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Greatest Game Ever Played to be replayed on ESPN this Saturday (9 p.m.)

I think the greatest football game that I ever watched in my lifetime, was the Ohio State Buckeyes National Championship win over the Miami Hurricanes in 2002. There wasn't a moment I sat still, bouncing off my couch like a trampoline. Segue. On December 13, the Saturday in which you suddenly realize "NO MORE COLLEGE FOOTBALL", ESPN will replay the game nicknamed the "Greatest Game Ever Played" - digitally restored and colorized - 9 p.m. I've never seen the game, save for the two-second highlights that "explain" this to be the "Greatest Game Ever Played." In anticipation of the event, Joe Horrigan (VP/Communications, HOF), former Baltimore Colts Raymond Berry and Lenny Moore and former New York Giants Frank Gifford and Pat Summerall participated in a conference call about that game.

VINCE CASEY: We appreciate you joining us for today’s conference call on the Greatest Game Ever Played – the 1958 NFL Championship. The 50th anniversary of the Greatest Game will come on the final day of the 2008 regular season on December 28. We are joined today by Raymond Berry and Lenny Moore of the Colts, Frank Gifford and Pat Summerall of the Giants, and Joe Horrigan, the vice president of communications and exhibits for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I now give you Joe Horrigan. Thank you.

JOE HORRIGAN: I think there’s a lot to cover about this game. We’ve all over the last 50 years discussed it ad nauseam in some instances, but that’s because it deserves it. I think the easiest way to start this dialogue today is to establish in point of fact that this game, while it was quickly called the “Best Game Ever Played,” it was later renamed the “Greatest Game Ever Played.” I think that moniker has stood the test of time. We can look back historically and see that this game not only played a significant role in the development of television, which it’s often cited for, but beyond that, it was a great catalyst for expansion in the National Football League and the emergence of the American Football League. It was also putting a game in the city of New York, which was of critical importance to the league in terms of the growth of its popularity.

Why don’t we start, Raymond, if you don’t mind, with a reflection piece. Something along the lines of, here’s this 20th-round draft pick coming to Baltimore, if you ever thought this game would have the kind of impact that it did have.

RAYMOND BERRY: I was in the league four years at the time, and I did not have a clue about the significance of this game. None of us on the Colts’ team had really played on a championship team. It was a tremendous experience just winning the Western Division championship and being able to play the Giants at Yankee Stadium for the world championship. I think we were so thrilled about that, that we really had no idea about the significance of what was going to happen.

HORRIGAN: The Colts were just in their sixth season, and they were going up against this Giants franchise that had been around since 1925. Did you feel like the stepchild, so to speak, or were you confident that you were on the same competitive playing field as the New York Giants that day?

BERRY: I don’t think that we were all that conscious of the mystique of New York City. I don’t think we looked at things from that standpoint. I know we had a tremendous fight just to win the Western Division championship because of the competitiveness of all six teams in that division. All of a sudden we finally win the Western Division and we’re looking at the New York Giants. That’s the first time any of us really thought about it. But I don’t think going to New York was on our minds.

HORRIGAN: The Colts were a team of castoffs. A lot of their players were late-round draft picks or had come from the Dallas Texans, the last failed marquee franchise in NFL history. On the other hand with the Giants, we had marquis players like Sam Huff that had really captured America’s imagination not only because of the high-profile nature of your personal performances in college, but also with the New York Giants. How did you feel about this upstart Colts team? Were they a team you took seriously?

Frank Gifford: I don’t think we ever took anyone less than seriously, particularly back then when there were 12 teams in the NFL. We had won the NFL Championship two years prior to that, in 1956. We beat the Chicago Bears in New York 47-7, so we were familiar with what you had to do. We had also played Baltimore during the course of the ’58 season. At that time, Johnny Unitas didn’t play – he was injured. It was a game that we won rather handily, but we also knew coming into that game, looking at the films of Baltimore’s last few games, that they were really a good football team. We respected them completely. Then you might remember too that we had to play an extra game that year because we wound up in a tie with Cleveland. Pat Summerall was a key player there because he kicked a whopping field goal, and we put the Cleveland Browns out of their misery and went on to play in the Championship Game. That last game that we played against the Cleveland Browns – we’d had to work those final two weeks in bitter cold up here in New York, and we were a very tired football team. We were beat up, we had a lot of guys playing hurt, and in those days with a 35-man roster, you didn’t have a whole lot of substitutions going on. We were a beat-up football team, and we respected Baltimore, and it had nothing to do with whether we did or didn’t do something – they just beat us.

