Never has there been a game like this one. When there are so many high points, it is not easy to pick the highest. But for the 60,000 and more fans who packed Yankee Stadium last Sunday for the third week in a row, the moment they will never forget—the moment with which they will eternally bore their grandchildren—came with less than 10 seconds to play and the clock remorselessly moving, when the Baltimore Colts kicked a field goal that put the professional football championship in a 17-17 tie and necessitated a historic sudden-death overtime period. Although it was far from apparent at the time, this was the end of the line for the fabulous New York Giants, eastern titleholders by virtue of three stunning victories over a great Cleveland Browns team (the last a bruising extra game to settle the tie in which they had finished their regular season), and the heroes of one of the most courageous comebacks in the memory of the oldest fans.
This was also a game in which a seemingly irretrievable loss was twice defied. It was a game that had everything. And when it was all over, the best football team in the world had won the world's championship.
The Baltimore Colts needed all their varied and impressive talent to get the 17-17 tie at the end of the regular four quarters. Then, for eight and one quarter minutes of the sudden-death extra period, in which victory would go to the first team to score, all of the pressure and all of the frenzy of an entire season of play was concentrated on the misty football field at Yankee Stadium. The fans kept up a steady, high roar. Tension grew and grew until it was nearly unbearable. But on the field itself, where the two teams now staked the pro championship and a personal winner's share of $4,700 on each play, coldly precise football prevailed. With each team playing as well as it was possible for it to play, the better team finally won. The Colts, ticking off the yards with sure strength under the magnificent direction of quarterback Johnny Unitas, scored the touchdown that brought sudden death to New York and the first championship to hungry Baltimore.
This game, unbelievably, managed to top all the heroics of the spectacular Giant victories that had led up to it. The Colts won because they are a superbly well armed football team. They spent the first half picking at the small flaws in the Giant defense, doing it surely and competently under the guidance of Unitas. The Giant line, which had put destructive pressure on Cleveland quarterbacks for two successive weeks, found it much more difficult to reach Unitas. Andy Robustelli, the fine Giant end, was blocked beautifully by Jim Parker, a second-year tackle with the Colts. Unitas, a tall, thin man who looks a little stooped in his uniform, took his time throwing, and when he threw, the passes were flat and hard as a frozen rope, and on target. He varied the Baltimore attack from time to time by sending Alan Ameche thumping into the Giant line.
The Giant defense, unable to overpower the Colts as it had the Browns, shifted and changed and tried tricks, and Unitas, more often than not, switched his signal at the last possible second to take advantage of Giant weaknesses. Once, in the first quarter, when the New Yorkers tried to cover the very fast Lenny Moore with one man, Unitas waited coolly while Moore sprinted down the sideline, then whipped a long, flat pass that Moore caught on the Giant 40 and carried to the 25.
Then the Giant defense blocked a field goal attempt that followed, and Charley Conerly, the 37-year-old Giant quarterback who played one of the finest games of his long career, caught the Colt linebackers coming in on him too recklessly. He underhanded a quick pitch-out to Frank Gilford, and Gilford went 38 yards to the Colts' 31; a couple of plays later the Giants led 3-0 on a 36-yard field goal, by Pat Summerall.
In the second quarter, with the probing and testing over, the Colts asserted a clear superiority. They had gone into the game reasonably sure that their running would work inside the Giant tackles, and sure, too, that the quick, accurate passes of Unitas to receivers like Moore and Ray Berry could be completed. The first quarter reinforced that opinion, and the second quarter implemented it. A Giant fumble recovered on the Giant 20 by Gene Lipscomb, the 288-pound Colt tackle, set up the first touchdown. Unitas punctured the Giant line with Ameche and Moore, and sent Moore outside end once when the Giant center clogged up, and then Ameche scored from the two and it all looked easy.
It looked easy on the next Colt foray, too. This one started on the Baltimore 14 and moved inevitably downfield. The Colt backs, following the quick, vicious thrust of the big line, went five and six yards at a time, the plays ending in a quick-settling swirl of dust as the Giant line, swept back in a flashing surge of white Colt uniforms, then slipped the blocks to make the belated tackles. Unitas passed twice to Berry, the second time for 15 yards and the second Colt touchdown. The Giants, now 11 points behind, looked well whipped.
The feeling of the game changed suddenly and dramatically late in the third quarter on the one accomplishment that most often reverses the trend in a football game—the denial of a sure touchdown. The Colts had moved almost contemptuously to the Giant three-yard line. After the half the Baltimore team, which had manhandled the New York defense to gain on the ground for most of the first half, switched to passing. Unitas, given marvelous blocking by the Colt offensive line, picked apart the Giant defensive secondary with passes thrown so accurately that often Colt receivers snatched the ball from between two Giant defenders who were only a half step out of position. When the irresistible passing attack carried the Colts to the Giant three-yard line, first down and goal to go, even the most optimistic Giant fans in the stands must have given up.
But the Giant defense, which, more than anything else, brought this team to the championship game, again coped with crisis and stopped Baltimore cold.