Tag Archives: New York Giants football history

“Big Game, New Era”
Colts vs. Giants, 1958

In 1958, the game of professional football occupied a distinctly different position in America’s economy and culture than it does today. There were no Super Bowls then and certainly no $150,000-per-second TV ads during any sporting event. Baseball was then America’s most popular sport, by far. In fact, through most of the 1950s, college football was more widely followed than professional football. But in late 1958 a sea change was about to come to professional football; a change that would set the game on its present course as big-time business, taking over a large part of American sports culture and American Sunday afternoons for five or more months of the year.

December 28, 1958 game-changer: Famous photo from Baltimore Colts vs. New York Giants  NFL championship game; the game that launched a new era of big time pro football sports culture & big business. Baltimore Colts quarterback, Johnny Unitas, No. 19, shown here about to throw one of his passes.
December 28, 1958 game-changer: Famous photo from Baltimore Colts vs. New York Giants NFL championship game; the game that launched a new era of big time pro football sports culture & big business. Baltimore Colts quarterback, Johnny Unitas, No. 19, shown here about to throw one of his passes.

The historic moment marking the beginning of this transformation came some 50 years ago now, on December 28th, 1958 at the meeting of the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants in a professional football game played at New York’s Yankee Stadium. In those days, this season-capping football showdown was simply called a National Football League (NFL) championship game. There was only one football league then, the NFL, consisting of two conferences, East and West, each with six teams. The championship game, however, wasn’t just any old championship game. No, it happened that there was a pretty impressive lot of talent out on the field that day – a number of whom would later join the pro football Hall of Fame. The game was also nationally televised, still something of a rarity for professional football at the time. But this particular mix of elements would make for a pretty exciting afternoon – and more. “That’s the game that changed professional football,”famous Hall of Fame football coach Don Shula would say some years later. “The popularity of it started right there.”


1950s America

Dwight D. Eisenhower, U.S. President 1953-1961.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, U.S. President 1953-1961.
America in 1958 was a much different place than America today. Republican Dwight David Eisenhower was president, and the Cold War was on with the Soviet Union. The previous fall, in fact, in October 1957, the Soviets had beat the U.S. into space with the first earth-orbiting satellite, raising fears about America’s security and technological capabilities.

In terms of consumer amenities in those years, there were no iPhones, of course, no PCs, no big-screen TVs. In fact television then had three primary channels, viewed mostly on small black-and-white sets. TV westerns were a dominant genre in the 1950s, and Gunsmoke, with actor James Arness, was among the most popular shows.

In music, Billboard magazine debuted its “Hot 100″ music chart in July 1958, and Ricky Nelson’s “Poor Little Fool” became the first No.1 hit. In Hollywood, South Pacific, a romantic musical film based on the Rodgers and Hammerstein stage production of the same name, would become the year’s top grossing film. In September that year, Bank of America introduced the first credit card.

President Eisenhower, meanwhile, who had played halfback on the West Point football team, watched the 1958 NFL Championship Game that day between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants. He tuned in from Camp David, joining millions of others who also watched the game.

Colts QB, Johnny Unitas, at a 1950s practice session, about to throw a pass.
Colts QB, Johnny Unitas, at a 1950s practice session, about to throw a pass.

Regular Guys

Professional football players in those days, for the most part, did not have the exalted status and multi-million-dollar paydays they would come to have years later. Most in fact, were then pretty much like everybody else; like normal people. Some even lived in row houses.

A guy named Johnny Unitas who happened to be the quarterback on the Baltimore Colts professional football team, had recently helped his teammate, fullback Alan Ameche, lay out his kitchen floor in the row house that Ameche and his wife had bought.

Professional football salaries were such that some players held other work-a-day jobs during their football careers. Unitas, in fact, worked at Bethlehem Steel during the off-season for extra cash. Another Colt, defensive lineman Art Donovan, worked as a liquor salesman.


Football Drama

But in late December 1958, Unitas, Ameche, Donovan and their teammates would travel to New York’s Yankee Stadium for a professional football championship showdown with the New York Giants that some believe was one of the greatest games ever played. It would also be the game that catalyzed a major change in the fan base for pro football, and generally, in its economics as well.“I knew nothing about pro football when the game began and was hooked for life when it ended. So too were millions… of other Americans…”
– Jonathan Yardley
Of fans who saw the game that day – either among the reported crowd of 64,185 who filled the old Yankee Stadium, or the millions who watched on television – many came away believing they had witnessed a very special contest indeed. Washington Post writer, Jonathan Yardley, recalled some years later that his football conversion occurred watching this game on television as a young man – a game, he would later write, “for which the only appropriate adjective was, and remains, thrilling.” Yardley was 19 years-old at the time, home from college for Christmas vacation. Bored to tears with nothing much to do, he had found a black-and-white television set in a recreation room at the school where his father was headmaster – “to which I retreated in desperation the afternoon of December 28th.” Yardley recounted that “he knew nothing about pro football when the game began, but was hooked for life when it ended. So too were millions – literally millions – of other Americans…” More on the game in a moment; first some background on how the two teams got there.


The ’58 Season

In 1958, the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts were the respective champions of their divisions. Each team had complied 9-and-3 records that season, pro teams then playing a 12-game schedule as opposed to 16 today. Baltimore had won their first six games, standing at 6-and-0 until losing to the Giants in a regular season contest, in part because quarterback Johnny Unitas was out due to an injury. In any case, the Colts clinched the Western Conference title by Game 10, beating San Francisco, then able to rest their starters for the remaining two games of the regular season, which they lost.

Dec 14, 1958. Pat Summerall kicks winning field goal in the snow against the Browns to advance Giants to playoff game.
Dec 14, 1958. Pat Summerall kicks winning field goal in the snow against the Browns to advance Giants to playoff game.
The Giants had a more tortured route. They were 2-and-2 by week four, improving to 5-and-3 by week eight, and finishing strong by wining their last four games in a row, bringing them to 9-and-3. But their last few contests with the Cleveland Browns would test their mettle.

On December 14th, 1958, the 8-3 Giants faced a 9-2 Cleveland Browns team — their last regular season game and their last shot at a possible Conference title. That game came down to a 10-to-10 tie in closing minutes of play on a cold, snowy afternoon.

It was then that the call went out to Giant’s place kicker, Pat Summerall, to attempt a 49-yard field goal in the driving snow. The pressure was on. Ending in a tie game would mean Cleveland would go to the Championship game, not the Giants.

Summerall made the kick, despite the freezing conditions, sending the ball through the uprights, and lifting the Giants to a 13-10 win. But that wasn’t the end of it.

Giants managed to hold NFL’s leading rusher, Jim Brown (32) of Cleveland to 8 yds in Dec 21, 1958 playoff game.
Giants managed to hold NFL’s leading rusher, Jim Brown (32) of Cleveland to 8 yds in Dec 21, 1958 playoff game.
Now the Giants and the Browns were tied for the Eastern Conference title, each at 9-and-3.

That meant a playoff game would be needed to determine the Eastern Conference champion. So that game was played the following week on December 21st, 1958 at Yankee Stadium.

Jim Brown of Cleveland was a punishing and powerful fullback for Cleveland, who had gained a record 1,527 yards rushing that year. In the playoff game, however, the Giants managed to hold Brown to a mere eight yards total rushing – no mean feat – and won the game, beating Cleveland 10-0.

Then, a week later, came the NFL Championship game against the well-rested Baltimore Colts, to be played on the same Yankee Stadium field where the Giants had just beaten the Browns – a field worn by the previous weeks’ battles, and much of it on the baseball diamond’s bare-dirt infield. These were not the days of well-manicured Super Bowl fields and climate controlled superdomes.

The Hall of Fame 15
1958 Championship Game

New York Giants
Rosey Brown, Offensive Lineman
Frank Gifford, Halfback
Sam Huff, Linebacker
Don Maynard, Wide Receiver
Andy Robustelli, Defensive End
Emlen Tunnell, Defensive Back
Vince Lombardi, Offensive coordinator
Tom Landry, Defensive coordinator

Baltimore Colts
Raymond Berry, Wide Receiver
Art Donovan, Defensive Lineman
Weeb Ewbank Head Coach
Gino Marchetti, Defensive Lineman
Lenny Moore, Halfback/Receiver
Jim Parker, Offensive Lineman
Johnny Unitas, Quarterback

Talented Teams

The nationally-televised NFL Championship Game was broadcast by NBC and watched by some 50 million people. The broadcast would help open the floodgates to more televised professional football contests thereafter, and the sport’s rising popularity via television in the 1960s and beyond. And the fact that it was being played in media-centric New York, even then, meant that it would receive a fair amount of press attention.

On the field that day there were 12 players and 3 coaches – including Colts’ quarterback Johnny Unitas and hulking Giants linebacker Sam Huff – who would later be inducted into the Football Hall of Fame. (see later sidebar below for brief player profiles).

Unitas and the Colts also had Lenny Moore at halfback, wide receiver Raymond Berry, and all pro defensive end, Gino Marchetti. The Giants, in addition to Huff’s formidable defensive talents, had a potent backfield in Frank Gifford at halfback (also a passing threat), Alex Webster at halfback, and fullback Mel Triplett.

This particular game, in addition to its playing talent, would also have some of game’s rising strategic thinkers and coaching personnel, especially in the case the Giant’s offensive coordinator, Vince Lombardi, and Giant’s defensive coordinator, Tom Landry, both of whom would later rise to have standout seasons and Super Bowl victories as head coaches — Lombardi with the Green Bay Packers and Landry with the Dallas Cowboys. The Super Bowl trophy, in fact – the Lombardi Trophy – is named after Vince Lombardi. And for the Colts as well, head coach Weeb Ewbank would go on to other coaching successes, notably winning Super Bowl III with the New York Jets and quarterback great, Joe Namath.

Frank Gifford (16), star halfback for the New York Giants, shown in an earlier 1958 game, running against the Cleveland Browns, as offensive end, Bob Schnelker (85), blocks ahead of Gifford, with other Giants, offensive tackle Rosey  Brown (79) and half back Kyle Rote (44), visible in the background and headed downfield.
Frank Gifford (16), star halfback for the New York Giants, shown in an earlier 1958 game, running against the Cleveland Browns, as offensive end, Bob Schnelker (85), blocks ahead of Gifford, with other Giants, offensive tackle Rosey Brown (79) and half back Kyle Rote (44), visible in the background and headed downfield.

The 1958 championship game would also have high drama, as it would go into sudden-death overtime – the first time that had ever occurred in an NFL game. And in the wake of this game, new football celebrities were created and pro football as a sports business was about to become a much bigger enterprise.

For the Giants, backup QB Don Heinrich would start the game, as he and regular QB Charlie Conerly had routinely shared the position in the early minutes of each game throughout the season. The Giants’s coaching staff liked to use Heinrich for the first few series to “feel out” the opposition so that offensive coordinator Vince Lombardi and Conerly could look over the defense from the sidelines. Along with their other coaches in the press box, the Giants could then modify the game plan for Conerly when he entered the game. At least that was the plan.

Colts’ Lenny Moore (24) about to catch a Unitas pass. (graphic, Robert Riger).
Colts’ Lenny Moore (24) about to catch a Unitas pass. (graphic, Robert Riger).
First Quarter. The game got off to a sloppy start with fumbles on both sides. Giant linebacker Sam Huff sacked Colt QB Johnny Unitas forcing a fumble, as New York recovered on the Colts 37. One play later, Baltimore took the ball back after defensive end Gino Marchetti hit NY QB Don Heinrich causing him to fumble with the Colts recovering. But in the ensuring Colt possession, a Unitas pass was picked off by Giant defensive back, Lindon Crow.

The Giants then went three-and-out. Baltimore began moving on its possession, as Unitas completed a 60-yard pass to Lenny Moore at the Giants 26-yard line, establishing speedster Moore as a big threat. But Baltimore’s drive was slowed, and they were forced to make a field goal try at the 19 yard line.

Kicker Steve Myhra, who made only 4 of 10 FGs during the season, missed the kick from about the 31 yard line. However, the Giants were offside, so Myhra got another chance, this time from about the 26. However, Giant linebacker Sam Huff broke through the Colt line and blocked the kick.

As the Giants took over, QB Charlie Conerly then came in and moved New York to the Colts’ 30-yard line, featuring a 38-yard run by Frank Gifford. On a third-down play, Conerly threw a pass to wide-open fullback, Alex Webster, who slipped on the turf just as the ball arrived, sailing past him and falling incomplete. If caught, however, this one might have been a Giant’s touchdown. Pat Summerall then kicked a 36-yard field goal to put New York on the board. Giants 3, Colts 0.

Second quarter. During the second quarter, the line play of both teams began to be a telling feature of this game, as some of New York’s standout defenders, like Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier, playing with a a bad leg, wasn’t at full power. Halfback Frank Gifford would have his problems as well. Giant QB Conerly tossed to Gifford in the left flat. But as Gifford tried to break the tackle of Colt defensive lineman, Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb (6′-6″, 285 lbs), the ball popped out and Colt defensive tackle, Ray Krouse, fell on it at the New York 20-yard-line.

December 28, 1958 NFL championship game at Yankee Stadium, as New York Giant’s halfback, Frank Gifford, No. 16, looks for running room as Baltimore Colt defenders – including “Big Daddy” Lipscomb No 76 -- close in.
December 28, 1958 NFL championship game at Yankee Stadium, as New York Giant’s halfback, Frank Gifford, No. 16, looks for running room as Baltimore Colt defenders – including “Big Daddy” Lipscomb No 76 -- close in.

The Colts then took over with mostly running plays: Lenny Moore ran for 4 yards, Ameche for 5, and then again for a yard more and a first down. The Colts were now at the ten-yard line. Moore then tried a run around left end, was almost taken for a loss by Colt defensive back Karl Karilivacz, but broke free briefly until Colt defensive back Jimmy Patton pushed him out at the 2-yard-line. From there, Unitas gave the ball to fullback Ameche (photo below) who took it in for a score behind the blocking of left tackle Jim Parker. Myhra’s point-after-touchdown kick then added the extra point. Colts 7, Giants 3.

Alan Ameche, No. 35, takes hand-off from Colt quarterback Johnny Unitas, No, 19, to score on a two-yard run in the 2nd quarter after Giant’s Frank Gifford had fumbled at that end of the field, putting the Colts in the lead, 7-to-3.
Alan Ameche, No. 35, takes hand-off from Colt quarterback Johnny Unitas, No, 19, to score on a two-yard run in the 2nd quarter after Giant’s Frank Gifford had fumbled at that end of the field, putting the Colts in the lead, 7-to-3.

The Giants made little progress after receiving the Colt’s kick, and after a series of plays had to punt. The kick to the Colts, however, was fumbled by Jackie Sampson, with the Giants recovering on the their 10-yard line. But the Giant’s were unable to capitalize, as Frank Gifford, on a sweep play left, fumbled again late in the second quarter when hit by Colt defensive back Milt Davis. On the Giant’s defensive line about that time, tackle Rosey Grier took himself out of the game, as his leg injury had hobbled him by then. With thin reinforcements, the Giants were forced to use an offensive tackle, Fran Youso, to replace Grier for the rest of the game.

Play diagrams & explanation from ‘Sports Illustrated,’ January 1959 issue (more detail, later below)
Play diagrams & explanation from ‘Sports Illustrated,’ January 1959 issue (more detail, later below)
Unitas then came in with his Colts needing 90 yards for a score – and promptly engineered an impressive drive. Among the key plays: a 10-yard pass to Ameche on 3rd-and-5; a Lenny Moore sweep for a 10-yard gain; a Unitas scramble for 16 on a 3rd-and-7; and a 13-yard pass to Raymond Berry, who made a diving catch at the 21.