I can correct that – I beat us. I fumbled twice in that game. Once it would have given us a touchdown, probably, going in, and once coming out that they converted into a touchdown.

I think Vince Lombardi responded to your self-criticism, Frank, when he said the Giants wouldn’t have been there without you.

Gifford: Well, that maybe was a little solace. The fumbles never really had bothered me over my career, but obviously when you start analyzing a game like this game that’s been analyzed and is going to be analyzed up until December 28, it was certainly a major, major player in that game.

Pat, the kicking game for both teams became very important, and this was in an era with a 35-man roster when there wasn’t really the luxury of a specialist quite yet, yourself emerging as one.

Pat Summerall: You’re right in the fact that you couldn’t afford just a specialist, like Steve Myhra, who was the Colts kicker and Bert Rechichar, who did the kicking off. He was a defensive back and Myra was a linebacker, and they had to do a lot of playing that day. I was a back-up tight end and back-up defensive end, so I had to play both ways. I didn’t play a lot that day, and hadn’t played a lot during the year, but you had to do something else. You had to practice, you had to go through what the rest of the team went through, because you couldn’t afford that specialty with the player limit being 35 at that time, as opposed to 53 as it is today. So you couldn’t afford somebody like that, and you had to be a player.

Gifford: Joe, he’s being modest. Pat was a really good player, and he played a lot. He came from the Cardinals, where he’d played a great deal up there. Pat could not only fill in, he could have been easily a starter. He was a great kicker and he’s remembered for that, but he was a hell of a football player.

I think it really affected the strategy, particularly for the Colts and their kicking game, that they did take risks. I think there were questions of whether or not punting at certain times in the game was the right thing to do, but clearly that’s why they did it –the game was not going to fall on the shoulders of the placekicker.

Gifford: Towards the end of the game, with about two minutes to go, I think Baltimore was down to either one timeout or no timeouts, we had a situation come up. We had a third down and it was about a yard to go, and Jim Lee Howell decided we were going to punt instead of going for the first down. I think this is something we all argued with him on the sidelines, and that was one of the things that Jim Lee Howell did as the head coach – he made the decisions on whether we kicked off or received at the beginning of the game, and then he also decided whether we were going to punt or not punt. I think had we not punted towards the end of the game, I think we could have gotten the first down. Marchetti was injured on the play; he broke his ankle. He was a key player on their defensive left side, and we were a team that ran strong to the right. I think had we come back out with a 47-49 or whatever, we would have gotten that first down, run the clock out, and none of us would be talking right now to you.

To illustrate how important this game is in history, in how many games in the history of the NFL are we focused on a single play as to whether it was a first down? We wouldn’t be having this conversation if instant replay were around in ’58, but Frank, can you walk us through that play?

Gifford:  We ran a 49 Sweep out of a tight formation.  It was a great first-down play.  We ran right at Gino Marchetti and maybe that wasn’t the best person to run at.  He was a great pursuit man, a great football player.  We had a lot of confidence in the play. I broke it up field when I saw a gap. I thought I had the first down. At the end of the play Big Daddy came roaring over and piled on to the pile that was already there.  Everyone was moaning, yelling and screaming, and Gino was saying, “Get off, Get off.” Sam Berry, the referee, came in and instead of marking the ball as he should have, he took the ball from me and helped guys off the pile.  Whether or not I had the first down, I always felt that I did.  I didn’t even look over to the first down marker.  I didn’t even glance over there.  It wasn’t just me that felt we had it.  The sideline thought we had it.  Sam Berry later said he shouldn’t of done that. He was very open about it.  I have a letter from his grandson where he said that, “Frank was right, I shouldn’t have picked up the ball.  I should have marked the ball.”  Whether he did or didn’t doesn’t matter.  It lent itself to increasing the aura around this game, and helped it be referred to being the greatest game ever played.

