My dad sent us an email with his memories (as an eight-year old) of the football game that has become known as “The Greatest Game Ever Played”– the 1958 NFL championship between the Giants and Colts, with the first ever sudden death over time. This was a turning point in the history of the NFL, attributed with really bringing pro football into prominence (and into our living rooms!). ESPN aired a special on the game this past Saturday after the Heisman ceremony. My grandfather Papa Kyle played for the Giants– you can see him on this promo video wearing #44 in the dark jerseys.
The ESPN special featured players from the 1958 teams talking with current Colts and Giants players as they watched the game . It was so interesting, and sweet, to see them interact, and it made me miss Papa Kyle. But, reading Dad’s memories may have been even more enjoyable than watching the game.
Here is part of KRjr’s recollection:
We always sat with the other families in a part of the mezzanine at Yankee Stadium which was covered from the elements but gave us a perfect protected view from about midfield – it would be the equivalent of the seats overlooking short left field when the baseball diamond was used. You could still see the diamond during the games. Our QB Charlie Conerly’s wife Perian (who still lives in Clarksdale, MS) was mom’s best friend and we always sat together. My memory of this game starts with how cold it was (at least in the stands) so I cuddled with my mom and her mentor friend “aunt” Perian. The Giants had won the world championship 2 years earlier with a 48-6 thrashing of the Chicago Bears – so the Giants playing in the Championship game was not uncommon in this era. However this was way before the Super Bowl which didn’t start until the late 1960’s (around 1967 I think). Your granddad was the color commentator for three of the first six Super Bowls.
In any event – your grandfather was Captain of the Giants for about 10 years – so he would meet at midfield with the officials. With the first ever overtime game he also went to midfield at the end of regulation. As I remember the Giants got the ball first but had to punt after a few plays- then the Colts drove down and scored the Alan Ameche TD to win – so the overtime didn’t last very long.
However, my clearest memory of that day had nothing to do with the game- rather it was a series of conversations I overheard right there in the “family section” when a Head Usher (dressed as they all were in a Knickerbocker style uniform with a hat) came to our section and announced as quietly as he could that they had just received information that a bomb had been placed somewhere in the stands – and he offered to help us move downstairs into a safer interior section of the stadium. Perian thought for only a brief moment – and without consulting with any other wives – announced that “we’ve been here for our boys all season long – and we’re not about to abandon them now!” The Usher waited for any other comments from other wives – but when everyone seemed content to defer to Perian’s position on the matter – he shrugged his shoulders and went back up the stairs. I asked my Mom what a “bomb scare” was – and she simply told me that someone might be playing a prank – probably hoping that ushers would empty an area of the stadium so that the prankster (who probably didn’t have a ticket) could sneak in and find a seat. By the way the game was sold out and there was severe scalping of tickets going on (though I did not learn about that for several years). As usual I went into the locker room after the game- and gathered up several boxes of Marlboro cigarettes to put in my dad’s duffle bag (which was MY MOST IMPORTANT JOB according to my dad).
As it turns out – this game was nothing special to an 8 year old – nor was it close to the “greatest game ever played.” But it was the Most Important Game ever played in the NFL – because this set the stage for the TV networks to get deeply involved. Interestingly, the owner of the Giants, Wellington Mara, who had by far the largest TV market – while Green Bay had the smallest – didn’t use his leverage to get the largest share of TV revenue. Instead, he unselfishly took the position that every club had to survive for the League to thrive – so this was the pivotal economic decision that is the cornerstone of today’s competitive parity in the NFL (i.e. every NFL club gets the same share of TV revenue, which is the largest revenue item for any club).
I love hearing these stories and feeling connected to the past experiences of family members. I remember feeling the same way watching Pride of the Yankees, because I read in one of my grandaddy’s letters (Mom’s dad this time) about how much he loved the movie when he saw it in the theatre. (“What a film!” he wrote.)