From there, Ameche gained 6 more yards. Then Unitas faked to Ameche, as in the previous running play, drawing in Colt defender Jimmy Patton (#20), who thinks it’s a run. But instead, Unitas then turns and fires a 15-yard-pass to Berry who is wide open in the end zone. Touchdown! (see diagram at right). Myhra then added the extra point. Colts 14, Giants 3.

Sam Huff would later say of his nemesis that afternoon, Johnny Unitas:

“You couldn’t out-think Unitas. When you thought run, he passed. When you thought pass, he ran. When you thought conventional, he was unconventional. When you thought unconventional, he was conventional. When you tried thinking in reverse, he double-reversed. It made me dizzy. It bothered me. We were one of the greatest defensive teams ever put together. … But we didn’t have a defense for Unitas.”

Third Quarter. The Colts received the kickoff at the opening of the second half, and Unitas, with continued good protection from his offensive line, moved the Colts down the field with passing in two series of downs before punting to the Giants. But the Giants went 3-and-out, punting the ball back to the Colts. This time, Unitas moved the Colts down the field to the Giant three-yard line, first down and goal to go. A sure touchdown seemed certain. Giant fans were about to throw in the towel. But the Colts were stopped cold by the Giant defense there on four attempts, including a quarterback sneak attempt by Unitas. But the Colts, surprisingly, did not opt for a field goal. On successive 3rd and 4th down running attempts by fullback Ameche, as the Giant defenders held the line

Alan Ameche, Colts fullback, and key workhorse in the game, mis-heard play call that might have been TD.
Alan Ameche, Colts fullback, and key workhorse in the game, mis-heard play call that might have been TD.
On the fourth down play, however, the Colts went for what they hoped would be a touchdown and an insurmountable 21-3 lead. Unitas called a play for Ameche to take a handoff and then throw a pass for the score. In the ensuing play, tight end Jim Mutscheller was open in the end zone, but Ameche didn’t throw the ball. He hadn’t heard the play correctly in the huddle and thought he was supposed to run the ball. He never looked for Mutscheller and was tackled for a loss.

The Giants then took over, giving team and fans hope they would prevail. It was one of the game’s key turning points in what was becoming an exciting see-saw battle.

Still, backed up against their own endzone, the Giants had their work cut out for them. They had 95-yards to go. A key play came on a Conerly pass to Kyle Rote who caught the ball on a long crossing route, broke an arm tackle at about mid-field, but then fumbled when he was hit from behind at around the 25 yard line. Fortunately for the Giants, running back Alex Webster wasn’t far behind, and although some Colt players were closing in on the fumble, Webster managed to pick up the ball and ran downfield until he was knocked out-of-bounds at the one-yard-line. From there, Giant fullback Mel Triplett took the ball in for the score. Summerall kicked his first extra point of the day. Colts 14, Giants 10. The psychology of the game suddenly shifted in the Giant’s favor – or so it seemed.

Mel Triplett (33), NY Giants’ fullback, on the move during the 1958 NFL Championship Game, as Colt’s defensive lineman, Gino Marchetti pursues him. Triplett would score Giant touchdown in the 3rd quarter..
Mel Triplett (33), NY Giants’ fullback, on the move during the 1958 NFL Championship Game, as Colt’s defensive lineman, Gino Marchetti pursues him. Triplett would score Giant touchdown in the 3rd quarter..

The Giants continued their momentum, sacking Unitas for a loss to force a three-and-out for the Colts. Starting the next possession from their 19, the Giants began moving again. Webster ran for 3, then Conerly hit tight end Bob Schnelker with a pass for 17 yards as the third quarter ended.

Fourth Quarter. Then early in the fourth quarter, with the Giants still with the ball, Conerly hit Schnelker again, followed by a 15-yard pass to Gifford who caught it at the 5 yard line, then carrying defender Milt Davis with him into the endzone for the score. With the extra point, it was now Giants 17, Colts 14.

The Baltimore Colts in the fourth quarter were able to move the ball into scoring range on two occasions, but came up short both times. First they made it to the Giants 39-yard line, but kicker Bert Rechichar missed a 46-yard field goal attempt. On another drive after a fumble recovery, they moved the ball to the New York 42 yard line, and then to the 27-yard line. But here, Unitas was sacked twice in a row – once by Giant’s defensive tackle, Andy Robustelli, and once by Giant’s defensive end, Dick Modzelewski. These losses pushed the Colts back by 20 yards or so and out of field goal range.

New York Times photo from November 1962: NY Giants defensive lineman, from left: Andy Robustelli, Dick Modzelewski, Jim Katcavage and Rosey Grier, were also key Giant players in 1958. Photo Dan Rubin.
New York Times photo from November 1962: NY Giants defensive lineman, from left: Andy Robustelli, Dick Modzelewski, Jim Katcavage and Rosey Grier, were also key Giant players in 1958. Photo Dan Rubin.

With less than three minutes left in the game when they received the Colts punt, the Giants were trying to run out the clock through a series of plays and hold their lead. But then they faced a crucial third-down-and-4-yards-to-go, needing a first down for a fresh set of plays. They were on their own 40 yard line. Gifford was given the call on a sweep play, and appeared to have the first-down as he was tackled by Colt’s defensive end, Gino Marchetti. Also joining in on the tackle was Colt teammate “Big Daddy” Lipscomb who fell on Marchetti, breaking his lower leg bones above the ankle. Some say Marchetti’s yelling in pain had distracted the officials resulting in a bad spot of the ball marking the end of Gifford’s run. Gifford believed – and would maintain for years thereafter – that he had made the crucial first down. But at the time, the ball was placed just short of the marker.

Sports Illustrated artists’ rendition of key 4th quarter play from 1958 Championship game when Colt’s Gino Marchetti (89) makes tackle of Giant’s Frank Gifford (16), as Colt’s Big Daddy Lipscomb (76) joins in, when the tibia and fibula bones in Marchetti's lower right leg were broken, afterwhich officials made a controversial spot of Gifford’s advance just short of a first down.
Sports Illustrated artists’ rendition of key 4th quarter play from 1958 Championship game when Colt’s Gino Marchetti (89) makes tackle of Giant’s Frank Gifford (16), as Colt’s Big Daddy Lipscomb (76) joins in, when the tibia and fibula bones in Marchetti's lower right leg were broken, afterwhich officials made a controversial spot of Gifford’s advance just short of a first down.

This meant the Giants were then at a pivotal fourth-down moment. They were inches away from a possible first down, which if made, would help them continue to eat up the clock, hold their lead, and win the game. Should they go for it or punt? Offensive coach Vince Lombardi urged Giant head coach Jim Lee Howell to go for it, as did defensive coach Tom Landry. Giant players wanted to go for it as well, thinking they had a better shot at running the ball at Marchetti’s replacement, Ordell Brase. Giant’s offensive guard, Jack Stroud, would later say: “We only need four inches. We would have run through a brick wall at that point.” There was a little over two minutes remaining.

Injured Colt Gino Marchetti on sideline.
Injured Colt Gino Marchetti on sideline.
Meanwhile, the injured Gino Marchetti, who had been carried off on a stretcher, told his carriers to put him down just outside the sideline so he could watch the rest of the game. “After all those years when we were so bad,” he would later say, “I wanted at least to see the finish.”

Back on the Giant’s sideline, head coach Jim Howell was still pondeing his fourth down decision. He elected to punt, believing his defense could protect the Giants 17-to-14 lead and hold the Colts in the remaining minutes.

The punt by Giant’s Don Chandler pinned Baltimore back on their own 14 yard-line with about two minutes remaining in the game. As the Colts took the field, wide receiver, Raymond Berry recalled: “I said to myself, ‘Well, we’ve blown this ballgame.’ The goalpost looked a million miles away.”

With 1:56 left and no timeouts, a Johnny Unitas legend was about to begin. From that point, Unitas engineered one of the most famous drives in football history – what might be called a “2-minute drill,” though before anyone used that term. His first two throws were incomplete, but Unitas made a third down, 11-yard completion to Lenny Moore. After a first down throw went incomplete, Unitas then threw three consecutive completions to Raymond Berry for 25, 15 and 22 yards, moving the ball 62 yards down the field to the Giants 13-yard line as time nearly ran out. This set up a 20-yard field goal by Myhra with seven seconds left to play. Myhra, in fact, wasn’t just a kicker that day, as he had been playing most of the game, since the first quarter, replacing injured left linebacker Leo Sanford. Nor was Myhra’s record exceptionally good, having made only 4 of 10 field goal attempts during the season. But this time, with seven seconds left, Myhra hit the 20-yard field goal, tying the score – Giants 17, Colts 17.

1958. With 7 seconds  remaining in the championship game, Colts kicker, Steve Myhra, successfully boots one through the uprights from 20 yards out, tying score with the Giants, 17-to-17. Ball in flight is visible, upper center.
1958. With 7 seconds remaining in the championship game, Colts kicker, Steve Myhra, successfully boots one through the uprights from 20 yards out, tying score with the Giants, 17-to-17. Ball in flight is visible, upper center.

As the final seconds ticked away in the deadlocked contest, many of the players thought the game was over and would end as a tie. Some began heading to the locker rooms only to be admonished by the officials that a “sudden death” overtime period was about to begin. It was the first overtime game in NFL playoff history.


Sports Illustrated artist’s rendition of coin toss for “sudden death” period, showing Johnny Unitas for the Colts and co-captains for the Giants, Kyle Rote and Bill Svoboda.
Sports Illustrated artist’s rendition of coin toss for “sudden death” period, showing Johnny Unitas for the Colts and co-captains for the Giants, Kyle Rote and Bill Svoboda.
Sudden Death

As Johnny Unitas later recalled:: “When the game ended in a tie, we were standing on the sidelines waiting to see what came next. All of a sudden, the officials came over and said, ‘Send the captain out. We’re going to flip a coin to see who will receive.’ That was the first we heard of the overtime period.” The respective player-captains came to the center of the field for the coin toss. Unitas called for the Colts, but lost the toss. The Giants would receive. “The first team to score, field goal, safety, or touchdown,” the referee explained to the captains, “will win the game, and the game will be over.”

Across America, meanwhile, as the special overtime period began, TV viewers and radio listeners were transfixed. This game was providing a new kind of athletic drama. On the NBC-TV broadcast, Colts announcer, Chuck Thompson, offered that “something historic” was happening “that will be remembered forever…”

In the overtime period, Don Maynard received the opening kickoff for the Giants, bobbled the ball a bit, but held onto it as he was tackled at the Giants 20-yard line. Giants quarterback, Charlie Connerly, the 37-year-old veteran, then came in, and his first play went to halfback Frank Gifford, who gained four yards. Then Conerly faked a draw play, as receiver Bob Schnelker was sent downfield for about ten yards, deep enough for a first down, but Conerly’s pass just missed him, as Schnelker made a valiant dive attempting to reach it. With a third-down-and-six-to-go, Conerly tried to pass again, but his receivers were covered, so he tried to run for it, moving around the Colts right end, but was hit by Colt linebacker Bill Pellington first, then lineman Don Shinnick, who brought Conerly down just short of the first-down marker. The Giants then punted and the Colts took over.

Earlier in the game, Giants quarterback, Charlie Conerly (42), had been having a pretty good day, shown here throwing a jump pass over on-rushing Colt defenders. But in the overtime period, the Giants seemed to run out of gas.
Earlier in the game, Giants quarterback, Charlie Conerly (42), had been having a pretty good day, shown here throwing a jump pass over on-rushing Colt defenders. But in the overtime period, the Giants seemed to run out of gas.

As the Colts took possession of the ball in the overtime period following the Giant’s punt, once again, the field command of quarterback Johnny Unitas would be put to the test – and he did not disappoint. Unitas took his team 80 yards down the field in 13 plays, as a tired Giant’s defense tried to keep up.

The first play was a run by halfback Louis Dupre over right tackle for 11 yards to the 31. Next, Unitas threw a long pass for Lenny Moore down the sideline, but Colt defender, Lindon Crow, broke it up. Dupre was called again for a two-yard run. It was then 3rd-down-and-8-to-go. On this crucial play, wide receiver Raymond Berry headed downfield on a passing route, but Unitas tossed a flare pass in the flat to Ameche who took it eight yards, just enough to make the first down at the 41 yard line. Dupre that ran again for a gain of four yards.

Photo shows Colt QB, Johnny Unitas (19), in action during NFL Championship Game, throwing pass over the attempt of hard-charging NY defensive tackle, Dick Modzelewski (77), to unsuccessfully block it.
Photo shows Colt QB, Johnny Unitas (19), in action during NFL Championship Game, throwing pass over the attempt of hard-charging NY defensive tackle, Dick Modzelewski (77), to unsuccessfully block it.

On the next play, Giants’ tackle, Dick Modzelewski, broke through the Colt line and sacked Unitas for a loss of eight yards. It was then 3rd down. The Colts were on their own 37 yard-line and needed 14 yards for first down. On the that 3rd down play, Unitas was rushed by Colt defenders, but evaded them and threw to Berry, who had come back for the ball off his pass route, gaining 21 yards for the first down and crossing midfield to the Giant’s 42 yard-line.

As Unitas came to the line for the next play, he had been feeling the pressure of Giant’s hard-charging defensive tackle, Dick Modzelewski. So Unitas this time called an “audible” at the line – a change of play – signaling a trap block on Modzelewski from left Colt guard Art Spinney (63) who would cut across center laterally “trapping” Modzelewski (77) with a good block (see illustration below), while the other Colt’s guard, George Preas (60) went after Giant linebacker Sam Huff (70), clearing the way for fullback Alan Ameche who then went for a gain of 23 yards downfield. A nicely timed play which then put the Colts on the Giant’s 19 yard line.

Artists rendition from ‘Sports Illustrated’ showing key “trap play” during the Colts’ final sequence of plays, with Colt linemen –  Art Spinney (63) making trap block on Giant tackle, Dick Modzelewski (77), and George Preas (60) on Giant linebacker Sam Huff (70) –  clearing the way for Colt fullback, Alan Ameche (35).
Artists rendition from ‘Sports Illustrated’ showing key “trap play” during the Colts’ final sequence of plays, with Colt linemen – Art Spinney (63) making trap block on Giant tackle, Dick Modzelewski (77), and George Preas (60) on Giant linebacker Sam Huff (70) – clearing the way for Colt fullback, Alan Ameche (35).

The next play was a run by Dupre who was stopped cold by the Giant’s line for no gain. Unitas then threw a pass to Raymond Berry who ran a slant pattern over the middle for a gain of 11 yards, bringing the Colts to the Giant’s eight yard-line. The Colts then had first-down-and-goal-to-go.

However, at this point, in the middle of Raymond Berry’s catch, millions of TV viewers across the nation no doubt went apoplectic as the TV transmission of the game suddenly went black. Someone in the crowd had knocked a cable loose in the end zone. NBC tried to get a delay in the game, but failed initially. Then, after some “drunk” (or instructed NBC employee) wandered onto the playing field, a timeout was called, during which NBC managed to reconnect its cable. Viewers would miss a play or two, including play no.11 in the Colt’s drive, when Ameche ran for a one yard gain.