On the impact of having Lenny Moore playing as a flanker had on the Giants defense:

Berry: Tom Landry philosophy was using man-to-man.  He did that in New York, and in Dallas where I coached with him for two years.  He believed in putting his corners out there on one-on-one because it enabled him to get eight men up against that running game.  I don’t think that the Giants had a double coverage for Lenny Moore in their defensive playbook because they put the heat on Lindon Crow, who was one of the most underrated corners in championship game history.  Lindon Crow one-on-one against one of the greatest athletes ever to play football was a heck of an assignment. I don’t think that changed what the Giants were going to do. Tom was going to put eight guys in there to stop that running game and tell the corners to play man-to-man. Remember, Tom Landry was a corner himself and believed in that philosophy.

On the Colts mystique and winning adding to the aura of the game:

Gifford: That it was played in New York, that it was the first sudden-death game ever played in the NFL. It allowed the hour to go later. More TVs which were just really coming into vogue at that time anyway, more of the television sets became turned on across the country. And all of a sudden people were seeing something they had never seen before and that was a football game being played in a fifth quarter. It was something you would remember and recognize and I think that had a lot to do with it.

Did you have a sense of history and what you had just accomplished?

Moore: Not at that time. But as it went on and then it became sort of a feature kind of conversation, that it made you emphasize a little bit more on it. But as far as looking at the game itself, it was just a football game with the exception that as the game ended it was just a question of, "What do we do now?" because this had never been done before. Other than that, there were different things that were brought out and exploited like so. But it wasn't, as far as what they say, it wasn't the best game that we played as a team.

The other thing too, and Pat and Frank, you can both relate to this from your television careers, there were five cameras at that game, four of which were using distance lenses. The fifth, up-close lens was on cue-cards to give the down-and-distance. If I had a nickel for everyone who claims they saw that game on television, I would be wealthy. The fact is it was not television like today. It was a black and white, grainy and shot from up high. And it was very difficult to follow. And in fact, most people would have missed the overtime score simply because the cable got kicked out by a fan apparently. And we all know the story that they lost the signal. But what hasn't been discussed much is the fact that it may have been an NBC employee who ran on the field. The official newspaper accounts said it was a fan who ran on the field to cause the official to take a timeout. I don't know, at the time, Frank and Pat, when that timeout came, did you feel like, "The fix is in?" Was this an unusual thing for you to say, "Hey, they're getting a timeout at this crucial time to go over to the sideline and discuss strategy."

Gifford: I don't even remember. Over the years, I remember them saying it and I’ve heard a lot about it. But I don't even remember. Pat, do you?

Summerall: No. I don't .I remember I was kneeling down when Steve Myhra went out to kick the field goal that tied the game at the end of regulation. I remember I was kneeling almost at the hashmarks, which were closer to the sideline then than they are now, so the angle was more severe. And I was sitting, crouching down on one knee. And I was sitting behind where he was kicking. Honestly, the kick that tied it, I thought he had missed it, because it looked to me that it went over the outside of the right post and I thought he had missed it and I thought we had won the game because all we had to do is run out the clock then. But obviously he made it. Obviously it was good. Obviously it did tie it. One of the things that occurs to me that people forget about was that all of the New York newspapers were on strike that week. And so it got a lot more coverage nationally. Because of that, more people, more papers, sent a representative to the game, I think, than would normally have been done. They would have taken the New York stories. And I think that made the game get a lot more coverage.

Gifford: Excellent point. It was also blacked out in New York because the game hadn't been sold out.

That was not the rule then. At that time they blacked out home games, period, whether it was sold out or not. Pete Rozelle was afraid that television... well, they didn't get much revenue from television, so consequently, they wanted the revenues from people coming to the games and everyone feared that if they televised the home game, nobody would come. So it wasn't just that game, it was every home game.

Gifford: Some of the key match-ups in that game, like Jim Parker and Andy Robustelli. Parker was quoted about how he laid awake at night literally worrying about playing Andy Robustelli. He said just saying his name scared the hell out of him.

What about some of those key matchups. Can you reflect on that a little bit?

