From the Publisher
“Entertaining and informative narration . . . [Bowden] frames the picture with a wide lens, but then focuses on the roles and lives of a few key players.” Publishers Weekly
“A sharp look at the 1958 National Football League championship game . . . [Bowden] wisely focuses on a few individualsJohnny Unitas, Raymond Berry, Weeb Ewbank, Art Donovan of the Colts; Frank Gifford, Sam Huff, Vince Lombardi, and Tom Landry of the Giantsto explain the game's singular link to the NFL's past and future. The author deftly examines the larger historical context shaping this coming-of-age moment, which propelled professional football to its current position as America's favorite sport. . . . A delight for anyone interested in the history of the NFL.” Kirkus Reviews
“Bowden, a skilled journalist . . . has written The Best Game Ever as a labor of love . . . His explanations of shifts in the teams’ offensive and defensive strategies are lucid, and he knows enough about the extreme physical and mental demands the game exacts to convey a strong sense of the players’ exhaustion and determination as the contest ground toward its conclusion . . . The Best Game Ever is sure to become an instant Sacred Text.”
Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post
“In his scrupulously researched account of the 1958 NFL championship game between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants, Mark Bowden makes a compelling case for both his title, 'The Best Game Ever,' and subtitle: 'The Birth of the Modern NFL.' . . . Mr. Bowden succeeds in making a contest from a half-century ago seem fresh, in part because he has a keen sense for the anecdotal . . . [his] best trick, though, is that he gets out of the way of a great story and a great game.” Steve Wulf, Wall Street Journal
“Tight and tidy . . . As we become more familiar with the participants in this drama, there is a shock of recognition on seemingly every page. It is remarkable learning what these men who all played in one game went on to do with their lives, both on and off the football field . . . Reading through Mr. Bowden’s reconstruction of the game, one does get the sense that this game was, if not the best ever, at least one of the most intriguing.”
Peter Hausler, Wall Street Journal
“With the same precision he used to dissect a firefight in Mogadishu, Bowden anatomizes the 1958 NFL Championship between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants, which featured a death-defying comeback by the Colts and was also one of America’s first ‘truly communal live national events.’” Time
“Bowden dives into the trenches of the 1958 NFL Championship game, where New York and Baltimore waged an overtime battle that wowed TV audiences and ensured the future of pro football . . . He astutely contrasts Frank Gifford’s glamorous Giants with the blue-collar Colts of Johnny Unitas.” Entertainment Weekly
“Befitting a skilled reporter, Bowden uncovers new material to enliven his retelling. His interviews with several of the Colts and Giants players, as well as with Colts’ then-assistant coach Charley Winner, yield new insights. In particular, receive Raymond Berry’s detailed game notes from the day itself are invaluable, as are excerpts from the transcript of the NBC radio broadcast by Joe Boland . . . this book is a fine account of one of the most significant games in sports history.” Library Journal
“Bowden handles [the story] deftly, using a spare writing style to illuminate the historic tussle.” Newsday
Early in his career Bowden covered professional football for the Philadelphia Inquirer, an experience that serves him well here. His explanations of shifts in the teams' offensive and defensive strategies are lucid, and he knows enough about the extreme physical and mental demands the game exacts to convey a strong sense of the players' exhaustion and determination as the contest ground toward its conclusion. He isn't entirely immune to journalistic cliche and at times overwrites, but generally his prose is competent and clear. Whether the book will be of interest to readers who aren't football fans is a question I can't answer, but The Best Game Ever is sure to become an instant Sacred Text in Baltimore.