Colt receiver, Ray Berry, making one of his catches during 1958 Championship Game. Berry's 12 receptions for 178 yards that day set an NFL record that stood for 55 years.
Colt receiver, Ray Berry, making one of his catches during 1958 Championship Game. Berry's 12 receptions for 178 yards that day set an NFL record that stood for 55 years.
Back on the field, Unitas on the next play then made what many believed was a risky call. As he dropped back to pass, Unitas made a pump-fake to his halfback Lenny Moore, who was then running into the end zone, but he threw instead to his end, Jim Mutscheller, who made a twisting catch at about the two-yard-line before going out of bounds, just short of the goal. This pass was risky because if it had been intercepted in the flat by a Giant defender, he could have gone all the way for a Giant touchdown. But that didn’t happen. Now the Colts were poised to win the game.

On the next play the Giant defenders dug in on the goal line, including linebacker Sam Huff, all expecting a run. Fullback Ameche got the call, put his head down and sailed through a big opening off right tackle and into the endzone. Colts win, game over! Final score, Colts 23, Giants 17.

Headlines from The Salisbury Times in Maryland reporting on fan reaction to Colt's victory.
Headlines from The Salisbury Times in Maryland reporting on fan reaction to Colt's victory.
Jubilant fans rushed the field and one group carried Ameche off on their shoulders in celebration. Later than night in New York, Ameche would appear briefly on The Ed Sullivan Show, lauded for his and the Colts victory that day.

Back in Baltimore there was wild celebration; 30,000 fans would come out to the airport back home to greet their conquering heroes. Some newspaper stories ran a front-page photo of one happy Colt threesome in the locker room – Steve Myhra, Johnny Unitas, and Alan Ameche.

Unitas was the MVP of that game, awarded for his stellar late-game and sudden-death heroics, as he completed 26 of 40 passes for 349 yards, then a championship game record. Raymond Berry’s 12 receptions for 178 yards and a touchdown that day also set a championship game record that would stand for 55 years.

The following year, Unitas, Berry, and the Colts returned to win the 1959 NFL championship game, also against the New York Giants. But it was the 1958 game that would live for the ages.


New York Daily News, Monday, December 29, 1958 edition, announcing Colts win with photograph of Colt fullback Alan Ameche scoring winning touchdown behind great Colt blocking.
New York Daily News, Monday, December 29, 1958 edition, announcing Colts win with photograph of Colt fullback Alan Ameche scoring winning touchdown behind great Colt blocking.
Lore & Legacy

In fact, “greatest game” accolades for the 1958 NFL Championship Game began almost immediately. In the Monday morning edition of the New York Daily News following the game, reporter Gene Ward wrote:

“In years to come when our children’s children are listening to stories about football, they’ll be told about the greatest game ever played – the one between the Giants and Colts for the 1958 NFL Championship.”

They’ll be told of heroics the like of which never had been seen . . . of New York’s slashing two-touchdown rally to a 17-14 lead . . . of Baltimore’s knot-tying field goal seven seconds from the end of regulation playing time . . . and, finally, of the bitter collapse of the magnificent Giant defense as the Colts slammed and slung their way to a 23-17 triumph with an 80-yard touchdown drive in the first sudden death period ever played….”

True enough; the game was an emotional roller coaster, with ups and downs, multiple lead changes, exciting plays, costly miscues, player heroics, and more. But “greatest” and “best” game attributions would come from other quarters as well, including an early boost from Sports Illustrated magazine, then and now, a respected journal of sports reporting and analysis.

Only a week or so after the game was played, a January 5th, 1959 Sports Illustrated story by Tex Mule was titled, “The Best Football Game Ever Played.” This piece ran over five pages with several photographs by Arthur Daley and Hy Peskin. The first two-page spread from that piece is shown below. Maule, in his article, would say that the contest “was a truly epic game which inflamed the imagination of a national audience.”

The January 5th, 1959 issue of “Sports Illustrated” lauds the 1958 NFL Championship Game as “The Best Football Game Ever Played” in a five-page story by Tex Maule with photos by Arthur Daley and Hy Peskin. Click for magazine issue.
The January 5th, 1959 issue of “Sports Illustrated” lauds the 1958 NFL Championship Game as “The Best Football Game Ever Played” in a five-page story by Tex Maule with photos by Arthur Daley and Hy Peskin. Click for magazine issue.

But Sports Illustrated wasn’t finished with just one piece on the game. Two weeks later, the magazine followed up in its January 19th, 1959 edition with a more detailed breakdown of the game by Tex Maule, along with dramatic hand drawings by Robert Riger, and some play diagrams and description, recreating some of game’s action in detail. That article was titled, “Here’s Why It Was The Greatest Game Ever.” A sampling of a two-page layout from that piece is offered below, but the full Sports Illustrated treatment of the game in this edition ran for nine pages, with drawings and annotation, including one page with a diagram of a football playing field marking the on-field progress of each of the 13 plays Johnny Unitas called in the final Colt drive in the sudden death period.

Sports Illustrated, January 19th, 1959, showing first two pages of a nine-page spread of diagrams, play calling, and analysis of the December 28, 1958 NFL championship game between NY Giants and Baltimore Colts. Click for magazine issue.
Sports Illustrated, January 19th, 1959, showing first two pages of a nine-page spread of diagrams, play calling, and analysis of the December 28, 1958 NFL championship game between NY Giants and Baltimore Colts. Click for magazine issue.

Some observers believe that the January 1959 Sports Illustrated pieces did capture a sense of what the game meant to those who were there at the time or had viewed in on TV, and also how the culture then began perceiving pro football. But the legend and lore for the 1958 game only grew thereafter, especially as the years went by. In fact, over the next fifty years, this game would become the subject of a number of books, magazine features, film documentaries, player reunion TV shows, and more.

David Klein book, 1976.
David Klein book, 1976.
Sports Illustrated, April 2008.
Sports Illustrated, April 2008.
Frank Gifford book, 2008.
Frank Gifford book, 2008.
Mark Bowden book, 2008.
Mark Bowden book, 2008.
 
Lou Sahadi book, 2008.
Lou Sahadi book, 2008.
Pro Football Researchers, 2008.
Pro Football Researchers, 2008.
 

The first of the books on the 1958 game came nearly 20 years later, in 1976 – The Game of Their Lives, by Dave Klein, a sports writer for the Newark Star-Ledger (New Jersey). Published by Random House, this book profiled the 13 players from the 1958 game who would later be inducted into the pro football Hall of Fame. A paperback edition of this book came out a year later, and it was also re-issued in digital and paperback form again in 2007-2008.

But after Klein’s book came out in 1976, there wasn’t much more activity on books about the 1958 game until about the time of its 50th anniversary in 2007-2008.

In April 2008, Sports Illustrated put the 1958 game on its cover, using the classic photo of Unitas rearing back in QB form preparing to throw one of his passes during the game, and titling its lead feature story, “The Best Game Ever,” as it had nearly 50 years before in January 1959. Only this time, the feature story was written by book author, Mark Bowden, and titled: “How John Unitas and Raymond Berry Invented the Modern NFL.”

Bowden would also publish his own book on the game in 2008, The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and The Birth of The Modern NFL.

Frank Gifford, meanwhile, a former New York Giant player in the 1958 game, and also by this time, a well-known sportscasting celebrity who had worked on TV’s Monday Night Football games, also wrote a book on the 1958 game that came out in November 2008. This book – The Glory Game: How the 1958 NFL Championship Changed Football Forever – was written with Peter Richmond, and was popular at the time of the game’s 50th anniversary.

The genesis of the Gifford book had begun with Pulitzer Prize winning writer David Halberstam – famous for his book on Vietnam, The Best and the Brightest, and others, including several sports books. Halberstam had intended to write a book on the 1958 game and Gifford was recruited to help Halberstam get in touch with a number of the players from that game for the planned book. Halberstam, however, on his way to meet one of his first interview subjects for that book, was killed in a California car accident. Thereafter, Gifford decided to take on the project. And once the book came out, Gifford made the rounds on some sports shows and media interviews talking about the famous game.

There were also a couple of other books that came out at that time. In September 2008, Lou Sahadi, an author of other sports and pro football books, published One Sunday in December: The 1958 NFL Championship Game and How It Changed Professional Football, released by Lyons Press. And also that year, the Professional Football Researchers Association issued a book titled, The 1958 Baltimore Colts: Profiles of the NFL’s First Sudden Death Champions.


“Famous Players”
1958 Colts v. Giants Game

The 1958 game also became known for its famous players – those who entered the professional Football Hall of Fame and others who were famous in that game, for what they did elsewhere in football, and/or for later achievement in sportscasting and other career endeavors. What follows below are brief profiles on some of those Colt and Giant players who took part in the famous 1958 NFL Championship Game.

– Baltimore Colts –

Alan Ameche book, 2012.
Alan Ameche book, 2012.
Alan Ameche, cousin of actor Don Ameche, won the Heisman Trophy in college at the University of Wisconsin where he played both fullback and linebacker. He is one of six Wisconsin players to have his numeral retired there. Nicknamed “The Horse,” and famous for his winning touchdown in the 1958 NFL Championship game, Ameche was elected to the Pro Bowl in his first four seasons in the NFL.

Due to an Achilles tendon injury in 1960, Ameche finished his NFL career after six seasons with 4,045 rushing yards, 101 receptions for 733 yards, and 44 touchdowns. He is one of four players named to the NFL 1950s All-Decade Team not elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Ameche was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1975 and the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 2004. Along with Colts teammate Gino Marchetti, Ameche founded the Gino’s Hamburgers chain and the Baltimore-based Ameche’s Drive-In restaurants were also named for him.

Raymond Berry book, 2017.
Raymond Berry book, 2017.
Raymond Berry was a split end for the Baltimore Colts from 1955 to 1967. When he was drafted in the late rounds by the Colts in 1954 he was considered a long shot to make the team. His college career at SMU had not been exceptional and he had poor eyesight. However, his subsequent rise with the Colts has been touted as one of American football’s Cinderella stories. He became known for rigorous practice and attention to detail, along with running near-perfect pass routes and his sure handedness. By his second NFL season, after quarterback Johnny Unitas arrived, Berry’s talents came in full display. Over the next 12 seasons together, the two became one of the most dominant passing and catching duos in NFL history. Berry, who did not miss a single game until his eighth year in the league, led the NFL in receptions and receiving yards three times and in receiving touchdowns twice. When his playing days ended, Berry began coaching. After several assistant coaching positions, he became head coach of the New England Patriots from 1984 to 1989. In 1973, Berry was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. He is also a member of the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, compiled in 1994, and the 1950s All-Decade Team. Berry’s No. 82 jersey is retired by the Colts and he is also included in the Baltimore Ravens Ring of Honor.

Art Donovan book, 1987.
Art Donovan book, 1987.
Art Donovan, a Colt defensive lineman, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968. As a U.S. Marine he served in the Pacific Theater during World War II seeing action in the Battle of Luzon and the Battle of Iwo Jima. He played his college football at Boston College following his military service. He was an All-NFL selection 1954-1958 and played in five straight Pro Bowls. During his playing days Donovan was noted as a jovial and humorous teammate and capitalized on those qualities with television and speaking appearances in later years. He appeared ten times on the Late Show with David Letterman telling humorous stories about his playing days and “old school” footballers. Donovan also made other TV guest appearances and was a guest commentator for the WWF’s 1994 edition of “King of the Ring.” He was also co-host of the popular 1990s Baltimore TV program, “Braase, Donovan, Davis and Fans,” with fellow Colt teammate Ordell Braase. Donovan also owned and managed a country club in Towson, Maryland and he published his autobiography in 1987 titled, Fatso. Art Donovan died in 2013 from a respiratory disease at age 89.

Big Daddy & Marchetti, 1950s.
Big Daddy & Marchetti, 1950s.
Eugene Allen Lipscomb, also known as “Big Daddy” due to his hulking 6′-6″/285 lb. size, was born in Uniontown, Alabama. He never knew his father, moved to Detroit at age three, where his mother was brutally murdered when he was 11, then raised by his grandparents. For a time at Detroit’s Miller High School, he starred in football and basketball, but was declared ineligible his senior year for playing semi-pro basketball. He then enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, playing football for the Camp Pendleton team. He was signed as a free agent by the Los Angeles Rams (1953-1955) before being traded to the Baltimore Colts where he played five seasons. In 1958 and 1959, he earned a spot in the Pro Bowl, and was instrumental in the Colts’ two consecutive NFL Championships in 1958 and 1959. He then went on to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers for two seasons. Fellow players described him as a powerful big man with unusual speed and athletic ability, but also as a gentle and big-hearted person off the field, often helpful to those down-and-out. Gino Marchetti, his teammate and mentor, found his lateral movement exceptional, calling him “our fourth linebacker;” an uncommon defensive tackle who could sometimes catch halfbacks downfield. In his final game, the 1963 Pro Bowl, Lipscomb was named MVP after making 11 tackles, forcing two fumbles and deflecting a pass. But Gene Lipscomb also had a fondness for nightlife, women, and liquor, and in May 10, 1963, he was found dead of a heroin overdose in Baltimore, though many believed he was not a drug user and suspected foul play. He was 31 years old. In Baltimore, 30,000 lined up for his funeral. Several magazines would later profile and eulogize him following his death (see Sources).

Gino Marchetti sports card.
Gino Marchetti sports card.
Gino Marchetti, the son of Italian immigrants, enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II and fought in the Battle of the Bulge as a machine gunner. After playing college football at the University of San Francisco, he was drafted by the New York Yanks, the team that later became the Baltimore Colts. Marchetti played 13 seasons with the Colts and became known as a relentless pass-rusher. He was voted “the greatest defensive end in pro football history” by the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972. In 1999, he was ranked number 15 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Football Players, then the second-highest-ranking defensive end behind Deacon Jones.

In 1959, Marchetti joined with several of his teammates, including Alan Ameche, and opened a fast food restaurant. The business grew, began to franchise, and would eventually become known as Gino’s Hamburgers, a popular fast food chain in the 1960s. On the East Coast in would grow to have 313 company-owned locations when the chain was sold to Marriott International in 1982 and became Roy Rogers restaurants.

Lenny Moore book, 2005.
Lenny Moore book, 2005.
Lenny Moore, Penn State standout from Reading, Pennsylvania, won the NFL Rookie of the Year as a Baltimore Colt running back in 1956. In 1958, he caught a career-high 50 passes for 938 yards and seven touchdowns in helping the Colts win the NFL championship. In 1959, he had 47 receptions for 846 yards and six touchdowns as the Colts repeated as champions.

In 1964, Moore had one of his best seasons when he scored 20 touchdowns, helping the Colts to a 12–2 record and another trip to the NFL Championship Game. He was voted MVP by his fellow players that year and also won the Comeback Player of the Year Award. Moore was selected to the Pro Bowl seven times and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1975. In 2005, he published his autobiography, All Things Being Equal. In 2010, Moore retired from the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services after 26 years of service, working with at-risk kids in Maryland middle schools and high schools.

Jim Parker, Colt lineman.
Jim Parker, Colt lineman.
Jim Parker, offensive lineman with the Baltimore Colts from 1957 to 1967, played college football at Ohio State University from 1954 to 1956. During the 1958 Championship Game, Sam Huff noted that the Giant’s All-Pro defensive end, Andy Robustelli, was having no success getting past Parker to harass Unitas. Huff recalled: “Andy couldn’t get around Parker; he couldn’t come under him; he couldn’t go over him. The immovable object, that’s what Jim Parker was.” And Robustelli himself would say: “I used to think there wasn’t a big tackle I couldn’t outmaneuver. But Parker was too strong, too smart, too good.” Parker was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1973 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1974. He is considered among the greatest lineman to ever play pro football. In 1994, Parker was selected to the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. In 1999, he was ranked number 24 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Football Players. Jim Parker died in 2005 at the age of 71.

