No one who saw the Baltimore Colts win the world professional football championship from the New York Giants by 23-17 on Dec. 28 (SI, Jan. 5) will ever forget the game—and some 50 million people did watch, in person or on television. The classics of the pre-television era have been perpetuated only in the minds of the spectators on hand and by the newspaper accounts; this, for the first time, was a truly epic game which inflamed the imagination of a national audience.
The principal architect of excitement was a lanky, crew-cut castoff quarterback named John Unitas, who operated the wonderfully proficient Baltimore team with the cool sang-froid of a card-sharp. Of course, he was far from the whole show. A magnificent Baltimore offensive line blocked savagely all afternoon; a myopic end named Ray Berry, who wears contact lenses, caught 12 passes, most of them unbelievably; and a thick-set fullback named Alan Ameche thundered into the good Giant defense with an impact often audible over the continuing roar of the crowd. Later, reflecting on the biggest day in his life, Unitas said, "You have to gamble or die in this league. I don't know if you can call something controlled gambling, but that's how I look at my play-calling. I'm a little guy, comparatively, that's why I gamble. It doesn't give those giants a chance to bury me."
No one buried Unitas in this very nearly perfect game, and his controlled gambling brought victory. Here are details of how and why the Colts won.
Key to nearly impregnable Colt blocking was perfect job Tackle Jim Parker (77) did on Giants' fine end, Andy Robustelli (81). "Greatest I ever played against," said Robustelli, who couldn't get past Parker.
"Any time I can get three seconds to throw, we're in good shape," says Colt Quarterback John Unitas. He had his three seconds with time to spare in this game, behind this strong blocking pattern. Parker (77) took Robustelli (81); Tackle George Preas (60) was on Jim Katcavage (75), the other Giant end. Art Spinney (62) and Alex Sandusky (68), the Colt guards, handled Giant Tackles Dick Modzelewski (77) and either Frank Youso or Roosevelt Grier (76). So strong and precise was the Baltimore blocking that time and again Unitas was able to wait well over his three seconds before throwing a pass and very often he had a clear route if he chose to run.
In the early testing and probing the Colts failed to score, but two developments affected their eventual victory. First, a long pass to Halfback Lenny Moore established him as the Colts' most dangerous receiver, so the Giants assigned two men to him, sometimes covering Berry with only one man, a fatal mistake. Second, a Colt field goal was blocked when Spinney turned out instead of in, leaving Linebacker Sam Huff a clear route. This was corrected when they kicked the game-tying last-seconds field goal. Late in the quarter a 36-yard field goal by Pat Summerall gave the Giants a 3-0 lead.
Moore (24) makes a leaping catch of Unitas' pass on the Giant 40 as Defensive Halfback Lindon Crow (41) barely misses deflecting the ball. Play made Giants gun shy, set up later completions to Berry which won the game.
On 38-yard run which set up New York field goal, Halfback Frank Gifford (16) is tipped off balance by near miss by Colt Defensive Halfback Mill Davis. Lost step cost Gifford possible touchdown, so Giants settled for field goal.
Halfback Alex Webster, in the clear deep in Colt territory on same drive, slips as accurate Conerly pass sails over his head. Had he retained his footing, play would probably have been a touchdown. This was the turning point of first half.