The Baltimore Colts, tied with the New York Giants, 17 to 17, in this sudden death. Unitas takes, he gives to Ameche, and the ballgame is over! Alan Ameche has scored the touchdown, and the Baltimore Colts are the professional football champions of the world!
To hear Peter King explain it, this sequence at Yankee Stadium on Dec. 28, 1958, certainly isn’t considered one of the great plays of NFL history.
“You could call it one of the most significant plays in NFL history,” King, the longtime NFL reporter, said.
Accordingly, this one-yard touchdown run by Baltimore Colts fullback Alan Ameche against the New York Giants that clinched the 1958 National Football League championship in sudden death overtime — in a contest known simply as “The Greatest Game Ever Played” — continues to get its due respect.
As part of the NFL’s celebration of its 100th season this year, the NFL Network tonight continued its countdown of the “NFL 100 Greatest Plays,” and this all-timer from the Colts and Ameche lands at No. 19 on the countdown:
It’s the second Colts play to land on the list; tight end John Mackey’s improbable 64-yard touchdown catch and run against the Detroit Lions from Nov. 20, 1966, was ranked as the 40th greatest play in NFL history.
The 1958 NFL Championship Game, meanwhile, is considered such a landmark event because it really marked the beginning of football’s rise to becoming the most popular sport in the United States. This was helped tremendously by the fact that NBC televised the game to about 45 million viewers nationwide.
Both the Colts and the Giants came into the game with identical 9-3 records, although New York got the best of Baltimore (which was without star quarterback Johnny Unitas at the time) 24-21 in Week 7 of the regular season.
The Colts, who dominated the first two quarters and went into halftime with a 14-3 lead, would see the momentum slide the Giants’ way early in the third quarter, when Ameche was stuffed for a loss of five on 4th and Goal from the 1.
New York would need just five plays to go 95 yards, cutting Baltimore’s lead to four at 14-10 with a Mel Triplett one-yard touchdown run, and then took the lead, 17-14, on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Charley Conerly to Frank Gifford.
After several back and forths between the two teams, Unitas would engineer one of the most famous drives in league history, getting the ball to the New York 13-yard line, where Steve Myhra knocked in a game-tying 20-yard field goal with seven seconds left to send the game into overtime — the first of its kind in NFL playoff history.
The Giants won the toss but had to punt on their opening possession, and Unitas went to work again, driving the Colts 80 yards in 13 plays. That 13th play, of course, was Ameche’s one-yard, game-winning touchdown run, sending the crowd — and millions of viewers at home — into a frenzy.