Johnny Unitas book, 2004.
Johnny Unitas book, 2004.
Johnny Unitas, legendary quarterback of the Baltimore Colts, grew up in the Mount Washington neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA, losing his father at age 5 and raised by his mother, who worked two jobs to make ends meet. Of Lithuanian decent, Unitas played halfback and quarterback at Pittsburgh’s St. Justin’s High School, and dreamed of playing at Notre Dame, but at a try out there he was told by coach Frank Leahy he was too skinny and would “get murdered” on the field. Unitas played instead for the University of Louisville, where mid-career there, the school deemphasized football, but Unitas persisted, playing both ways, heroically in a few cases, suffering many losing contests. Still, Unitas emerged from Louisville with 245 completed passes for 3,139 yards and 27 touchdowns and was selected as a ninth-round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1953? However, with four other QBs in training camp, Unitas was cut by the Steelers even before training camp had ended. After being cut, Unitas played for the Bloomfield Rams in the semi-pro Greater Pittsburgh League. In 1956, Baltimore Colts coach Weeb Ewbank gave Unitas a look and liked what he saw and signed him for a pittance. But with the Colts, Unitas would become the prototype, modern era marquee quarterback, setting records and winning NFL most valuable player awards in 1959, 1964, and 1967. For 52 years he held the record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass ( 47, set between 1956 and 1960), until quarterback Drew Brees broke the record in 2012. Unitas is 7th all time in number of regular season games won by an NFL starting quarterback with 118. He was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979. In 2004, The Sporting News ranked Unitas No. 1 among the NFL’s 50 Greatest Quarterbacks, with Joe Montana at No. 2. At the Baltimore Ravens stadium a statue of Unitas is the centerpiece in the stadium’s front plaza, and large banners depicting Unitas in his heyday flank the entrance. Towson University named its football and lacrosse complex Johnny Unitas Stadium in recognition of his football career and his service to the university.

– New York Giants –

Rosey Brown, New York Giants.
Rosey Brown, New York Giants.
Roosevelt “Rosey” Brown, growing up in Charlottesville, VA, initially played trombone in the Jefferson High School band. He was forbidden to play football by his family after his older brother died from a football injury. However, Brown did play at the prodding of the high school coach, and at first without his father’s knowledge. He then went on to Morgan State University on a football scholarship where he would be named to the Pittsburgh Courier’s All-America team in 1952. Brown was selected by the New York Giants in the late rounds of the 1953 NFL draft, would become one of the team’s most consistent and valuable players, appearing in 162 games, missing only four games in a 13-year career. In his prime, between 1956 and 1963, he helped lead the Giants to six division championships and the 1956 NFL Championship Game. He was selected as a first-team All-NFL player eight consecutive years and was also selected to play in the Pro Bowl nine times. After his playing days, Brown became the Giant’s assistant offensive line coach in 1966, then offensive line coach in 1969. He remained with the Giants organization in the scouting department for many years. Rosey Brown was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974. In 1999, he was ranked number 57 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Football Players. Brown passed away in 2004.

Book by Perian Conerly, 2003.
Book by Perian Conerly, 2003.
Charlie Conerly, quarterback for the New York Giants from 1948 through 1961, played college football at the University of Mississippi where he started in 1942 but left to join the U.S. Marines during WWII, and fought in the Battle of Guam in the South Pacific. Back at Mississippi in 1946, he would lead Ole Miss to their first SEC championship in 1947. That season, he also led the nation in pass completions with 133, rushed for nine touchdowns, passed for 18 more, and was a consensus All-American. Conerly was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1966. The Conerly Trophy is given annually to the top college player in the State of Mississippi. Conerly also portrayed the “Marlboro Man” in cigarette commercials. After his playing days, Conerly owned shoe stores throughout the Mississippi Delta, and his wife, Perian, a sports columnist, authored the book, Backseat Quarterback. Charlie Conerly retired to his Clarksdale, Mississippi hometown where he spent his final days before his death in 1996.

Frank Gifford book, 1970.
Frank Gifford book, 1970.
Frank Gifford was a star football player at the University of Southern California and was drafted by the New York Giants in 1952 as a first-round pick, 11th overall. Gifford became a versatile player for the Giants, adept at running, passing, and receiving. He also played defensive back and returned punts and kickoffs. He was named the NFL’s MVP in 1956, helping lead the Giants to a championship. Gifford was named All-NFL six times in his career and selected to a total of eight Pro Bowls at three different positions – defensive back, halfback, and flanker. Overall, Gifford spent 12 seasons with the Giants compiling a record of 3,609 yards rushing and 34 touchdowns on 840 carries. He also had 5,434 receiving yards with 367 catches and 43 touchdowns. Gifford was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame 1977. He also became one of the better-known American sportscasters in the latter part of the 20th century, notably for ABC’s Monday Night Football (1971-1997). Gifford also had an extensive advertising career, both as a player and for years thereafter. At his death in 2015, the much admired Gifford was called “the Mickey Mantle of the Giants.” The New York Post’s Steve Serby also wrote of Gifford at that time: “He was the Giants’ first made-for-television superstar in the grainy, black-and-white glory days of the 1950s, every bit the heartthrob Joe Namath would be in the 1960s…” More detail about Gifford at this website can be found at “Celebrity Gifford” and “Bednarik-Gifford Lore.”

Rosey Grier book, 1986.
Rosey Grier book, 1986.
Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier played his college football at Penn State, and was drafted by the New York Giants in 1955 as the 31st overall pick. He played with the Giants from 1955 to 1962 and was named All-Pro at defensive tackle in 1956 and 1958–1962. Later traded to the Los Angeles Rams, Grier became part of the “Fearsome Foursome” along with Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, and Lamar Lundy, considered one of the best defensive lines in football history. After Grier’s professional sports career, he worked as a bodyguard for Robert Kennedy during the 1968 presidential campaign and was guarding Ethel Kennedy when Sirhan Sirhan assassinated Robert F. Kennedy, though Grier helped subdue Sirhan and took control of his gun during the mayhem. Beyond football, Grier hosted his own Los Angeles television show and made numerous guest appearances on other shows during the 1960s and 1970s. He also authored several books.

Sam Huff, Time cover 1959.
Sam Huff, Time cover 1959.
Sam Huff was born and grew up in the No. 9 coal mining camp in Edna, West Virginia. During the Great Depression, his father and two brothers worked in the coal mines. Playing high school football, Sam Huff collected all-state honors as a lineman, and continued at the University of West Virginia, where he was an All-American in 1955. Drafted by the New York Giants in 1956, they weren’t sure where to play him until he found a home at middle linebacker, then a relatively new position – where he excelled. Huff appeared on the cover of Time magazine for a pro football feature story in November 1959, and was also the subject of an October 1960 CBS television special, “The Violent World of Sam Huff,” part of a Walter Cronkite series. Traded to the Redskins in 1964 he helped make their defense second best in 1965. An ankle injury in 1967 ended a streak of 150 consecutive games for Huff, and he retired briefly, until Vince Lombardi, then coach of the Washington Redskins, coaxed Huff out of retirement to help bring a winning season in 1969. Huff retired for good in 1970, the year he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, though losing in the West Virginia Democratic primary. Outside of football, Huff worked in textile sales and sports marketing, but through 2012 became known as a Washington Redskin radio and TV broadcast personality with former Redskin teammate Sonny Jurgensen. Sam Huff was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982. In 1999, he was ranked number 76 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Football Players. In 2005, Huff’s No. 75 numeral was retired by West Virginia University.

Don Maynard book, 2010.
Don Maynard book, 2010.
Don Maynard, then in his rookie NFL season, returned punts and kickoffs for the Giants in the 1958 Championship game. However, he would become a Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver with the New York Jets (1960-1972). In 1965, Maynard was paired up with Jet’s rookie QB Joe Namath and had 1,218 yards with 68 receptions and 14 touchdowns. In 1967, Maynard caught 1,434 of Namath’s historic 4,007 passing yards. The receiving yards were a career-high for Maynard and led the league; he also had 71 receptions, 10 touchdowns, and averaged 20.2 yards per catch. In the 1968 season opener against Kansas City, Maynard had 200+ receiving yards for the first time in his career and passed Tommy McDonald as the active leader in receiving yards, where he remained for the next six seasons until his retirement. Maynard finished his career with 633 receptions for 11,834 yards and 88 touchdowns. His 18.7 yards per catch is the highest among those with at least 600 receptions. Maynard’s No. 13 New York Jets numeral was the second ever retired by the Jets after Namath’s. He was selected to the Pro Football Hall of fame in 1987. In his post NFL-career, Maynard worked as a math and industrial arts teacher, a salesman, and a financial planner.

Andy Robustelli book, 1987.
Andy Robustelli book, 1987.
Andy Robustelli was drafted initially by the Los Angeles Rams but played most of his career with the New York Giants. He was a starter on the Giants defense from 1956 until his retirement following the 1964 season. Robustelli was a six-time All-Pro selection and was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame in 1971. After his playing days, Robustelli spent 1965 as a color analyst for NBC’s American Football League broadcasts. That same year he purchased Stamford-based Westheim Travel and renamed it Robustelli Travel Services, Inc. In December 1973, he was appointed director of operations for the New York Giants, essentially becoming the team’s first general manager for the next six years. In 1988, he was named Walter Camp Man of the Year, a public service and leadership award. Robustelli Travel Services, meanwhile, specializing in corporate travel management, grew into Robustelli World Travel by the time it was sold to Hogg Robinson Group in 2006. He also founded National Professional Athletes (NPA), a sports marketing business which arranged appearances by sports celebrities at corporate functions, and International Equities, which evolved into Robustelli Corporate Services. Andy Robustelli died in May 2011 from complications following surgery. He was 85 years old.

Kyle Rote, New York Giants.
Kyle Rote, New York Giants.
Kyle Rote was a running back and receiver with the New York Giants for eleven years. He was an All-American running back at Southern Methodist University where he became one of the most celebrated collegiate football players in the country. In December 1949, in a near upset of undefeated national champs, Notre Dame, Rote ran for 115 yards, threw for 146 yards, and scored all three SMU touchdowns in a 27–20 loss. His performance was voted by the Texas Sportswriters Association as “The Outstanding Individual Performance by a Texas Athlete in the First Half of the 20th Century.” He appeared on the cover of Life magazine November 1950 in his SMU football gear in a featured story on college football. Rote, who had been runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, was the first overall selection of the 1951 NFL Draft. When Rote retired after the 1961 season, he was the Giants’ career leader in pass receptions (300), receiving yardage (4,795) and touchdown receptions (48). He was named to the Pro Bowl four times and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1964. Following his playing career, Rote was the Giants backfield coach and also a sports broadcaster for WNEW radio, NBC, and WNBC New York. He also wrote a few football books. Kyle Rote died in 2002 following surgery. He was 73 years old.

Pat Summerall book, 2006.
Pat Summerall book, 2006.
“Pat” Summerall played college football from 1949 to 1951 at the University of Arkansas as defensive end, tight end, and placekicker. He graduated in 1953 majoring in Russian history. Summerall spent ten years as an NFL football player, first drafted by the Detroit Lions, traded to the Chicago Cardinals, and then the New York Giants, his last team and where he had his best year in 1959 as a kicker, with 30-for-30 extra points and 20-for-29 in field goals. Pat Summerall, however, is best known for his many years of work in the broadcast booth, along with partners such as Tom Brookshier, John Madden, and others on various TV and cable networks including CBS, FOX and ESPN, doing NFL and other sports events and special telecasts. In 1977, he was named the National Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association and inducted into their Hall of Fame in 1994. That year, he also received the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame in 1999. The Pat Summerall Award, honoring his legacy, has been awarded to various individuals since 2006. Pat Summerall died in 2013 of cardiac arrest at age 82.

Emlen Tunnell book, 1966.
Emlen Tunnell book, 1966.
Emlen Tunnell, played 14 seasons in the National Football League (NFL) as a defensive halfback and safety for the New York Giants (1948–1958) and Green Bay Packers (1959–1961). He was the first African American to play for the New York Giants and also the first to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was named to the NFL’s 1950s All-Decade Team and was ranked No. 70 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Football Players. He was selected as a first-team All-Pro player six times and played in nine Pro Bowls. When he retired as a player, he held NFL career records for interceptions (79), interception return yards (1,282), punt returns (258), and punt return yards (2,209). After retiring as a player, Tunnell served as a special assistant coach and defensive backs coach for the New York Giants from 1963 to 1974. Born and raised in the Philadelphia area, Tunnell was a high school standout at Radnor High School. He played his college football at the University of Toledo in 1942 and University of Iowa in 1946 and 1947. He also served in the U.S. Coast Guard from 1943 to 1946. He received the Silver Lifesaving Medal for heroism in rescuing a shipmate from flames during a torpedo attack in 1944 and rescuing another shipmate who fell into the sea in 1946. In July 1975, Tunnell died from a heart attack during a Giants practice session at Pace University in Pleasantville, New York. He was 51.


In terms of the media hype on the famous 1958 Championship game, in addition to the books mentioned above, there have also been occasional newspaper and magazine stories on the game, as well as a few TV specials. In 1998, at the game’s 40th-anniversary, the NFL conducted a teleconference with four of the Hall of Fame players from that game — Johnny Unitas and Art Donovan of the Colts, and Frank Gifford and Sam Huff of the Giants. In January 1999, at the coin toss for Super Bowl XXXIII,…On any given Sunday since 1958, there have been, and continue to be, games that are arguably better… twelve of the surviving Hall of Fame players and coaches from the 1958 game were honored. And by its 50 anniversary year in 2008, the various books had come out, followed by commentary.

So yes, over the years there has been ample analysis of, and reflection upon, the 1958 NFL Championship Game. But despite the game’s legendary claim as the “best” or “greatest” game ever played, most analysts today acknowledge a certain amount of hype and inflated worth in that claim – and some even mark the game’s lapses of sloppiness and poor execution as evidence it was not the “greatest” NFL game ever played. Indeed, on any given Sunday during pro football seasons since 1958, there have been, and continue to be, games that are arguably better, or at least equally thrilling and engaging, played with equally-talented and superb players who regularly demonstrate amazing feats of athletic dexterity and improvisation plying their craft, whether golden-armed quarterbacks, hard-nosed offensive guards, shape-shifting halfbacks, punishing middle linebackers, or ballerina-styled, sideline-dancing wide receivers.

Michael MacCambridge’s 2012 book, “Lamar Hunt: A Life In Sports,” 416pp. Click for book.
Michael MacCambridge’s 2012 book, “Lamar Hunt: A Life In Sports,” 416pp. Click for book.
Yet the 1958 NFL Championship Game does have a fair claim to being an important demarcation in the rise of pro football’s cultural and economic importance. Clearly, things did change after that game, as it did get the attention of the TV networks, advertising executives, journalists, and investors.

Lamar Hunt, son of oil billionaire H.L. Hunt, had spent much of 1958 trying to decide whether he wanted to invest in a football team or a baseball team. But sitting in his Houston hotel room on a business trip on December 28, 1958, he watched the Colts-Giants game and the action convinced him that football was the way to go.

Hunt would proceed to stir the competitive juices of football investors across the country as he and others founded the American Football League (AFL), and in so doing, hastened expansion in the NFL.

There were 12 pro football teams in 1959, and by the beginning of the 1960 season, that number had grown to 21. The AFL-NFL wars had begun, and with them, among other things, came escalating player salaries and a growing interest among the TV networks in telecasting all pro football games.