Moore: Well, the thing is, I was looking forward to doing some things out on the flank because I was also in the backfield as well as outside, but I was looking also forward to running out of the backfield and hopefully that we would be able to maybe break some. But I was injured in the second quarter, and I had problems bending. And when I came over to the sidelines, I went to (head coach) Weeb Ewbank and coach told me ‘just keep it quiet, don’t say anything. Just keep everything down. We’re going to put you on the flank a little bit more and let you operate out there. Once in a while we’ll move you into the backfield so it doesn’t raise anything and make it look like anything different, but we’re going to try to keep you out of as much contact area as possible.’ And that’s what happened. So as far as my role was concerned, it was greatly reduced because of the injury.

On whether or not players drew comparisons between Charlie Connerly and Johnny Unitas

Gifford: I don’t think at the time we did. We had nothing but respect for Johnny Unitas. We had played against him in the preseason game when we first discovered this guy named Johnny Unitas. I remember on the sidelines, it was preseason, we were trying to get back to New York and we were hoping we wouldn’t get into a tie and this guy comes out with rubber bands on his arms and he starts throwing the ball all over the place and we said ‘who the hell is that?’ And of course a few months later we found out who he was. And we had nothing but respect for him

As for Charlie – Charlie was my roommate and perhaps my dearest friend with the Giants over the years and there’s no question it’s one of the things that you worry about -- people who don’t get into the Hall of Fame for different reasons, but Charlie left four great years of playing in the South Pacific. Actually, he was in the same division as Artie Donovan of the Marines. He used to talk to me at night about some of the places where he had served. He didn’t get into the details of it, but Charlie saw some pretty tough going as a four-year Marine. Of course, he came back and had a great career with the Giants, won a championship in ’56 by a big score. And there’s no doubt in my mind that he should be in the Hall of Fame, and hopefully some day we’ll get that rectified.

We were talking earlier about the impact of the game on television, but it was also on the heels of the 1958 NFL Championship game that a young man, Lamar Hunt, at 27 years old, went to the NFL to get an expansion franchise. People were all of the sudden saying ‘This game is catching on,’ and I’d ask all of you, do you think this game helped contribute to the quick growth of the AFL starting up organizationally in 1959 and the expansion of the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings. Do you see a correlation between that game and that happening?

Gifford: I have no question that it did. Back then there were 12 teams with 35-man rosters and Lamar Hunt was one of those men who saw that this game had something to offer. They saw the impact that this game had on television. When Hunt couldn’t get a franchise, he built one and he helped to organize an entire league. Of course there were plenty of football players to go around. Once again, we only had 35 guys, multiply that by 12 and that is all of the guys who were playing. Compare that to today and there are 32 franchises with 53-man rosters. Certainly there are enough football players to make the game viable at that level with many more franchises. Lamar Hunt was one of those men who could see that and also see how attractive an entertainment vehicle that was.

Raymond, wasn’t Lamar Hunt one of your way, way backups at Southern Methodist?

Berry: We were in the same class at SMU and played the same position. We were teammates and he was a heck of an athlete and one of the most down-to-earth guys you’ll ever meet. I had no idea that Lamar’s father was a rich oil man, Lamar never gave that impression at all. He was a tremendous person, and as proven by the AFL, he had a great ability to recognize an opportunity and take it.

Did any of you, and this may come more from the Colts’ players, Lenny and Raymond, did you see a little bit of yourselves in the New York Jets when they faced the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III?

Berry: You don’t want to go against Weeb Ewbank when all of the chips are on the table. He had the ability to teach football totally sound and totally simple. He had the ability to pick quarterbacks.

He did, didn’t he? And both were from Pennsylvania I might add.

Moore: He also had an innate ability to be able to see talent down the road. I remember when Johnny U came to us, he was just a quarterback. Weeb could see when we brought him in from a sandlot team, and I could see this over the years, he could see Johnny Unitas flourishing into the Unitas that we knew that had all of that ability. Another good case and point was a kid named Fuzzy Thurston that we had with Baltimore. He told us in the meeting that he just couldn’t wait for Fuzzy to turn the corner because we had Alex Sandusky and Art Spinney as our two blocking guards. When he brought Fuzzy in, he said he just couldn’t wait on him. He said he’s almost there but I’ve got to get down to the 35-player limit, so he sent him on to Green Bay. When he sent him on to Green Bay, Fuzzy made All-Pro every year. He knew that, but he just couldn’t wait on him then, he had to get down to 35. 

