Memories of '58

Today we examine the historic Dec. 28, 1958, game between the Colts and Giants through the eyes of a player from each team, and a Colts fan, cheerleader and band member. As the 50th anniversary approaches, we'll have more stories about those who played in the game at Yankee Stadium.


'We're the champs': Those words were a pain reliever for injured defensive end

This is what Gino Marchetti, Hall of Fame defensive end for the Baltimore Colts, remembers of the 1958 NFL championship game, as told to Baltimore Sun reporter Mike Klingaman.

When I walked onto the field, a chill ran down my spine. I thought, "Here I am, a kid from Antioch [Calif.], near where Joe DiMaggio grew up, and I'm going to play in Yankee Stadium."

We'd heard [coach] Weeb Ewbank make a lot of pre-game speeches, some funny, some s - -, but this one was different. He looked at every player and said how no other team had wanted him. Then he said, "Now get out there and SHOW THEM!" I wish somebody had a copy of that.

In the second half, I rushed [ New York Giants quarterback] Charlie Conerly and came within a hair of sacking him. I mean, I was as close as you could get without hitting him. But he threw to Kyle Rote, who fumbled, and [Giants fullback] Alex Webster picked it up and ran to our 1-yard line. They scored, and our lead was 14-10. That made me mad.

I broke my right ankle late in the fourth quarter. Oh, did it hurt. If I hadn't been a man, I'd have cried. They put me on a stretcher and started to take me to the locker room, but I said, "Put me down - I want to see the game." Then we went to [sudden death] and the police made them take me down in case the game ended quickly and the fans rushed the field.


Drumming up support

Danny O'Toole was a member of the Baltimore Colts' Marching Band for 37 years (1949-1985). He was 23 at the time of the Colts- Giants game.

On Dec. 28, 1958, the Colt Band boarded a train with many fans to attend the Giants-Colts game in New York. It seemed like any other game.

The band was in the far end zone and could hardly see some of the game. We played and performed the halftime show. ... Going into the final minutes of the fourth quarter, the score was 17-14 in favor of the Giants. Then a field goal tied the game. The Colts fans went wild.

The football that tied the game was obtained by George Schafer, a member of the color guard. He was getting attacked by fans who wanted the football. He tossed the ball over to where the band was sitting. I got the football and put it in my drum case. I was worried that the ball was not safe enough, so I took my drum head off and put the ball inside the drum. The ball stayed inside my drum until we reached Penn Station in Baltimore. I then gave the football back to George.

The ride back to Baltimore was unbelievable. ... Five of the members of the band went from car to car playing the Colts song 50 times. ... Even to this day, when I hear that song, it gives me chills and brings back so many good memories.


Warm memories of cold

Rosemary Stafford-Baldwin, a Colts cheerleader from 1956 to 1969, remembers how cold it became in the second half of the game.

My recollections are still vivid. First and foremost, it was a privilege not only to be chosen a cheerleader, but also to be at that game.

However, we were not aware how historically significant the game would become. We were grateful to be, for the first time, in New York's Yankee Stadium, walking on the same ground where our Babe Ruth did his magic.

We traveled by train that Sunday morning, with the band, majorettes, sportswriters and fans. One can only imagine the party atmosphere. The cheerleaders went car to car, getting everyone to chant the spelling out of the infamous C-O-L-T-S we originated at Memorial Stadium. The first half of the game was cold but bearable in our short skirts and sweaters; however, the second half dramatically turned to bitter cold and wind. I questioned at that point, what in God's name ever possessed me to do this job, having always hated winter. The redeeming factor was how exciting the game became, and we kept warm by cheerleading and keeping in motion.

When the game became tied and the commissioner declared the first ever "sudden death," all there were astounded and delighted.

When the amazing John Unitas led the team in such flawless precision to the winning TD by Alan Ameche, the stadium went wild.

Happy for us, devastating for New York. It became quite scary, as the field was mobbed. One fan approached one of the cheerleaders from behind and tried to pull off her cowboy hat with a chin cord attached and nearly choked the breath out of her. As events got more hectic, police escorted us off the field and we bused to the train station.

Going back, the party began again and was even more festive - a great time was had by all, those of us who remember!

All these memories, so long ago, are priceless. The cheerleaders at that game are still close, good friends.

We miss John Unitas and our cheerleaders in heaven - Joelle, Janice and Alma.


Running back takes measure of the game

New York Giants running back Frank Gifford remembers - and writes about - the key play that gave the Colts another chance to tie the score and ultimately win in his book, The Glory Game, from HarperCollins.

Four more yards, and we'd have it locked up.

We huddled. And I changed the play in the huddle. And Charlie [Conerly] called my sweep: "Brown right, over, 49 sweep. OK? On three. Break."

The play came off as well as could be expected. It was designed for me to take it wide around the right side or, depending on what we needed for the first, cut it hard back upfield. This time, I took it outside, until I saw a gap, planted my right foot, and turned it up, knowing exactly what I needed for the game-winning first down.