Pete Rozelle, elected NFL Commissioner in January 1960, helped negotiate large TV contracts, deftly playing one network against the other. In late September 1961, a bill legalizing single-network television contracts by professional sports leagues was passed by Congress and signed into law by President John F. Kennedy.

David Maraniss’s 1999 book on Vince Lombardi, “When Pride Still Mattered,” 544pp. Click for book.
David Maraniss’s 1999 book on Vince Lombardi, “When Pride Still Mattered,” 544pp. Click for book.
Other changes were also afoot following the 1958 Colts-Giants game that would add to pro football’s rising allure. Vince Lombardi, who had been the Giants offensive coordinator, was hired by the Green Bay Packers as head coach in January 1959, starting a pro football dynasty there and raising pro football fervor in Upper Midwest America. By 1966, Lombardi’s Packers would reign victorious over Lamar Hunt’s Kansas City Chiefs in the first AFL-NFL Championship contest (Super Bowl I, though not called that at the time). The AFL and NFL would announce their merger soon thereafter, eventually yielding a pro football colossus that today counts 32 NFL teams generating more than $13 billion in annual revenue, and Super Bowl Championship games with 100 million or more TV viewers globally.

Indeed, the 1958 Colts-Giants Championship Game is quaint by comparison – especially when held up against today’s modern Super Bowl, which some might conclude is an over-the-top, out-of-control media extravaganza with way out-of-proportion importance. Yet the money-making genie of professional football is long out of the bottle, and there is no going back.

* * * * * *

Additional football-related stories at this website include: “I Guarantee It” (a profile of Joe Namath, his famous prediction for Super Bowl III, his bio and pro career, and his off-the-filed activities); “Bednarik-Gifford Lore” (the respective playing careers of Chuck Bednarik and Frank Gifford, and a famous on–the-field collision between the two); “Slingin` Sammy” (career of quarterback Sammy Baugh and Washington Redskins history, 1930s-1950s); “Dutchman’s Big Day”(about Norm Van Brocklin’s single-game NFL passing record and other QBs closing in on that record; and, “Celebrity Gifford” (a detailed look at the advertising, sports broadcasting, and TV/film/radio career of Frank Gifford ). See also the “Annals of Sport” category page for other sports stories.

Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 12 January 2019
Last Update: 12 January 2019
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Big Game, New Era: Colts vs. Giants, 1958,”
PopHistoryDig.com, January 12, 2019.

____________________________________




Sources, Links & Additional Information

Jack Cavanaugh’s 2008 book, “Giants Among Men,” paperback edition, 352pp. Click for book.
Jack Cavanaugh’s 2008 book, “Giants Among Men,” paperback edition, 352pp. Click for book.
John Eisenberg’s 2018 book, “The League: How Five Rivals Created the NFL and Launched a Sports Empire,” Art Rooney, George Halas, Tim Mara, George Preston Marshall, and Bert Bell, 416pp. Click for book.
John Eisenberg’s 2018 book, “The League: How Five Rivals Created the NFL and Launched a Sports Empire,” Art Rooney, George Halas, Tim Mara, George Preston Marshall, and Bert Bell, 416pp. Click for book.
Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers, 1968 classic book with Dick Schaap, “Instant Replay: The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer,” 303pp. Click for book.
Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers, 1968 classic book with Dick Schaap, “Instant Replay: The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer,” 303pp. Click for book.
Former QB Ron Jaworski’s 2018  book, “The Games That Changed The Game,” 336pp.
Former QB Ron Jaworski’s 2018 book, “The Games That Changed The Game,” 336pp.

Jack Hand (Associated Press, New York), “Colts 3.5 Point Favorite Over N.Y. Giant’s Sunday,” San Mateo Times (California), December 27, 1958, p. 6.

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Tex Maule, “Here’s Why it Was the Best Football Game Ever,” Sports Illustrated, January 19, 1959 (drawings by Robert Riger, explanations by Tex Maule).

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“Greatest Game Ever Played,” Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“1958 NFL Championship Game,” Wikipedia .org.

“A Man’s Game” (Sam Huff cover story), Time, November 30, 1959.

Tony Kornheiser, “Giants, Colts of 1958 Play It Again – For Laughs,” New York Times, July 8, 1978.

Shelby Strother, NFL Top 40: The Greatest Pro Football Games of All Time, 1988.

William Gildea, When the Colts Belonged to Baltimore, 1994.

Frank Litsky, “There Were Better Games; None More Important,” New York Times, December 16, 1998.

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William Nack, “The Ballad Of Big Daddy: Big Daddy Lipscomb, Whose Size and Speed Revolutionized the Defensive Lineman’s Position in the Late ’50s, Was a Man of Insatiable Appetites: For Women, Liquor and, Apparently, Drugs,” Sports Illustrated, January 11, 1999.

Richard Rothschild, “Sudden Death, Sudden Impact,” ChicagoTribune.com, January 24, 2001.

Richard Goldstein, “Kyle Rote, a Top Receiver For the Giants, Dies at 73,” New York Times, August 16, 2002.

Scott Calvert, “Hero for a Working-Class Town: Friends and Fans Recall John Unitas as a Gritty, Big-Hearted Man Who Perfectly Fit the City Where He Played Football for Nearly Two Decades; 1933-2002,” Baltimore Sun, September 12, 2002.

Chris McDonell, The Football Game I’ll Never Forget; 100 NFL Stars’ Stories, 2004.

Craig R. Coenen, From Sandlots To The Super Bowl: The National Football League, 1920-1967, University of Tennessee Press, 2005.

Jonathan Yardley, “Book Review, Johnny U: The Life and Times of Johnny Unitas, by Tom Callahan, Book World, Washington Post, October 22-28, 2006.

Tom Callahan, Johnny U: The Life & Times of John Unitas, 2006.

Frank Deford, “Everything On The Line: The Colts-Giants in ’58 Was a Door Between Two Eras,” SI.com, Tuesday July 17, 2007.

“The Greatest Game Ever Played – Sports Illustrated‘s Coverage of The Game,” FleerSticker.blogspot .com, December 14, 2008.

Mark Bowden, The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL, 2008.

Frank Gifford with Peter Richmond, The Glory Game: How The 1958 NFL Championship Changed Football Forever, 2008

Jeff Miller, “Shaky Myhra Made the Kick That Mattered Most,” ESPN, December 8, 2008.

Michael MacCambridge, “Legacy of ‘The Greatest Game’ Can Be Found in What Followed,” NFL.com, December 25, 2008.

Mike Klis, “The ‘58 Classic,” The Denver Post, December 26, 2008.

Ihsan Taylor, “The Glory Game: Q&A With Frank Gifford,” New York Times, January 10, 2009.

Bill Lubinger, “Remember When … Off-Season Was Work Time for the Cleveland Browns (and all pro athletes)?,The Plain Dealer (Cleveland), May 26, 2010.

Joe Garner and Bob Costas, 100 Yards of Glory: The Greatest Moments in NFL History, 2011.

Ernie Palladino, Lombardi and Landry: How Two of Pro Football’s Greatest Coaches Launched Their Legends and Changed the Game Forever, 2011.

Dan Manoyan. Alan Ameche: The Story of ‘The Horse’, 2012.

Joe Horrigan and John Thorn (eds.), The Pro Football Hall of Fame 50th Anniversary Book: Where Greatness Lives, 2012.

Kevin Boilard, “Pat Summerall: New York Giants Kicker’s Greatest Performances with Big Blue,” BleacherReport.com, April 20, 2013.

‘Steve Serby, “‘Unforgettable’ Frank Gifford Was The Giants’ Mickey Mantle,” New York Post, August 9, 2015.

“Evolution Of The NFL Player; Creating An NFL Player: From ‘Everyman’ To ‘Superman’,” NFL.com.
https://operations.nfl.com/the-players/evolution-of-the-nfl-player/

“AFL–NFL Merger,” Wikipedia.org.

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“Bednarik-Gifford Lore”
Football: 1950s-1960s

Chuck Bednarik, age 37, handing in his spikes and jersey for team history after his final Eagles game, November 1962.
Chuck Bednarik, age 37, handing in his spikes and jersey for team history after his final Eagles game, November 1962.
Chuck Bednarik, shown at right in 1962, was a Hall of Fame football player for the Philadelphia Eagles.  He is regarded as one of the all-time great linebackers known for his ferocious tackles and rugged play. Bednarik and Frank Gifford, the Hall of Fame New York Giants running back, would meet in a famous collision during a key November 1960 football game between their two teams. More on that game and the Bednarik-Gifford incident a bit later.  First, some background on these two college All-American and All-Pro football stars.

Charles Philip Bednarik was born in May 1925. His parents emigrated to the U.S. from eastern Slovakia in 1920 looking for a better life. They settled in the Pennsylvania town of Bethlehem, where Chuck’s father began working in the steel mills stoking the open hearth furnaces at the Bethlehem Steel Company.

As a boy, Bednarik attended a Slovak parochial school in Bethlehem where Slovak was the language of instruction.  The second oldest of six children, Bednarik was raised three blocks from Lehigh University, where he attended football games and wrestling events.

At Bethlehem’s Liberty High School he began playing football, and in 1942, his junior year, Bednarik helped Liberty to an undefeated season and became an All-American high school center.  In the classroom, Bednarik was a vocational-technical student studying electrical work, and had figured he’d follow his father to work in the Bethlehem Steel mills.

Chuck Bednarik, circled above and enlarged below, in WWII-era photo with his B-24 crew.
Chuck Bednarik, circled above and enlarged below, in WWII-era photo with his B-24 crew.
Chuck Bednarik was 19 years old when he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Chuck Bednarik was 19 years old when he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Oct. 27th, 1946: University of Pennsylvania's Chuck Bednarik named Lineman of the Week in Associated Press players poll (AP photo).
Oct. 27th, 1946: University of Pennsylvania's Chuck Bednarik named Lineman of the Week in Associated Press players poll (AP photo).

Following graduation, however, he entered the U. S. Army Air Force and served as a B-24 waist-gunner with the Eighth Air Force.  During WWII, Bednarik flew on 30 combat missions over Germany, for which he was awarded four Oak Leaf Clusters, among other medals for his service. “How we survived, I don’t know,” he would often say in wonderment in later talks with reporters.

“The anti-aircraft fire would be all around us,” Bednarik recounted to Sports Illustrated’s John Schulian in a 1993 interview. “It was so thick you could walk on it. And you could hear it penetrating.  Ping! Ping! Ping! Here you are, this wild, dumb kid, you didn’t think you were afraid of anything, and now, every time you take off, you’re convinced this is it, you’re gonna be ashes.”

After the war, Bednarik, who had previously thought of following his father into the steel mills, was instead encouraged by his high school football coach, John Butler, to go to college. Butler believed Bednarik could get an athletic scholarship, and after Butler arranged a meeting with the coach at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Bednarik enrolled there.


At Penn

At Penn, he became a three-time All-American football player, and a “two-way” man, excelling at both center on offense and linebacker on defense. He was also used occasionally as a punter. Beginning in 1946, Bednarik started at center and linebacker for Penn for three seasons.

In those years, Penn was a national football power, drawing crowds in excess of 70,000. For most of that time Penn was the second-best team in the East, behind the legendary Army teams with stars such as Glenn Davis and “Doc” Blanchard.  

Bednarik was named first team All-America his final two seasons at Penn.  He has also pressed found memories of his playing career at Penn.

“I could relive Franklin Field forever” Bednarik would later say. “Every Saturday, 78,800 people. It was unbelievable, the crowds that we had.”

A collegiate All-American at center, he also excelled at linebacker, and proved to be a nimble defender.  He intercepted seven passes in 1946 and six more the following year.  In 1948, he was named the College Player of the Year by a number of organizations.

Bednarik won the Maxwell Award in 1948, given to the best collegiate player of the year.  He also finished third in Heisman Trophy voting that year, just one of five offensive lineman in the history of the award to do so.

Chuck Bednarik strikes a linebacker pose in a early 1960s Philadelphia Eagles’ player photo.
Chuck Bednarik strikes a linebacker pose in a early 1960s Philadelphia Eagles’ player photo.
Chuck Bednarik, No. 60, at linebacker going for the ball on a pass play to a Green Bay Packer receiver.
Chuck Bednarik, No. 60, at linebacker going for the ball on a pass play to a Green Bay Packer receiver.

 
Drafted By Eagles

In 1949, he was the first player taken in the professional National Football League draft, selected by the Philadelphia Eagles. As a rookie with the Eagles, he alternated starting at linebacker and center. In that season, the Eagles won the 1949 league championship game, defeating the Los Angeles Rams 14-0.

Bednarik played 14 seasons with the Eagles, from 1949 through 1962. In those years he rose to mythic, “iron man” stature, noted for his durability as a two-way man, both a powerful blocker on offense and fierce tackler at linebacker. He missed only three games in his 14 years with the Eagles.


11 Times All-Pro

Bednarik was named All-Pro eleven times, and was the last man to play both offense and defense for an entire game in the National Football League. Upon retirement, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967, his first year of eligibility.

During the years he played with the Eagles, the club had its ups and downs. In 1952,1953 and 1954 the Eagles finished in the upper tier of their conference with season records of 7-5-0, 7-4-1, and 7-4-1. Bednarik’s play during these years was outstanding.

In 1953, Bednarik intercepted a career-high six passes, then a high number for a middle linebacker. In the Pro Bowl that year, he was voted the player of the game.

But from 1955 through 1958 the Eagles failed to post a winning season. At the end of the 1958 season Bednarik announced he was quitting, but soon thought better of it and returned to the Eagles. With a family of four daughters by then, Bednarik needed the money.

By 1959, the Eagles went 7 and 5, and things were looking better heading into 1960, when Bednarik would have what some consider his best season. That year proved to be the magical season for the Eagles; they notched a 10 and 2 record and won the NFL championship, beating Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers with standouts Bart Starr, Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor. In 1961, the Eagles continued their winning ways, going 10 and 4. But in 1962, they finished in 7th place with a dismal 3-10-1 record, and that’s when Bednarik retired – this time for good.

Nov 1962: Chuck Bednarik with family in Abington, PA. From left, twins Carol and Pamela 7, Donna 9, Jacquelyn 20 mos., wife Emma, and Charlene 12.  AP photo.
Nov 1962: Chuck Bednarik with family in Abington, PA. From left, twins Carol and Pamela 7, Donna 9, Jacquelyn 20 mos., wife Emma, and Charlene 12. AP photo.


“Concrete Charlie”

Hugh Brown, a sports writer for The Philadelphia Bulletin, who covered the Eagles, once wrote that Bednarik was as tough as the concrete he sold, referring to a another job Bednarik held at the time, adding the nickname “Concrete Charlie.”

It was not uncommon during the 1950s  and early 1960s for pro football players to have a full-time job away from the sport, as football salaries were not then the lucrative millions they are today. Bednarik, like others, worked another job to help support his family.

A routine day during the season back then called for a team meeting at 9 a.m., practice from 10:30 to about noon. After lunch, Bednarik would then begin his second job as a salesman for the Ready-Mix Concrete Co., which later became the Warner Company. But the nickname Brown had come up stuck, as some used it in the context of Bednarik’s bone-crushing tackles at his day job.

Chuck Bednarik at his Hall of Fame induction, August 1967.
Chuck Bednarik at his Hall of Fame induction, August 1967.
Bednarik was an Associated Press All-Pro selection nearly every year he played throughout the 1950s. He was an All-Pro center in 1949 and 1950 and then an All-Pro linebacker every year from 1951 to 1957 and again in 1960. He also played in eight of the first 11 Pro Bowls (1951-55, ’57, ’58 and ’61).

