The fabulous Sugar Ray Robinson lost his middleweight crown to Gene Fullmer in January and regained it from him in May. Robinson would not hang 'em up until 1965, retiring with 175 victories in 202 bouts. The Detroit Lions came back from a seemingly insurmountable 20 points down to defeat the San Francisco 49ers 31-27 in a Western Conference playoff game. They then crushed Cleveland 59-14 in the NFL title game. The Browns did, however, unveil a promising rookie—Jim Brown. The former Syracuse All-America ran for 942 yards in 1957, and a record 12,312 in his nine-year career.
It was called "the best football game ever played," and it may have been just that. More significantly, it helped transform professional football from a sort of workingman's diversion into a national obsession. Rarely has a single sports event captured and held an audience as dramatically as did the game for the National Football League championship. The Colts won 23-17 when their fullback, Alan Ameche, scored from one yard out eight minutes and 15 seconds into overtime to conclude a masterful 80-yard drive engineered by Quarterback Johnny Unitas. It was the first sudden-death game in the history of the NFL championships. It made Unitas a national hero and it convinced millions of Americans watching on TV that professional football was "The Game."
Baseball, too, was experiencing radical change. On April 15, in San Francisco's Seals Stadium, the former New York Giants beat the former Brooklyn Dodgers 8-0 in the debut of major league ball on the Pacific Coast.
Elgin Baylor's Seattle Chieftains were upset by Kentucky 84-72 in the NCAA basketball final. It was a record fourth title for the Wildcats, and Coach Adolph Rupp termed his squad "just a bunch of fiddlers who turned into violinists." England resumed its ancient America's Cup losing streak after a 21-year hiatus, Sceptre bowing to Columbia off Newport, R.I. Australia, France and Sweden tried for the old mug in subsequent years, with no more success. The first U.S.- U.S.S.R. track meet was held, in Moscow, and Rafer Johnson set a world record in the decathlon. The undefeated Louisiana State football team got handsome yardage from Halfback Billy Cannon and stout defense from some overachievers called "The Chinese Bandits." The Tigers won the national championship. The Army team introduced the Lonesome End offense. That end was Bill Carpenter. Halfback Pete Dawkins won the Heisman Trophy.
The Boston Celtics won the first of eight consecutive NBA championships and added a new dimension to the professional game. Bill Russell blocked shots and cleared the boards as none had before and few have since, and his outlet passes to Bob Cousy, the magical veteran, and other nimble Celts made Boston's fast break the most devastating in history. As a fillip, there was the shooting of Bill Sharman, who sank a record 56 consecutive free throws and finished the season shooting 93.2% from the foul line.
In one of the ring's biggest upsets, Ingemar Johansson of Sweden, a 4-to-1 underdog with "toonder and lightning" in his right fist, put heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson down seven times in scoring a third-round knockout. It was the first time a foreigner had won the title since Primo Carnera triumphed in 1934. Sugar Ray Robinson "retired" long enough for Gene Fullmer to K.O. Carmen Basilio and claim the NBA middleweight title, but the Sugar Man would be back soon enough. The newly transplanted Dodgers whipped the "Go-Go" White Sox in six games to win the World Series. More than 92,000 fans saw each of the three games played in the Los Angeles Coliseum, attendance records that probably will never be surpassed. In the regular season, the Pirates' Harvey Haddix pitched 12 perfect innings, only to lose in the 13th to the Braves. A young lefty named Sandy Koufax tied a record held by Bob Feller when he struck out 18 batters in nine innings.
A smallish, slowish and starless team from the University of California, brilliantly coached by Pete Newell, upset Cincinnati and Oscar Robertson in the semifinals and West Virginia and Jerry West in the finals of the NCAA basketball tournament. "My name's Dalton, what's yours?" Cal's Bobby Dalton said, introducing himself to the startled alltime All-America Robertson before the tipoff.
The Colts again defeated the Giants for the NFL championship, this time by 31-16. In August the American Football League was formed, with plans to begin playing in 1960.