I'd gained about 3 yards when [ Gino] Marchetti shed [Jack] Stroud's block, lowered his head, and hit me waist-high. "I hadn't had a lot of people running right at me during that game," Gino remembers. "So I kind of figured you'd cut in. A back was coming at me, and I was able to elude him, and when you cut back in I was in real good position with my feet, and I was able to hit you solid."

But I had momentum, and I fell forward as Marchetti was pulling me down. Now [ Art] Donovan came in, over [Al] Barry's block, and threw a big right arm at me. I ducked under it. Then [Gene "Big Daddy"] Lipscomb came in, and landed on Gino - and Marchetti started screaming. His ankle was broken.

Everyone started to yell: "Get off him! Get off him!" Marchetti remembers those next few seconds, as he reached for his leg: "Some Giant said to me, 'You can get up now, Gino - the play is over.' I could have cared less. I was in so much pain, if I wasn't a grown man, I'd have cried."

They carried Marchetti off on a stretcher, but he insisted the trainers put him down so he could watch the outcome. So there he sat, on the ground, near the end zone, his lower leg wrapped in ice, a Colt jacket draping his shoulders.

Ordell Braase, Marchetti's backup, watching from the sideline, remembers the play well: "Why would you want to run at Marchetti?" he asked me. The answer, to me, is obvious: You go with what got you there, with the sweep and all its options.

I'll say it again for the last time: I still feel to this day, and will always feel, that I got the first down that would have let us run out the clock. And given us the title.

[Referee Ron] Gibbs had picked up the ball at the end of my run. He held on to it and didn't put it back down until all the chaos had subsided and Gino had been removed from the field.

Then they brought out the chains. And it was a couple of inches short.


This die-hard Colts supporter is a piece keeper

The old glass aspirin bottle sits on the desk in Elmer Kreisel's home in Towson. What's inside, he says, is good for what ails you - if you grew up a Colts fan in Baltimore.

The contents? Seven slivers of wood Kreisel tore from a goal post at Yankee Stadium after the 1958 NFL championship game in which the Colts defeated the New York Giants.

To him, the fragments are cherished keepsakes of a glorious era. Treasured relics from "The Greatest Game Ever Played."

Splendid splinters, all.

"I never gave away any of them," said Kreisel, 70, a retired physics professor at Towson University. "I wasn't very generous that way."

Part with those pieces? Not after what he went through to get them.

It has been 50 years since Kreisel, then a steadfast Colts fan, camped out all night at Memorial Stadium a week before the title game to get tickets that would go on sale the next morning. Fifteen thousand seats had been allotted for Baltimore, and Kreisel, a junior at Johns Hopkins, was determined to be first.

He and a friend arrived at the ticket window Sunday at 10p.m. - 14 hours early - and huddled under blankets as temperatures fell to near 10 degrees. They cared that much for the Colts.

"We were pretty frozen," Kreisel said. "I'd brought a frying pan and an old metal bucket filled with charcoal. At 6a.m., we cooked bacon and eggs on the parking lot."

Armed with their $10 tickets, the two men drove to New York on game day. Entering the city, they stopped, tied bedsheets scrawled with "GO COLTS!" to the sides of Kreisel's 1956 Chevy Bel Air and cruised around Times Square, honking and screaming themselves hoarse.

New Yorkers responded in kind.

"Nobody cared," Kreisel said.

Arriving early at Yankee Stadium, they spent several hours parading around the park touting a provocative sign: a 4-foot caricature of a Giants player with blood running down his face.

"It's a wonder we didn't get killed," Kreisel said.

Of the game, his recollections are sketchy. How much can one see from the end zone anyway? Kreisel spent most of his time agitating the Giants' fans around him.

"I took my trumpet - I'd been in the high school band at Poly - and played the Colts' fight song over and over," he said. "I'd memorized it during the week. I had an air horn, too, which I blew at anyone who tried to bad-mouth the Colts."

At the finish, as Alan Ameche plowed in for the winning score, Kreisel joined the mob that scrambled onto the field. The goal post nearest him was down when he got there.

This is what he saw: "A guy laying there with one of the beams on his arm. He was screaming, but no one was listening because there were maybe 100 people on top of him trying to break the timber apart."

Kreisel scaled the pile - "I must have been 6 feet off the ground" - and managed to grab a few splinters, which he stuffed into his blue-and-white Hopkins jacket. Then he slid off, pocketed a chunk of sod and headed toward the Colts' locker room.

"We waited [for the players] for an hour, but we got to meet a lot of the guys and shake their hands," he said.

The game touched Kreisel to the core. Back home, he took one of those slivers, had it laminated and affixed it to his key chain. Two years later, he got married - on a Sunday in November when the Colts didn't play. In 1966, when his son was born, Kreisel named him Raymond, after the team's star receiver, Raymond Berry.

Half a century after the Colts' first championship, Kreisel still tingles when he rattles the wood chips in his magic bottle, his favorite gift of 1958.

"Christmas was a side effect," he said. "The game was everything that year."

Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom was misidentified in the above photo caption in an earlier version of this story. regrets the error.

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