As an Eagle linebacker, he was not only a stalwart in stopping the run, but a nimble pass defender as well, snagging 20 interceptions during his 14-year NFL career.

On August 5, 1967, Bednarik was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In the years following his Hall of Fame induction, Bednarik would collect other awards and honors. In 1969, he was named center on the all-time NFL team and was also added that year to the College Football Hall of Fame.

In 1987, the Philadelphia Eagles retired his No. 60 numeral, one of only eight numbers retired in the history of the Eagles franchise. In 2010, Bednarik was ranked 35th on the NFL Network’s “Top 100” greatest players.

Chuck Bednarik, No. 60, at his linebacker post in a game against the New York Giants.
Chuck Bednarik, No. 60, at his linebacker post in a game against the New York Giants.


Spoke His Mind

In his retirement years, Bednarik at times would be outspoken, offering controversial and sometimes caustic comment about the current state of the game, certain players, and/or Philadelphia Eagles management and owners. Still, for the most part, he remained a revered figure among Philadelphia sports buffs, especially those of “old school” vintage.

During his tenure at linebacker, Chuck Bednarik faced many noteworthy and talented opponents – among them, some of the game’s all-time great running backs such as Jim Brown, Jim Taylor, and Paul Hornung. Frank Gifford, another among the all-time greats, was also one of Bednarik’s worthy adversaries, and the two had met in some memorable scrums, not the least of which was one on November 20th, 1960 at Yankee Stadium; a confrontation that is explored in more detail a bit later. But first, a look at Mr. Gifford’s football vitae.

 

Frank Gifford

Oct 1951: USC’s Frank Gifford making a big gain against the Univ of California Bears.
Oct 1951: USC’s Frank Gifford making a big gain against the Univ of California Bears.
Francis Newton Gifford was born in Santa Monica, California in August 1930. His father, Weldon, was a “roughneck” oil worker who traveled to wherever oil drilling work could be found.

While Frank was growing up, the Giffords lived in 47 different towns before he started high school. “I don’t remember completing a single grade in the same grammar school,” Gifford would later say.

It was in Bakersfield, California that Frank finally settled into high school and began to try his hand at football. He went out for the lightweight football team as a freshman, but he was just 5 foot 2 inches and 115 pounds and didn’t make it.

As a sophomore, he tried for the varsity, but played on the lightweight team as a third-string end. And he wasn’t much of student then either. But between his sophomore and junior years, he filled out, and made the varsity team.

When Bakersfield lost its starting quarterback to an automobile accident, Gifford replaced him. Along with friend and teammate, Bob Karpe, Gifford helped lead the 1947 Bakersfield “Drillers” to a Central Valley title. College scouts had come around by then, as well, but Gifford’s grades were terrible.

With the help of high school coach Homer Beaty, Gifford headed to Bakersfield Junior College as a stepping stone to the University of Southern California (USC). He became a Junior College All-American football player at Bakersfield College and then went on to USC where he would become an All-American performer.

Frank Gifford was selected by the NY Giants in the first round of the 1952 draft.
Frank Gifford was selected by the NY Giants in the first round of the 1952 draft.


“Mr. Football”

In the late 1940’s, early 1950’s, Gifford was “Mr. Football” at Southern Cal, playing both offense and defense. He played three varsity years at USC, 1949-1951. In 1951, he alternated at quarterback, half-back, and fullback, punted, and place-kicked. That year he rushed for 841 yards, and rolled up 1,144 yards in total offense, also kicking field goals on occasion. In mid-October that year, Gifford and USC were nationally ranked at No. 11, as they came to play the University of California, then ranked No. 1. California got off to a 14-0 lead. But Gifford proved the difference in the final outcome. He scored on a 69-yard run, threw a touchdown pass, and with five minutes to play, led a drive that won the game 21-14. Gifford’s All American honors in 1951 came mostly for his offensive running and passing, but he also excelled on defense. In one the game against Navy he had two interceptions.

Gifford turned pro in 1952 when he was selected in the first round of the player draft by the New York Giants, where he would play his entire career. He also married that year, at the age of 22, to Maxine Ewart and the couple would have three children together. With the Giants, Gifford at first, like Bednarik, was a “two-way” man, playing both running back on offense and defensive back. In later years he would move primarily to offense as a flanker back/wide receiver. In the late 1950s, he was also considered briefly for the quarterback slot when the Giants were having some uncertainty at that position. But it was from his halfback position that Frank Gifford became something of triple threat, as he could run, throw, or catch. When the Giant’s offensive coordinator, Vince Lombardi, introduced the halfback option, Gifford was well suited to the role.

Frank Gifford was regarded as an explosive, open-field runner, capable of long gains and quick scores, both as a receiver and a through-the-line halfback.
Frank Gifford was regarded as an explosive, open-field runner, capable of long gains and quick scores, both as a receiver and a through-the-line halfback.
At the Bleacher Report.com Gifford is listed as one of the “50 most explosive players in NFL history.” And as that report explains, he never posted 1,000 yards in a season as a runner or receiver. Nor did he ever post double-digit touchdown seasons or return a punt or kick-off for a score.

“But no defense ever wanted to see the former USC star carrying the ball in the open field,” says the Bleacher Report. For Gifford “turned short passes into 77-yard scores, turned quick hand-offs into 79-yard gains, and from the backfield [he] was a danger to throw his famous jump pass.”

Gifford attempted just 63 passes in his career, but since 14 of his passes went for scores (including an 83-yard bomb to Eddie Price), he was, according to Bleacher Report, one of the most dangerous triple threats in NFL history.

Frank Gifford receiving the NFL’s MVP trophy for 1956.
Frank Gifford receiving the NFL’s MVP trophy for 1956.
In 12 seasons with the New York Giants, Gifford proved a versatile and valuable player. As a running back, he had 3,609 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns in 840 carries. As a receiver he had 367 receptions for 5,434 yards and 43 touchdowns. And as noted earlier, Gifford was a halfback who could throw, and during his career, he completed 29 of the 63 passes he threw for 823 yards and 14 touchdowns. Gifford still holds the Giants’ franchise record for touchdowns scored, with 78.

Gifford was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, named at three positions: running back, wide receiver and defensive back. He also had five trips to the NFL Championship Game. Gifford’s biggest season may have been 1956, when he won the Most Valuable Player award of the NFL, led the Giants to the NFL title over the Chicago Bears. Gifford also played in the famous December 1958 championship game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts, a game that many believe ushered in the modern era of big time, television-hyped, pro football. He would also write a book about that game many years later.

Frank Gifford in light New York Giants workout attire, 1963.
Frank Gifford in light New York Giants workout attire, 1963.
Gifford was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on July 30, 1977, and in the year 2000, his New York Giants’ playing numeral, No. 16, was formally retired.

Gifford’s good looks and affable manner gained him entrée to radio and television, and as a sports celebrity sponsor for print and TV advertising. In the 1950s and 1960s during his active playing years he modeled Jantzen swimwear and clothing lines along with fellow pro athletes, appearing in a series of print ads. He also began sports broadcasting on radio and television while still an active player, first on CBS, then later after retirement, for ABC. In 1971 he became a regular on ABC-TV, with Monday Night Football and Wide World of Sports, as well as occasional specials and guest hosting appearances. He would also write, or co-author, several books on football. See “Celebrity Gifford” story at this website for more on Gifford’s film, TV, and sportscasting career.

Frank Gifford is also credited with a somewhat famous quote about the game: “Pro football is like nuclear warfare,” he is reported to have said, “There are no winners, only survivors” – attributed to him via Sports Illustrated, July 1960. That quote would have special meaning for Frank Gifford after one famous 1960 encounter with Chuck Bednarik and the Philadelphia Eagles.

 

November 1960

Eagles vs. Giants

Ticket stub: NYGiants - Phila. Eagles football game of Nov 20, 1960, Yankee Stadium.
Ticket stub: NYGiants - Phila. Eagles football game of Nov 20, 1960, Yankee Stadium.
It was a late season game in professional football’s 1960 season when the Eagles came to play the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium on November 20th.

Coming into the game, the Giants were 5-1-1 while the Eagles were 6-1-0, each with five games remaining, and each with a possible shot at the NFL’s Eastern Conference Championship. So the outcome of this game would be important.

Philadelphia that season had lost its opening-day game to the Cleveland Browns, 41–24. But after that, they were unbeatable, winning their next six games in a row. The Giants had lost only one game by then, as well.

Tommy McDonald, No. 25, of the Philadelphia Eagles, was one of the team's top players in 1960.
Tommy McDonald, No. 25, of the Philadelphia Eagles, was one of the team's top players in 1960.
Nov. 1962: NY Giants defensive lineman, from left: Andy Robustelli, Dick Modzelewski, Jim Katcavage and Rosey Grier, were also on the team in 1960.  Photo Dan Rubin.
Nov. 1962: NY Giants defensive lineman, from left: Andy Robustelli, Dick Modzelewski, Jim Katcavage and Rosey Grier, were also on the team in 1960. Photo Dan Rubin.

The Eagles and Giants teams of 1960 had many high caliber players between them. In addition to Bednarik at center and linebacker, the Eagles’ offense included quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, Tommy McDonald at flanker back/wide receiver, Pete Retzlaff at end, defensive lineman Marion Campbell, linebacker Chuck Webber, and defensive backs Tom Brookshier, Don Burroughs, and Maxie Baughan.

The New York Giants’ roster that year included notable linebacker, Sam Huff, quarterbacks Charlie Conerly and George Shaw, halfback and receiver Kyle Rote, defensive linemen Andy Robustelli and Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier, running backs Mel Triplett and Alex Webster, kicker, Pat Summerall, and offensive tackle Rosey Brown. Some of these Giants had also played on the 1956 team that won the NFL championship that year, as well as the 1958 and 1959 teams that had won the Eastern Conference.

But the November 20th, 1960 Giants-Eagles game would determine which team would hold first place in the Eastern Conference at that time.

In the early going, the Giants scored first with a Joe Morrison one-yard run in the first quarter, followed by a Pat Summerall point-after kick. Summerall added 3 more points with a 26-yard field goal in the 2nd quarter.  The Giants led, 10-0.  In the 3rd quarter, Eagles’s quarterback Norm Van Brocklin threw a 35-yard completion and touchdown pass to Tommy McDonald, followed by Bobby Walston kick.  New York 10, Eagles 7.  In the 4th quarter, the Eagles’ Bobby Walston kicked a 12-yard field goal, tying the score, 10-10.  Then the Eagles took the lead after Eagles corner back Jimmy Carr scored on a 38-yard fumble return followed by Bobby Walston’s point-after kick.  The Eagles now led, 17-10.  But the fourth quarter could be decisive, and the Giants were versatile, capable of come-back play.  And this is when the Bednarik-Gifford collision occurred.

 

Frank Meets Chuck

Frank Gifford, No. 16, has just taken a few steps after catching a pass over the middle, trying to avoid a downfield tackler, as No. 60, Chuck Bednarik, takes a bead on him.
Frank Gifford, No. 16, has just taken a few steps after catching a pass over the middle, trying to avoid a downfield tackler, as No. 60, Chuck Bednarik, takes a bead on him.
Chuck Bednarik’s tackle of Frank Gifford, as the ball pops out far right, during Eagles-Giants game of Nov 20th, 1960.
Chuck Bednarik’s tackle of Frank Gifford, as the ball pops out far right, during Eagles-Giants game of Nov 20th, 1960.
Bednarik’s tackle of Gifford as seen from another angle, the near sideline, during Giants-Eagles game.
Bednarik’s tackle of Gifford as seen from another angle, the near sideline, during Giants-Eagles game.
Chuck Bednarik continuing through his tackle of Frank Gifford as Gifford hits the ground.
Chuck Bednarik continuing through his tackle of Frank Gifford as Gifford hits the ground.
With Gifford stretched out on the turf, Bednarik, No. 60, looks around as Chuck Webber goes for the loose ball.
With Gifford stretched out on the turf, Bednarik, No. 60, looks around as Chuck Webber goes for the loose ball.
Chuck Bednarik had jumped up after his tackle of Frank Gifford to celebrate the Eagles’ fumble recovery.
Chuck Bednarik had jumped up after his tackle of Frank Gifford to celebrate the Eagles’ fumble recovery.
Iconic Photo. Chuck Bednarik, No. 60, standing over NY Giants running back, Frank Gifford after famous tackle, 20 Nov 1960.  Photo/ John G. Zimmerman / Sports Illustrated.
Iconic Photo. Chuck Bednarik, No. 60, standing over NY Giants running back, Frank Gifford after famous tackle, 20 Nov 1960. Photo/ John G. Zimmerman / Sports Illustrated.
Chuck Bednarik continuing celebration for his team’s near-certain victory while standing over Gifford. Photo/ John G. Zimmerman / Sports Illustrated.
Chuck Bednarik continuing celebration for his team’s near-certain victory while standing over Gifford. Photo/ John G. Zimmerman / Sports Illustrated.
Chuck Bednarik & Chuck Webber, No. 51, hover around the injured Frank Gifford as trainers attend to him on the field.
Chuck Bednarik & Chuck Webber, No. 51, hover around the injured Frank Gifford as trainers attend to him on the field.
Frank Gifford of the New York Giants is carried off the field on a stretcher after Chuck Bednarik’s tackle.
Frank Gifford of the New York Giants is carried off the field on a stretcher after Chuck Bednarik’s tackle.
November 21st, 1960: New York Daily News full-page treatment of Eagles-Giants game with photos of the Bednarik-Gifford hit, Gifford being taken off the field by stretcher, and part of headline reading, “Gifford Has Concussion.”
November 21st, 1960: New York Daily News full-page treatment of Eagles-Giants game with photos of the Bednarik-Gifford hit, Gifford being taken off the field by stretcher, and part of headline reading, “Gifford Has Concussion.”

Nov 22, 1960: The Eagles' Chuck Bednarik, in light work-out clothes in Philadelphia, looks at an Associated Press photo of Frank Gifford holding an ice pack to his head in the hospital.
Nov 22, 1960: The Eagles' Chuck Bednarik, in light work-out clothes in Philadelphia, looks at an Associated Press photo of Frank Gifford holding an ice pack to his head in the hospital.
Frank Gifford would return to play for the Giants as a flanker back, 1962-1964, shown here catching a pass over the middle in a 1963 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Frank Gifford would return to play for the Giants as a flanker back, 1962-1964, shown here catching a pass over the middle in a 1963 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

As the Giants took the ball late in the fourth quarter with about two minutes remaining, they were on the move and looking for a potential game-tying touchdown. Frank Gifford at that point in the game had about 100 total yards rushing and receiving.

Giant’s quarterback George Shaw called the play in the huddle. At the snap of the ball, Gifford set out on his passing route, turning upfield, then cutting toward the middle of the field on a crossing pattern.

As he went, Gifford was surveying where the defenders were, later saying they he was eyeing Eagles’ safety Don Burroughs. As Gifford caught the pass from Shaw while crossing the middle of the field, he took a few steps to avoid an oncoming downfield defender. And that’s when Bednarik, No. 60, comes into the frame shown above right.

Bednarik hit Gifford full on, forcing Gifford off his feet and into the air, legs flying. Bednarik, at 6-foot-3, 230-pounds, hit Gifford, 6-foot-1, 185-pounds, shoulder high, just under the chin. Gifford, expecting to find terra firma, instead met something like a brick wall.

Following the hit, as shown on an NFL film clip, Gifford appears to go limp, as his arms splay out to his sides hitting the ground uncontrollably as he goes down.