On the game’s impact on a personal level and the impact on the National Football League:

Gifford: I think back on it as something that brought together, and I don’t mean to be dramatic or anything, a band of brothers, if you will.  We all shared something that at the time none of us felt we’d grow into, the epic sort of thing that we’re discussing at the moment.  In doing so we all kept in touch with each other.  In doing the book that I have out now called “The Glory Game,” it was very moving and very emotional for me because it brought back so many memories of not only the game itself, the game that we played in, but also my life at the time as a young kid living in the Concourse Plaza Hotel in the Bronx, getting my first taste of New York.  I’m sure every player, and I know because I talked with them all, they all have these wonderful memories of the time in 1958 when we played that game. Then you put the game in there, and the memory of the game, and how it’s impacted the NFL so much.  It’s something all of us have shared that is very special.

And what do you view as its greatest contribution to the game?

Gifford: I think it had to do with the medium that both Pat and I evolved into, and that was the world of television.  I think the Lamar Hunts of the world saw that this was a form of entertainment that was beautifully televised. It could become something much bigger than it was.  There were people like Lamar Hunt, and others that came into the league, that helped grow the game into what it is today.  That was sort of the launching pad for all of that.

Pat: I would say the fact that there had never been an overtime game until that one.  I remember on the Giants’ bench, there was nothing but confusion.  We didn’t know what to do.  I asked our captain Kyle Rote.  I remember when the game ended in a 17-17 tie I turned to him and I said ‘what do we do now?’.  And he said ‘I think we’ve got to play some more.  But I’m not sure, let me go find out.’  He left for his conference with the coaches and the referees who seemed to know what was going to happen next.  I think the fact that it was the first overtime game, it had never been done before.  That sort of set the pattern for what goes on today.  I didn’t have any idea at the time the profound effect it would have.  I know when Frank Gifford called me two or three months ago and said this is the 50th anniversary of that game, I couldn’t believe it.  It doesn’t seem to me that those 50 years have passed.  I remember when Gino, Lenny, and Jim Mutscheller and I were in New York recently and trying to get in and out of the van that transported us over to the ESPN premiere, when I watched us getting in and getting out of the van I realized that it had been 50 years.  I just think the significance of the game itself has grown as time has passed.

I think that brought to the attention of a lot of people at the networks, at CBS, NBC and at ABC and a little later at ESPN and FOX, the entertainment value aspect of the game itself.  The fact that here’s a game that’s almost designed for television.  There’s a timeout.  There’s a halftime.  There’s a time for you to talk over strategy. There’s a huddle. There is all of these elements that make it made for television.  I think that was the beginning of a realization for the people at the television networks that this was a valuable commodity and something they should be involved in.

Berry: I think back to (NFL Commissioner) Bert Bell.  I saw him after the game near our bus and I saw he had tears in his eyes.  I think I had been in the league four years and this time and I’m looking at the Commissioner of the National Football League and I was thinking to myself I wonder what chord has been struck in Bert Bell.  When you have tears in your eyes, that’s pretty strong.  I have to believe he understood the tremendous significance of what happened to this league that he had been nursing along.  I think he knew what had happened.  He was probably one of the few people there that really understood it. 

On the personal impact on his life that this game had:

Berry: There’s no question that is asked, it’s been my life in football.  To rank the thrills that I’ve had, this is number one on the list.  It was impossible to describe the feeling.  I’ve tried to capture it into words since then and I’ve never been able to do it.  You have to experience it to understand.  I just know we were all, whether we were on the Giants or the Colts, we were a very fortunate group of guys.  We loved to play football.  To get to be a part of this particular historical game was the bonus that none of us could have thought would ever really happen.

