appearance at the Miami Touchdown Club. "We're going to win the game," he told the crowd. "I guarantee it."

Already annoyed at Namath's swaggering style, the Colts went ballistic when they heard about the boast. It seemed they were more obsessed with him than winning the game. Matt Snell ran for 121 yards and Namath passed for 206. Final score: Jets 16, Colts 7.

That same year in baseball, the Miracle Mets, perennial tailenders, quite unexpectedly found themselves in the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles. These were the Mets of Rod Gaspar and J.C. Martin against the Orioles of Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer, obscure against awesome.

On the eve of the series, Frank Robinson provided the exclamation point for Baltimore. "Who," he wondered out loud, "is Rod Gaspar?"

True, he wasn't nearly as important as some other Mets -- like Jerry Koosman, who beat the Orioles twice, or Tommie Agee and Ron Swoboda, who made game-saving catches, or Al Weis, who batted .455 and was the MVP of the Mets' five-game victory.

Nobody ever heard of Jeffrey Maier, either, but in the 1996 American League playoffs, he thrust himself into the Baltimore-New York rivalry.

Seated in the right field stands at Yankee Stadium, the 12-year-old reached over the fence to catch a fly ball hit by Derek Jeter as Orioles outfielder Tony Tarasco waited in vain for the ball to come down.

Umpire Rich Garcia called it a home run, allowing the Yankees to tie a game they would go on to win in extra innings. The episode turned the Little Leaguer from Old Tappan, N.J., into an instant celebrity and was an important early step toward the World Series for the Yankees, who've won four of the last five.

Last November, New York prepared for another run at the Series by signing free agent pitcher Mike Mussina -- away from Baltimore, of course.

The same year as the Colts-Jets Super Bowl and Orioles-Mets World Series, Baltimore and New York launched a compelling NBA playoffs rivalry, as well.

The Knicks and Bullets faced each other in the playoffs six consecutive seasons from 1968-69 to 1973-74, with New York winning four of the Eastern Conference series. There were some memorable individual performances with Earl Monroe, a central character in the rivalry, playing for the Bullets at its start and for the Knicks when it ended.

The sequence started with a New York sweep in the 1969 Eastern semifinals. The next season, the Knicks won the conference semis in seven games as Dave DeBusschere and Dick Barnett each scored 28 to offset Monroe's 32 in Game 7 at Madison Square Garden.

A year later, the Bullets reversed that outcome, winning Game 7 of the Eastern finals at the Garden 93-91 with Monroe scoring 26.

By the 1971-72 playoffs, Monroe had been traded to the Knicks. He had 20 points in Game 5 of the conference semis at Baltimore as the Knicks took a 3-2 lead in the series and went on to win in six games.

The next year, the Knicks won the Eastern semis in five games. Then, in 1974, Monroe scored 30 points as the Knicks won Game 7 at the Garden, 91-81.

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