When Bednarik hit Gifford, the ball popped out, causing a fumble, available for recovery by either team. Chuck Webber, No. 51 for the Eagles, is seen in the later photos below right recovering the fumble. A cloud of dust was still hanging in the air as Bednarik and other players looked around to get their bearings. Gifford was motionless, lying flat on his back on the field. Bednarik later recounted the scene:

“We were leading the game, and Gifford ran a down-and-in route. After he caught the ball he took two or three steps and I waffled him chest high. His head snapped back and the ball popped loose. It was retrieved by Chuck Weber [of the Eagles], and when I saw that, I turned around with a clenched fist and hollered, ‘This […expletive ] game is over!’”

The fumble, coming in the fourth quarter with little time left and the Eagles in the lead, meant that Philadelphia had won the game. The win put the Eagles 1.5 games ahead of the second-place Giants and in a good position to win the Eastern Conference.

One of the classic photographs to emerge from that moment was a Sports Illustrated photo taken by John G, Zimmerman of Bednarik standing over the prone Gifford, appearing to be celebrating over Gifford’s misfortune. The photo has become one the iconic sports photos of all time.

In some ways, the Bednarik pose and interpretation – rightly or wrongly – resembles the famous May 1965 photo of Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) standing over Sonny Liston after a knock down in the world heavyweight championship fight.

Bednarik, however, has stated repeatedly that he wasn’t gloating or cerebrating about knocking Gifford out, but rather at his team’s now-certain victory with little time remaining. “I was celebrating,” Bednarik would later say. “But the reason wasn’t that he [Gifford] was down. The reason was that the hit [on Gifford, forcing the fumble] won the game.’ ”

Steve Sabol, the late president and founder of NFL Films, and the man behind the slow-motion highlight clips of NFL games that were popular for many years, had once called the Bednarik-Gifford hit, “the greatest tackle in pro football history.” Yet, for many who have seen the old black-and-white film footage of that tackle, it does not appear to be a particularly vicious hit.

However, Sabol explained in a 1994 Philadelphia Daily News story that the camera work of that day did not adequately convey the force of the blow delivered by Bednarik. “The fact that the film is black-and-white and the camera is so far away really diffuses the impact,” Sabol explained to Daily News reporter Ray Didinger. “If the same play happened now, with all our field level cameras and the field microphones to pick up the live sound, it would be incredible.”

Others who were on the field at the time of the tackle, also describe it as particularly frightening. Tom Brookshier, a former Eagles cornerback who was on the field that day, along with others, say they had never heard anything like it.

“It was not the usual thump of padded body hitting padded body. This was a sharp crack, like an axe splitting a piece of wood,” explained Ray Didinger of the Daily News, recounting what Brookshier and others had reported.

“You could hear it all over the field,” said Tom Brookshier. “As a player, it gave you a chill because it was so unusual. Then I saw Gifford on the ground, his eyes rolled up, his arms flat out. He looked like a corpse. I thought, ‘My God, this guy is dead. Charlie killed him.’ ”

Over the years, the 1960 Bednarik-Gifford collision took on a life of its own, becoming part of pro football lore. “Any other guy in any other city, it would have been just another vicious, clean play,” Bednarik said of his tackle on Gifford in a 2009 New York Daily News story. “But against Gifford in New York it took on, well, a religious air.”

Gifford in later years had become a well-known New York and national sportscaster, including a long run on the Monday Night Football program, which as Bednarik has stated, helped keep the hit alive in prime time:

“If that was Kyle Rote or Alex Webster or any other Giant [I had tackeld], it would have been forgotten long ago. But Frank’s (TV) visibility kept it alive. (Howard) Cosell talked about it for 10 years on Monday Night Football. Every time there was a hard hit, Cosell would say, ‘Just like when Chuck Bednarik blindsided you, Giff, at Yankee Stadium.’ I’d sit there on my couch and say, ‘Blindside my fanny. It was a good shot, head on.’”

And on that score, Gifford agrees, more or less. “It was perfectly legal,” Gifford would later say of Bednarik’s tackle. “If I’d had the chance, I’d have done the same thing Chuck did.”

And again, in a 2010 phone conversation with New York Times reporter Dave Anderson, Gifford reiterated that view: “Chuck hit me exactly the way I would have hit him, with his shoulder, a clean shot.”

“I sent a basket of flowers and a letter to Frank in the hospital,” Bednarik reportedly said in one interview. “I told him I’d pray for him. I’m a good Catholic, but I’m also a football player. When I was on the field, I knocked the hell out of people, but that’s the name of the game.”

Decades later, the two Hall of Famers were attending a banquet, and Bednarik greeted Gifford:

“Hey, Frank,” Bednarik said, “Good to see you. How are you doing?”

Gifford replied, “I made you famous, didn’t I, Chuck?”

“Yes, you did, Frank,” Bednarik said.

Over the years, the photo of Bednarik standing over Gifford lying on the turf has become something of collector’s item, and Bednarik has autographed a fair number of them for fans. Sports Illustrated has included the photo in its gallery, “The 100 Greatest Sports Photos of All Time.”


Gifford Comeback

Back in the 1960s, meanwhile, Gifford did not play football in 1961, the year following Bednarik’s hit. He began doing more sportscasting work with CBS that year, and it appeared his playing days were over. However, the football bug soon got the best of Gifford, as he had stayed involved with the Giants during the year as a team scout and advisor.

Each week he scouted the Giants’ upcoming opponents for strengths and weaknesses and would advise on game strategy. And sometimes during on-the- field practice sessions, Gifford would line up impersonating the next opponent. There was no contact for Gifford during these sessions. He would just run plays as a flanker.

But during that time, as he ran those plays, Gifford was doing pretty well against the Giants best defensive backs. His speed was good, often beating them as he played the week’s coming opponent. That got him thinking about coming back. He was not happy with the exit he had made after the Bednarik hit and didn’t want to end his career that way.

“I had been out for a year,” Gifford would say of his situation, “but I thought, what a terrible way to have gone out. And I thought if I don’t do it now, in 1962, I’ll never be able to.”

In 1962, Gifford would explain to Sports Illustrated reporter Tex Maule:

“I made a lot of money in the year I stayed out. I didn’t stay out because of the head injury. I had personal reasons I don’t want to go into. But I missed pro football. I don’t know any kind of business you can go into where you can get as much excitement once a week as you can get playing pro ball. Nothing you can care about as much. If you are lucky enough to be able to do this for a living, I think you should do it as long as you can.”

Dr. Francis Sweeney, team doctor for the Giants at the time, gave Gifford the go-ahead to resume playing in 1962. “He had a deep concussion,” Sweeney said in the 1962 Sports Illustrated article, adding this in his explanation: “…A severe shock [to the head ] may start a hemorrhage which can seep down into the lower parts of the brain and affect motor areas and be very serious. This is what Frank had. But once that heals, it’s completely healed and doesn’t have a carryover effect.”

[Today, the science of head injury trauma is much advanced. CTE, or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, is a known progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes with a history of repetitive brain trauma, concussions, and even repetitive sub-concussive hits to the head. In late 2015, after his death and a post-mortem exam of his brain, Frank Gifford was found to have had CTE, which his family believes altered his behavior and cognitive skills in his later years.]

In November 1960, The New York Daily News (above right), reporting on the game and the Bednarik-Gifford hit, ran a headline which read in part, “…Gifford Has Concussion.” In addition, the New York Times and other newspapers also reported that Gifford had suffered “a deep concussion.”

Yet Gifford, in later years, had a somewhat different account of the injury. In one interview at the Bluenatic blog with Mark Weinstein in August 2013, Gifford replied:

“…Can we get this right, please? I’ve tried to do it many, many times, but it keeps coming up. It wasn’t a head injury. It was a neck injury. I got hit by Chuck Bednarik on a crossing pattern. And I went back and snapped my head back on the field, which was kind of semi-frozen. And it stunned me. I wasn’t knocked unconscious or anything, but it did stun me. It wasn’t all that serious, really, but I was going to be out the rest of the season because the doctors didn’t know quite what to do. This was before they had CAT scans, you know, so I went to have my head X-rayed, and of course my head was all right. But I took some time off and then I came back and played three more years and made the Pro Bowl at a new position, wide receiver.”

Gifford, also explained in a November 2010 New York Times article by Dave Anderson:“When I had tingling in my fingers about seven or eight years ago, I had X-rays of my neck. The technician asked me if I had ever been in an automobile accident. I told him no, but he said the X-rays showed a fracture of a neck vertebra that had healed by itself. After the Bednarik play, they never X-rayed my neck. They just X-rayed my head.” But in 1962, after 18 months away from football, Gifford’s injuries apparently had time to heal — as was thought at the time — and as he returned to training camp that year, he was cleared to play.

Early 1960s photo of New York Giants players in sideline dugout, believed to be, from left: Lane Howell (No. 78), Jimmy Patton (No. 20), Andy Robustelli (No. 81), Y.A. Tittle (No. 14), and Frank Gifford ( No. 16).
Early 1960s photo of New York Giants players in sideline dugout, believed to be, from left: Lane Howell (No. 78), Jimmy Patton (No. 20), Andy Robustelli (No. 81), Y.A. Tittle (No. 14), and Frank Gifford ( No. 16).

When Gifford came back in 1962, he was shifted to flanker back. By then, the Giants had a new quarterback, Y. A. Tittle, who had come from the San Francisco 49ers, and Tittle wasn’t sure about Gifford as a receiver. “Y. A. didn’t know me; he wasn’t throwing to me much,” Gifford explained to Dave Anderson of the New York Times. “But in our third game in Pittsburgh, Y. A. asked if I could beat defensive back Jack Butler on a fly. I dove and caught the pass for a touchdown. From that point on, he trusted me.”

1975 “Monday Night Football” broadcast team: from left, Alex Karras, Howard Cosell, and Frank Gifford.
1975 “Monday Night Football” broadcast team: from left, Alex Karras, Howard Cosell, and Frank Gifford.
Gifford continued catching passes and scoring touchdowns for the Giants for three more seasons. In 1962, he had his seventh Pro Bowl season, and the Giants went 12-2 to win their fifth Eastern Conference title in seven years. However, they lost the championship game to the Green Bay Packers that year, 16-7, in a frigid Yankee Stadium. The following year, the Giants finished at 11-3, but lost the title game again, this time to the Chicago Bears. The next year, 1964, was dismal for the Giants, finishing at 2-10-2, and that’s when Gifford retired.

In retirement, Gifford continued his second career in sports broadcasting, including a 22-year run at Monday Night Football.

1976 book written w/ Charles Mangel, “Gifford on Courage: Ten Unforgettable True Stories of Heroism in Modern Sports.”
1976 book written w/ Charles Mangel, “Gifford on Courage: Ten Unforgettable True Stories of Heroism in Modern Sports.”


Gifford in Print

Gifford also continued to appear in print and TV advertising, endorsing a variety of products. In addition, several sports books featured or included him as the principal subject or a featured player, among them: Don Smith’s book, The Frank Gifford Story (1960); William Wallace’s book, Frank Gifford: The Golden Year, 1956 (published 1969); Jack Cavanaugh’s Giants Among Men: How Robustelli, Huff, Gifford and the Giants Made New York a Football Town and Changed the NFL.(2008).

Gifford also wrote or co-authored three other books – Gifford on Courage: Ten Unforgettable True Stories of Heroism in Modern Sports (1976), with Charles Mangel; The Whole Ten Yards (1993), Gifford’s autobiography, with Newsweek’s Harry Waters; and The Glory Game: How The 1958 NFL Championship Changed Football Forever (2008), with Peter Richmond.

In the 1980s, Gifford met his third wife, Kathie Lee Johnson, a popular TV host, while he was a guest host on ABC-TV’s Good Morning America. The two were married in 1986 and would have two children together. More about Gifford’s broadcasting and advertising career is found at “Celebrity Gifford: 1950-2010s,” also at this website.

Chuck Bednarik in a rare moment on the sidelines, as he was known for his “iron man” two-way performances.
Chuck Bednarik in a rare moment on the sidelines, as he was known for his “iron man” two-way performances.


Bednarik, Pt. 2

Back in 1960, meanwhile, Chuck Bednarik and the New York Giants had another round yet to go. Due to some odd scheduling that season, the Giants and Eagles played back-to-back weeks, and on Nov 27th, 1960, they met again, this time at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. First place in the Eastern Conference was still at stake with the Giants needing a win to stay alive. New York took a 17-0 lead in that game, but the Eagles fought back behind quarterback Norm Van Brocklin to win, 31-23.

Gifford was still in the hospital from the previous week’s encounter with Bednarik, and there was some talk of possible “Giant payback” for Bednarik’s hit on Gifford. “They were rough and mean, like always,” Bednarik would later report, “but not dirty.” Sam Huff had a good hit on Bednarik in that game with a blind side block on one play. And the two traded some trash talk at the time, but nothing more.

Bednarik, in fact, made a difference in this game as he had in the November 20th game, forcing a key fumble. In the second half, the Gaints’ Charlie Conerly was at quarterback and Bednarik faked a blitz up the middle. Conerly, spooked a bit by Bednarik, pulled away from center too quickly and fumbled the snap. Bednarik’s biggest game that year, however, came in December.

Eagles coach Buck Shaw with Norm Van Brocklin & Chuck Bednarik after winning 1960 Championship.
Eagles coach Buck Shaw with Norm Van Brocklin & Chuck Bednarik after winning 1960 Championship.
On the day after Christmas 1960, the Eagles met Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers for the NFL championship game at Franklin Field, where Bednarik had played his college ball for the University of Pennsylvania.

In that game, quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, playing his last game as an Eagle, threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Tommy McDonald in the second quarter. And again, in the fourth quarter, Van Brocklin took the Eagles on a 39-yard drive to put the Eagles up by a 17-13 count, which would prove to be the winning score.

Bednarik in that game had knocked Packer’s running back Paul Hornung out of the game with a jarring third quarter tackle. But in the fourth quarter, with the game on the line, Bart Starr threw a screen pass to their powerful fullback, Jim Taylor.

Taylor caught the ball on Philadelphia’s 23 yard line and had the end zone in sight. The Eagles’s Maxey Baughan had the first shot at him, but Taylor cut back and broke Baughan’s tackle. Then Taylor ran through Eagles safety Don Burroughs.

The 1977 book, “Bednarik: Last of the Sixty-Minute Men,” written with Jack McCallum.
The 1977 book, “Bednarik: Last of the Sixty-Minute Men,” written with Jack McCallum.
At the ten yard-line, it was only Bednarik who remained between Taylor, a touchdown, and a Green Bay victory. Bednarik stopped Taylor and wrestled him to the ground, holding him there until the clock ran out. The Eagles won the game and the 1960 NFL championship. Bednarik would later be seen walking off the field with his arm around Taylor and shaking Paul Hornung’s hand.

Bednarik played 58 minutes of that game, only sitting out kickoffs, making one fumble recovery and 12 tackles. In fact, during the 1960 season by one calculation, Bednarik was on the field for some 600 of a possible 720 minutes, or more then 83 percent of the playing time that year. He was the NFL’s last two-way player over a full season.

In retirement some years later, Bednarik teamed up with writer Jack McCallum to do a 1977 book titled, Bednarik: Last of The Sixty-Minute Men.

In 1995, The Chuck Bednarik Award was established by the Maxwell Football Club of Philadelphia. The award is presented annually to the best defensive player in college football judged by NCAA head coaches, Maxwell Club members, sportswriters, and sportscasters. Past winners, for example, have included: Paul Posluszny, Penn State (twice); Julius Peppers, North Carolina; and Charles Woodson, Michigan.

