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3 thoughts on 60th anniversary of the “Greatest Game Ever Played”

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You’ll hear quite a bit this week, probably, about the 60th anniversary of the NFL Championship Game that Sports Illustrated called “the best football game ever played,” between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium on Dec. 28, 1958. The NFL gamely tried to capitalize on the anniversary by scheduling the Colts and Giants to play Sunday, near the anniversary, but the Giants aren’t at Yankee Stadium anymore, and they play in New Jersey, and the Colts moved west to Indianapolis, and Sunday’s game was in a dome in Indiana. But I’m writing today to try to put in perspective exactly what the game meant to football, and the significance it has to today’s game.

I think pro football would very likely have grown to the biggest sport in America. That game was in the NFL’s 39th season, so there would have been plenty of time for the game to explode, and it would have.

But I believe there are three things about Colts 23, Giants 17, in overtime, that should be everlasting. They might not be in the order you’d think.

First, about the game, one of the first seen by a national TV audience and played before about 60,000 fans at Yankee Stadium: The Colts blew a 14-3 halftime lead and were down 17-14 when they took the ball at their 14-yard line with 1:56 left. Johnny Unitas drove the Colts to the Giants 13, where Steve Myrha kicked the tying field goal with seven seconds left. Now the first overtime game in NFL history was set. The Colts won the toss, and Unitas drove them the length of the field in the gathering Bronx darkness, in the (at the time) cathedral of American sport, and running back Alan Ameche rushed the final yard through a huge hole. Huge Colts fan Ernie Accorsi—later the GM for both teams—has a photo in his Manhattan apartment today of a slump-shoulder Unitas, always emotionless on the field, walking with his back to the end zone off the field. Just another day at the office for him. But those two drives cemented his legacy as one of the greats.

It played a huge role in the immediate growth of the game. In 1958, there were 10 pro football teams. In 1960, there were 21, with the birth of the American Football League, and by 1968, there were 26. In a decade, pro football experienced 160 percent growth. As Michael MacCambridge would write later in the book America’s Game, Lamar Hunt, the son a billionaire Texas oilman, was searching for a sports team to buy in 1958. When he watched that championship game in a Houston hotel, that clinched it. The college game, with an ethos on physical running games, was king at the time, but the drama of an overtime game coupled with Unitas’ passing mastery and a more wide-open offense in pro football sold Hunt. As he told MacCambridge: “But clearly the ’58 Colts-Giants game, sort of in my mind, made me say, ‘Well, that’s it. This sport really has everything. And it televises well.’ “ He was a key to formation of the AFL and became a driving force behind so many key pro football things: revenue-sharing of TV money, renaming the title game the “Super Bowl,” and growing the game internationally. The AFL was vital because it was a maverick league in a restive time in America, the sixties. Joe Namath became a look-at-me American icon; Al Davis got his start in the pro game in Oakland. Those people, and the game itself, were huge growth engines.

America loved stars, and this game had them, in a Hollywood setting. As Accorsi said: “The setting—you just can’t contrive it. Yankee Stadium was the cathedral. When the Giants walked into the stadium, their status went up about five levels. That day, the aura of the twilight of that scene, with the famous Yankee Stadium background, people all over the country seeing it, was huge. The Giants’ quarterback, Charley Conerly, was the Marlboro Man on ads everywhere, Frank Gifford and Pat Summerall of the Giants were on the radio in New York, Johnny Unitas was about to be a star.” Seventeen Hall of Famers were on the field that day. It was Vince Lombardi’s last game as a Giants defensive coach. After the game, for the first time, the top-rated TV show in America, The Ed Sullivan Show, had a football player on the stage live in New York—Ameche, who score the winning touchdown. “At the time, the big games in football were Army-Navy and Notre Dame-Southern Cal,” Accorsi said. “The ’58 Championship Game changed that.”

Nationally, the game felt like the first pro football game to have buzz. President Dwight Eisenhower watched from Camp David. Vice president Richard Nixon watched from Arizona—and wrote Gifford a letter after the game empathizing with him on the tough loss. There are varying estimates about the TV audience nationwide, but it appears that at least 24 million Americans in a country of 175 million were watching at least some of the game on the Sunday afternoon between Christmas and New Year’s, with no sporting competition on TV that day. It was a good advertisement for the product. At the game, an emotional commissioner Bert Bell said he never thought he’d see a day when his sport was as big in the country.

