Every time Gino Marchetti takes a step, he remembers The Game. It was Dec. 28, 1958. Marchetti's Baltimore Colts were playing the New York Giants in what is now known as The Greatest Game Ever Played.
It was fourth down. Marchetti had just made the tackle on Giants running
back Frank Gifford, when his Colts teammate, Gene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb, fell
on him, breaking the ankle that still bothers him today.
By the time Marchetti was carried off the field and the ball was marked,
the Giants found themselves short of the first down. The stage was set for
quarterback Johnny Unitas' two-minute drill. Unitas would take the Colts down
the field, into the first overtime in pro football history and on to the
franchise's first championship. The Colts won, 23-17.
It was 40 years ago tomorrow.
Last month, 27 players from the 1958 team returned to the city for a
reunion. If you just glanced at them, you might not have recognized a
championship football team. Most of them are in their mid-60s now, with
graying hair. Some are out of shape, with heavy jaws. Some suffer various
illnesses. Several walk with canes. Marchetti limps.
Their coach, Weeb Ewbank, and seven of their teammates have died.
But a closer look leaves little doubt about the identity of these massive
men. Their backs are straight, their shoulders broad. Their eyes are sharp and
their pride palpable.
The Brooklyn Dodgers may have been the Boys of Summer, but the 1958
Baltimore Colts? A Team for All Seasons.
They played not for a lot of money, but for their own esteem and that of
their city. They were rugged men in a rugged era who played a hard game.
"I never saw so much love between a group as I saw back then," says
Cecelia Lipscomb, Big Daddy's widow. "They wanted to play for each other. They
still have that camaraderie."
Yvonne Ameche-Davis, the widow of Alan "The Horse" Ameche, recalled that
no one cared who scored, so long as someone scored.
"It was a different time," she says.
A time when ballplayers lived next door and ate at the same restaurants
their fans did. A time when they signed autographs for nothing, before and
after making history.
"The longer I live," says Raymond Berry, the still-svelte Hall of Fame
wide receiver, "the more amazed I am by what an absolutely special time it
They still represent a special kind of athlete. As Cecelia Lipscomb says,
there are stars among them now -- six Hall of Famers -- Marchetti, Berry,
Unitas, Lenny Moore, Jim Parker and Art Donovan. But they still deflect
individual glory with the same ease Milt Davis used to deflect passes from a
Ask them: "What has that game meant to you over the years?" And the
answers come back redirected, fuzzy or, if personally applied, with a touch of
"That game, all it has meant to me was winning a championship," Unitas
says. "It meant a lot more to the National Football League. This game put the
NFL on the map. But to us, it was just another game. Baltimore had never had a
championship. We just wanted to win, that's all."
It was a game for the ages. A game that still mesmerizes when watched on
film for the first time.
It was a game that mattered to the NFL, in a big way, as Unitas says. But
to this day, it is a game that matters to the Colts, and to the broadcasters
who called it and the city that celebrated it.