In Philadelphia, meanwhile, a group of businessmen and sports fans raised some $100,000 in 2010 to commission a statue of Bednarik in his football regalia to be located at the University of Pennsylvania. Dedicated in November 2011 with the help of former Pennsylvania governor and Philadelphia mayor, Ed Rendell, that statue today stands inside Gate 2 on the North side of Franklin Field, the stadium where Bednarik played his college ball and a number of pro games with the Eagles.

Statue of Chuck Bednarik in his football regalia stands at the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field, dedicated there in November 2011.
Statue of Chuck Bednarik in his football regalia stands at the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field, dedicated there in November 2011.
Both Gifford and Bednarik have had their numerals retired by their respective teams, and both are also pro football Hall of Fame members. Between the two of them, they provided many memorable moments of play throughout their careers during the 1950s and 1960s. Both Chuck Bednarik and Frank Gifford passed away in 2015: Bednarik on March 21st, and Gifford on August 9th.


The Changing Game

The Bednarik-Gifford history in some ways is also a story about one of those transition periods of old and new; when the game of football was played differently, without all the hype it has today. Bednarik, in many ways, represented the old school, the way the game was once played – when players of the 1950s weren’t paid a lot of money, worked other jobs to make ends meet, while delivering a workman-like performance on the field. This was the era before the Super Bowl; before the media glare and pop culture focus.

Gifford, too, was of that era, but he was also one of the first, like Paul Hornung of the Green Bay Packers, on the cusp of something new, and pushing into the new era, as players who had media appeal and commercial value; players who would transition into a public personas with second careers in the sports media, advertising, and /or entertainment worlds.

There is more about Gifford’s off-the-field career at “Celebrity Gifford,” a separate story at this website. See also at this website, “Dutchman’s Big Day,” about Norm Van Brocklin’s single-game passing record from 1951, which still stands today.

Additional football stories at this website include: “I Guarantee It,” covering Joe Namath’s career, some AFL-NFL history, and Namath’s famous Superbowl III prediction in 1969; and, “Slingin` Sammy,” on the career of quarterback Sammy Baugh and Washington Redskins history, 1930s-1950s. For additional story choices go to the Home Page or the Annals of Sport category page. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 18 February 2014
Last Update: 15 May 2018
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Bednarik-Gifford Lore – Football: 1950s-1960s,”
PopHistoryDig.com, February 18, 2014.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

Jan 31, 1949: Chuck Bednarik, left, and Lou Boudreau of the Cleveland Indians baseball team, far right, collecting trophies for their play from the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association.  Jack Wilson center (AP photo).
Jan 31, 1949: Chuck Bednarik, left, and Lou Boudreau of the Cleveland Indians baseball team, far right, collecting trophies for their play from the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association. Jack Wilson center (AP photo).
The July 21st, 1997 cover of Sports Illustrated uses a 1959 Frank Gifford photo by John Zimmerman to feature “A Gallery of Unforgettable Portraits” – a photo of Gifford that projects a certain “superman” aura about it.
The July 21st, 1997 cover of Sports Illustrated uses a 1959 Frank Gifford photo by John Zimmerman to feature “A Gallery of Unforgettable Portraits” – a photo of Gifford that projects a certain “superman” aura about it.
November 8, 1962: Chuck Bednarik in the snow at Yankee Stadium during a 19-14 loss to the New York Giants , the Bronx, New York.  NFL photo.
November 8, 1962: Chuck Bednarik in the snow at Yankee Stadium during a 19-14 loss to the New York Giants , the Bronx, New York. NFL photo.
Bob Gordon’s book, “The 1960 Philadelphia Eagles: The Team That They Said Had Nothing But a Championship,” with Chuck Bednarik, No. 60, and Bobby Jackson, No. 28, on the cover. (Published August 2001).
Bob Gordon’s book, “The 1960 Philadelphia Eagles: The Team That They Said Had Nothing But a Championship,” with Chuck Bednarik, No. 60, and Bobby Jackson, No. 28, on the cover. (Published August 2001).
In the late 1950s, the New York Giants considered using Frank Gifford at quarterback. (NY Daily News).
In the late 1950s, the New York Giants considered using Frank Gifford at quarterback. (NY Daily News).
Gifford, like Bednarik, was a family man in the early 1960s, shown here with his then-wife Maxine, three children, and family pet.  December 1963.
Gifford, like Bednarik, was a family man in the early 1960s, shown here with his then-wife Maxine, three children, and family pet. December 1963.
Dec. 26th, 1960: Chuck Bednarik, # 60 walking off the field with Jim Taylor #31 & Paul Hornung #5 of Green Bay Packers after Eagles won NFL Championship game.
Dec. 26th, 1960: Chuck Bednarik, # 60 walking off the field with Jim Taylor #31 & Paul Hornung #5 of Green Bay Packers after Eagles won NFL Championship game.

“Rough Day in Berkeley: A Zany Season Reaches Climax As Southern Cal Tips California Off Top of Football Heap,” Life (with photo sequence of a Frank Gifford 69-yard run), October 29, November, 1951, pp. 22-27.

“Gifford at Quarterback For Giants in Workout,” New York Times, July 25, 1956.

“Conerly’s Pitch-Out to Gifford Rated as Key to Team’s Victory,” New York Times, October 29, 1956.

“Conference Lead Will Be at Stake; New York Will Try to Take First Place Away From Philadelphia Eleven,” New York Times, November 20, 1960.

Louis Effrat, “Run with Fumble Wins Game, 17-10; Carr of Eagles Catches Ball Dropped by Triplett and Goes for 38 Yards,” New York Times, November 21, 1960.

Robert L. Teague, “Gifford Suffers Deep Concussion; Katcavage Also Sent to Hospital, With a Shoulder Injury,” New York Times, November 21, 1960.

Louis Effrat, “Halfback Facing Stay in Hospital; Gifford Will Be Confined for Three Weeks — Katcavage Has Broken Clavicle,” New York Times, November 22, 1960.

“Giant Back Calls Consultant Who Gives Dim Report on Concussion a ‘Crepe Hanger’ — Bednarik Sends Gift,” New York Times, November 23, 1960.

Robert L. Teague, “Cowboys’ Plays Tested by Giants; Aerial Defense Is Stressed at Workout — Gifford Is Released From Hospital,” New York Times, December 2, 1960.

Tex Maule, “Then The Eagle Swooped,” Sports Illustrated, December 5, 1960.

“Chuck Bednarik Knocks Out Frank Gifford,”(NFL Videos, 14 second clip), NFL.com.

William R. Conklin, “Star Back Signed by Radio Station; Gifford Retires as Player but Giants Hope to Keep Him in Advisory Post,” New York Times, Friday, February 10, 1961.

Robert M. Lipsytet, “Gifford Returns as a Player; Giants’ Halfback, 31, Gives Up Duties as Broadcaster; Back Holds 3 Club Records,” New York Times, Tuesday, April 3, 1962, Sports, p. 48.

“Gifford Is Shifted by Football Giants,” New York Times, September 6, 1962.

Tex Maule, “No Rocking Chair For Frank Gifford,” Sports Illustrated, October 1, 1962.

Arthur Daley, “Sports of The Times; The Comeback Kid The Adjustment Long Road Back In the Homestretch,” New York Times, November 18, 1962.

“Gifford Tops ‘Comeback’ Poll,” New York Times, January 3, 1963.

John Schulian, “Concrete Charlie,” Sports Illustrated, September 6, 1993.

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“Gifford For Luckies”
1961-1962

Frank Gifford, football star for the New York Giants, appeared in Lucky Strike cigarette ads in the early 1960s, including this one, which appeared on the back cover of ‘The Saturday Evening Post’ magazine, November 10, 1962.
Frank Gifford, football star for the New York Giants, appeared in Lucky Strike cigarette ads in the early 1960s, including this one, which appeared on the back cover of ‘The Saturday Evening Post’ magazine, November 10, 1962.
     Frank Gifford first rose to fame in the 1950s and 1960s as a professional football player with the New York Giants.  Later, in a second career, he became famous again as a sports broadcaster.  He is shown at right in a 1962 magazine advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes.

     Born in Santa Monica, California in 1930, Gifford graduated from Bakersfield High School, became a Junior College All- American football player at Bakersfield College, then proceeded to the University of Southern California where he also became an All-American.  He entered the profes- sional ranks in 1952, joining the New York Giants, where he played his entire career.

     Gifford began his career with the Giants playing both offense and defense, a rarity at a time when platoon football had begun following World War II.  He made eight Pro Bowl appearances and had five trips to the NFL Championship Game.  Gifford’s biggest season may have been 1956, when he won the Most Valuable Player award of the NFL, and led the Giants to the NFL title over the Chicago Bears.  Gifford also played in the famous December 1958 championship game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts, a game that many believe ushered in the modern era of big time, television-hyped, pro football.   Gifford, in fact, has co-written a recent book on that game, titled The Glory Game.

     In the early 1960s, however, Frank Gifford was a hot commodity, and his endorsement was sought for an array of products, cigarettes among them.  In the magazine ad above, Gifford is shown in a photo from his playing days and another at leisure off the field, lending his endorsement to American Tobacco Company’s Lucky Strike brand.  The caption beneath the football photograph of Gifford reads: “Frank Gifford in action in 1957.  The young New York Giants halfback was already a top star  — and a Lucky Strike smoker.”  The other photograph, with Gifford holding a cigarette while looking trough an opened book, says: “Frank Gifford today.  Now one of pro football’s all-time greats, Frank’s still a satisfied Lucky smoker.”  The wording at the bottom of the ad says:

“The taste of Luckies spoils you for other cigarettes.  ‘Taste is the reason I started smoking Luckies,’ says Frank, ‘and taste is the reason I’m still a Lucky man. ‘ How about you?  Get the taste you’ll stay with.  Get the fine tobacco-taste of Lucky Strike.”

Frank Gifford, former New York Giants football star, appears in early 1960s magazine ad for Lucky Strike cigarettes.
Frank Gifford, former New York Giants football star, appears in early 1960s magazine ad for Lucky Strike cigarettes.


“Taste Great”

         In another early 1960s ad for Lucky Strike, Gifford is shown relaxing in a home den type setting with his football trophies behind him, cigarette in hand, as he lends his name to the Lucky Strike brand.  The caption beneath his photo- graph reads:

     “Frank Gifford, former All-Pro halfback for the New York Football Giants, remembers more than fifteen yeas of great football.  A Lucky Strike smoker, Frank remembers how great his first Lucky tasted: ‘And Luckies still taste great,’ he says. ‘This one still delivers that full, rich tobacco taste.’  How about you?  Change to Luckies and get some taste for a change.”

     In addition to advertising for Lucky Strike cigarettes, Gifford, a popular sports figure in New York in the early 1960s, also did ads for other products including: Vitalis hair tonic, Jantzen swim wear, Dry Sack sherry, and Palmolive Rapid Shave.

In a 2013 interview by Mark Weinstein, Gifford was asked about his Lucky Strike cigarette ads. Here’s some of that exchange:

MW: “…And I’m wondering if, knowing what we now know about the adverse health effects of tobacco, you have any regrets about your association with Lucky Strike?”

FG: “I do, but only in the sense that when the Surgeon General’s report came out [January 1964], I very openly quit smoking. I quit the day the report came out. And that was the end of the advertising, too. I was making more doing that—potentially, anyway—than I was playing football. But that was the end of it. I said, ‘I’m not going to do it anymore.’ It’s been kind of lost in the pages of history, I guess, but that’s exactly what happened.”


Injury & Comeback

Frank Gifford (No. 16), New York Giants, running with ball against the Washington Redskins, Yankee Stadium, November 29, 1959.  Photo, Neil Leifer.
Frank Gifford (No. 16), New York Giants, running with ball against the Washington Redskins, Yankee Stadium, November 29, 1959. Photo, Neil Leifer.
     In a 1960 game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Gifford was hit very hard on a passing play by Eagles’ linebacker Chuck Bednarik, and was knocked out of the game.  Gifford suffered a severe neck injury, forcing him out of active play for 18 months — occurring in the prime of his career.  The injury led him to retire from football temporarily.  In 1962 Gifford returned to pro football and resumed playing for the Giants, this time as a flanking, wide receiver.  Gifford made an impressive comeback, learning and excelling at the new position, becoming a star once again.  In fact, he was selected to the Pro Bowl as wide receiver in 1964.  At the end of that season, however, Gifford retired for good.

     In 12 seasons with the New York Giants, Gifford proved a versatile and valuable player.  As a running back, he had 3,609 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns in 840 carries.  As a receiver he had 367 receptions for 5,434 yards and 43 touchdowns.  Gifford was also a halfback who could throw, and completed 29 of the 63 passes he attempted for 823 yards and 14 touchdowns.  Gifford was also one of those rare players in the early modern era who played both offense and defense.  In fact, during his career, he had Pro Bowl selections at three different positions — defensive back, running back, and wide receiver.  Gifford was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on July 30, 1977, and in the year 2000, his New York Giants’ No. 16 playing numeral was formally retired.


L-to-R, Don Meredith, Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford, the broadcast team for ABC-TV’s “Monday Night Football,” 1972.
L-to-R, Don Meredith, Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford, the broadcast team for ABC-TV’s “Monday Night Football,” 1972.
Broadcast Booth

     After his playing days ended, Frank Gifford became a full-time sports broadcaster for NFL games on CBS radio and TV.  By 1971 he became a play-by-play announcer on ABC’s Monday Night Football with Howard Cosell and Don Meredith — Meredith a former Dallas Cowboy football star.  In 1995, Gifford was given the Pete Rozelle Award by the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his NFL television work.  Gifford remained at Monday Night Football until 1998, when he left the show.  He also appeared on other ABC sports programs, including Olympic Games coverage, ABC’s Wide World of Sports, various sports personality profiles.  He also appeared as a guest on non-sports TV shows from time to time, including ABC-TV’s Good Morning America, where he met his third wife, Kathie Lee, a popular TV host.  The two were married in 1986 and would have two children together.  Throughout the late 1980s and the 1990s, millions of morning-TV viewers who watched ABC’s Live with Regis and Kathie Lee would often hear Kathie Lee Gifford’s descriptions of life at home with her sportscaster husband and their two children.  Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford have also used their celebrity to raise money for charitable causes.

     See also at this website, “Celebrity Gifford,” a longer story on the football, broadcasting, and celebrity history of Frank Gifford. Other stories on celebrity advertising at this website include, for example: Dennis Hopper pitching retirement planning for Ameriprise Financial, Madonna in a 1989 Pepsi ad, and John Wayne in 1950s’ Camel cigarette ads. Thanks for visiting — and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. — Jack Doyle

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Date Posted:  29 March 2010
Last Update:  15 February 2019
Comments to:  jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Gifford For Luckies, 1961-1962,”
PopHistoryDig.com, March 29, 2010.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

Frank Gifford football trading card from 1955 in protective case. Issued originally by Bowman Football Cards as #7 in a series, this card is graded and registered by PSA, Professional Sports Authenticator. “EX-MT” means the card is in “excellent-to-mint” condition, followed by a numerical grade. Click for 'very-good-to-excellent' card.
Frank Gifford football trading card from 1955 in protective case. Issued originally by Bowman Football Cards as #7 in a series, this card is graded and registered by PSA, Professional Sports Authenticator. “EX-MT” means the card is in “excellent-to-mint” condition, followed by a numerical grade. Click for 'very-good-to-excellent' card.

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