Today, most of those things—the stars, the TV, the public love of the game—are taken for granted. They trace back to a gloomy afternoon in the Bronx 60 years ago this week.

Read the rest of Football Morning in America by Peter King

Why Bill Belichick isn’t retiring anytime soon

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Bill Belichick turned 67 the other day, which is about the time most normal human beings are seriously pondering retirement. There’s no indication Belichick is. With 56 more coaching victories (regular season and postseason), Belichick would become the NFL’s all-time winningest coach. Top three in wins now: Don Shula 347, George Halas 324, Belichick 292. Shula coached 33 seasons and Halas 40; Belichick has coached 24, and in fairness to the leaders, Shula coached half of his career in 14-game seasons, and the majority of Halas’ years were 12-game regular seasons.

What’s interesting to me is how few of the best coaches ever coached this late in their lives. In fact, 12 of the 15 winningest coaches have not coached, or did not coach, at age 67 or older. Belichick will make that 11 of 15 this fall.

Looking at the top 15, and how many seasons they coached after turning 67:

1. Don Shula: 0. Coached last game at 65.
2. George Halas: 6. Went 47-33-5 and won one NFL title after turning 67.
3. Belichick.
4. Tom Landry: 0. Coached last game at 64.
5. Curly Lambeau: 0. Coached last game at 55.
6. Chuck Noll: 0. Coached last game at 59.
7. Andy Reid: 0. He is 61.
8. Marty Schottenheimer: 0. Coached last game at 63.
9. Dan Reeves: 0. Coached last game at 59.
10. Chuck Knox: 0. Coached last game at 62.
11. Bill Parcells: 0. Coached last game at 65.
12. Tom Coughlin: 3. Went 19-29 after turning 67.
13. Mike Shanahan: 0. Coached last game at 61.
14. Jeff Fisher: 0. Coached last game at 58.
15. Paul Brown: 1. Went 11-4 after turning 67.

Belichick doesn’t talk about how long he’ll coach—surprise!—but those who know him say they think he’s not close to walking away from football. My take: Halas coached his last game at 72. I would not be shocked if Belichick matches that; nor would I be shocked if he coaches two or three more years and ends it. I never sensed the record mattered to him … but if it does, that means he’ll coach six more years. Seems like a stretch, but those who have been around him say he never shows the signs of stress even during big moments of big games that have made some great coaches walk away. Does he look or sound like a 67-year-old man? Not to me. 

Read more from Football Morning in America here

Why these NFL teams should take a chance on Josh Rosen

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So I believe the Cardinals, should they—as I suspect—choose Kyler Murray number one overall, will be inclined to make the best deal they can for the quarterback they picked last year 10th overall, Josh Rosen. It’s easy to say Rosen’s a big boy and he’s going to have to get over the biggest snub job in recent NFL history. But he heard Kliff Kingsbury take the job and say on several occasions, Josh is our quarterback, or words to that effect. Now you draft a guy number one overall and asked Rosen to be a good soldier and carry the clipboard and help Kyler Murray win games for the team that misled him about being the quarterback under the new coach? Awkward.

I don’t know how the draft is going to fall, but if Miami or Washington or the Giants do not draft a quarterback high in the draft, what seems fair to me is offering a third-rounder (78th overall by Miami, 95th overall by the Giants, 96th overall by Washington) to Arizona for Rosen. And Arizona, I’m assuming, would strongly consider doing the best deal it could at that point.

I’d be really interested if I were Miami. Imagine trading the 78th pick and having a year to see if Rosen has a chance to be the long-term guy. If the Dolphins are unconvinced at the end of 2019, they could use a first-round pick (plus other draft capital if need be) to draft the quarterback of the long-term future in a year when the quarterback crop is better than this year.

There’s also this matter: In the last four-and-a-half years, Rosen has been coached by six offensive architects. At UCLA beginning in the fall of 2015, Rosen had Noel Mazzone, Kennedy Polamalu and Jedd Fisch, followed in Arizona by Mike McCoy and Byron Leftwich last year and Kingsbury this year. Imagine Rosen having the same system and coach for two or three years in a row. It hasn’t happened to him since high school. Seems worth a shot to me.

This is going to be a very interesting week in the history of the Arizona Cardinals, but also in the personal history of Josh Rosen.

Read more from Football Morning in America here