Moore: From an impact standpoint at that time, winning the world championship was an impact for me.  I wouldn’t have thought that it would have taken on the excitement that it has taken on over the years.  The again, there were things that happened – like this being the first overtime game.  It was the advent of the two-minute drill that Johnny perfected to a great degree.  The way he man-handled and took over for us to go down and get that tying score with Steve Myhra’s field goal.  The more that I looked at it, the more I started agreeing that this was quite a game.  There were so many things that happened.  Television was coming into being.  I know there was a blackout with the press and the media at that particular time.  So there were a lot of things that happened.  The way it ended, in a tie; and nobody knew exactly what was going on and the referees were running around.  Basically, we thought the game was over.  That it was going to end in a tie.  Then we ended up doing the first sudden-death playoff.  They worked on that.  Being in the media center of the country, New York, quite naturally. As Frank had in his book, “The Glory Game.”  That was pretty much apropos as to what was happening at that particular time.   

We’re all very fortunate, I think, to be able to be part of this freeze-frame moment in time. It’s an indelible mark on the history of the National Football League, and I don’t know if there are any questions out there from anybody else on the line, but please feel free at this point.

Q: I know the Giants at that time became known for their defense. Were there any rivalries on the team between the offense and the defense because the defense got so much recognition?

GIFFORD: It wasn’t friendly at all. They didn’t like us, and we didn’t much care for them either. At times it got very heated. At one point in time, we happened to be struggling against Cleveland, and we were three-and-out, three-and-out, and the defense would come back and get the ball back. We came over to the sideline, and Sam Huff came out on the field and said, “Can’t you guys go out there and at least hold ’em for awhile?” I wouldn’t say it was all that friendly.

SUMMERALL: No, I wouldn’t say so either. In one instance, I think we played a game in Buffalo during that time. I think we played the Cardinals in Buffalo and we had won a couple of games in the middle of the year where there were nothing but field goals involved. Somebody said to me, “What does it feel like to be the whole Giant offense?” There were things like that that went on. There was a rivalry between the two units, no question about it. And the rivalry carried over to Lombardi and Landry. They spoke to each other. They were congenial. Landry would look at Lombardi, and Vince would look back, of course, and there was a mutual feeling of hostility between the two. How about that?

GIFFORD: You’ve got it.

GARY FRALEY, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS: Have any of the current players ever thanked you for the trail you blazed with this game?

SUMMERALL: I’ll start off by saying no one has ever said “Thank you” to me.

GIFFORD: I don’t think we said “thank you” to the guys who played ahead of us, too. I don’t think that’s in the nature of the game. I know a lot of the players. In fact, we had a get-together the other night. There were several Giants players who came to the showing of ESPN’s color-enhanced version of the 1958 Championship game. They were curious more than anything. I think they were curious looking at how little we were, and how old we got.

But nobody said thank you?

Gifford: No. Nor did we ever expect it.

Berry: But you know, the one thing about thanking people, I finally got to some stage in my life, somebody should have thanked the NFL owners in the early days that had the guts enough to start an enterprise and risk their money to get a football league going so all of us guys could do what we loved to do. When you graduate from college, you're right in your prime. And if you love to play football, there would have been no place to play unless the National Football League was in existence. To those early-day owners, I always say, 'Thank you for starting the NFL."

Kevin Van Valkenburg, Baltimore Sun: On being an African-American man in the 1950s playing football in a city that was almost a part of the South at the time and what the culture and climate was for you and some of the other African-American players?

Moore: I wrote a book also. The forward in the book is by Joe Paterno at Penn State and the name of the book is "All Things Being Equal," which pretty much kind of summarizes what you were saying because I know when I first arrived in Baltimore, it was like two-different sections. It was one white and one black. Even to the day that we played, even after the championship game and whatever, that it was pretty noticeable that from a sociological standpoint, that we couldn't really get together. But there was no team any closer than when we hit that football field than we were. We were tight knit.

Thank God we are at a time now where the beautiful thing is that on our team, thank God, there were the Raymond Berrys who showed us that ‘Hey, we’re together, we’re a team. We are together.’ And it was a thing that you would hold on to and we held on to it. And it was beautiful people like Raymond Berry and a few of the other guys on the ball club that presented themselves that way from the beginning. And we grew tighter and tighter and tighter that we became the Baltimore Colts and we became one. It was tough, but we had to go through what we had to go through.”