The Washington Post
Bowden (Black Hawk Down; Guests of the Ayatollah) tells the story of the 1958 National Football League championship game between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants, a legendary game that proved to be a harbinger of the enormous popularity of pro football over the next 50 years. Bowden writes that the game featured the greatest assemblage of talent ever on one field, including 17 future Hall of Fame inductees. He frames the picture with a wide lens, but then focuses on the roles and lives of a few key players, particularly the Colts' obsessive and methodical wide receiver Raymond Berry and the iconic quarterback Johnny Unitas, as well as the Giants' powerful linebacker Sam Huff. The game, played in frigid Yankee Stadium three days after Christmas, stretched into the evening, garnering the largest television audience in the history of the sport to that time. Bowden begins his entertaining and informative narration in the third quarter, and then delves into backstory on the league, players and the buildup, before returning to the gridiron to conclude with a detailed account of the final plays and an epilogue. (June)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Bowden (Atlantic Monthly) won the National Book Award for the searing war story Black Hawk Down, but this former sportswriter has also written about professional football. He returns to the gridiron here to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1958 Colts-Giants NFL championship game, the first ever to go into sudden death overtime to determine a winner. The game is often said to mark the very beginning of pro football's dominance in American culture. So naturally, it has been written about before, e.g., Dave Klein's The Game of Their Lives(coming in its own 50th anniversary updated edition) and John Steadman's The Greatest Football Game Ever Played. Seventeen future Hall of Fame players and coaches were involved in the epic contest. Befitting a skilled reporter, Bowden uncovers new material to enliven his retelling. His interviews with several of the Colts and Giants players, as well as with Colts' then-assistant coach Charley Winner, yield new insights. In particular, receiver Raymond Berry's detailed game notes from the day itself are invaluable, as are excerpts from the transcript of the NBC radio broadcast by Joe Boland. Bowden makes a handful of minor errors regarding player positioning, but this book is a fine account of one of the most significant games in sports history. Recommended for all public and academic libraries.
Bowden (Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam, 2006, etc.) takes a sharp look at the 1958 National Football League championship game, which featured "the greatest concentration of football talent ever assembled for a single game."The classic Baltimore Colts/New York Giants title tilt had all the elements of a memorable game: spectacular plays and miscues, controversial calls by the officials, lead changes and, notably, the first sudden-death overtime in NFL history. Still, there were before, and have been since, dozens of NFL games every bit as thrilling. What set the 1958 contest apart to make it the best ever? Although Bowden offers a serviceable play-by-play account, he wisely focuses on a few individuals-Johnny Unitas, Raymond Berry, Weeb Ewbank, Art Donovan of the Colts; Frank Gifford, Sam Huff, Vince Lombardi, and Tom Landry of the Giants-to explain the game's singular link to the NFL's past and future. The author deftly examines the larger historical context shaping this coming-of-age moment, which propelled professional football to its current position as America's favorite sport. First, the country itself-transitioning from the Old Soldier Eisenhower to the New Frontier Kennedy, from U.S. Steel to IBM, from blue-collar to white-collar, from segregation to integration-was ready for a sport embodying the ethos of the new age. For years a poor stepchild to the college game, pro football had only recently begun to adopt the scientific principles of analysis and preparation pioneered by Cleveland's Paul Brown, advancements showcased here by some of the game's greatest coaches and players. Second, as the overtime contest bled into prime time,millions of television sets picked up the broadcast, riveted the audience and cemented the perfect marriage between football's electric tempo and the cool medium of television. Soon black-and-white would turn to color, the small-town feel of the sport-embodied nicely by Baltimore's Colts-would turn big time and the NFL would transform itself into the multibillion dollar enterprise whose Super Bowl has become an unofficial national holiday. Not quite on par with Bringing the Heat (1994), among the best football books ever, but surely a delight for anyone interested in the history of the NFL. Agent: Jennie Dunham/Dunham Literary. First printing of 100,000. $100,000 ad/promo. First serial to Sports Illustrated
Read an Excerpt
The Colts’ head coach Weeb Ewbanks loosened his vocal chords and gave the motivational speech of his life.
“Nobody knows you guys, and we’re in a good place to get known, New York City, so we’re going to have to win this game,” he told his players. He pulled out some handwritten notes from his pocket. “Nobody wanted you guys,” he said. Then he went around the locker room, singling out most of the starting players. To John Unitas: “Pittsburgh didn’t want you but we picked you off the sandlots.” To Milt Davis, “Detroit didn’t want you, but I’m glad we got you.” Most of his players had been cut or rejected somewhere along the line, and Weeb cited every slight. To Big Dadddy Lipscomb: “The Rams didn’t want you. We picked you up for the one hundred dollar waiver price. You have come a long way. When you start rushing the passer more you will become one of the greatest tackles the game has ever seen.” To Raymond Berry: “Nobody wanted you in the draft. You are a self-made end.” To Lenny Moore: “You can be as good as you want to be. That’s what they said when we drafted you, but the idea was presented we might have a hard time getting you to practice.” To Gino Marchetti: “In ten years of pro coaching, you are the finest end I have ever seen. They said you are the greatest end in the league and that you just couldn’t get any better, but you continue to get better every week and you will today.”
The coach also talked about himself. He noted that he had not been the Colts’ first choice for the head coaching job when they had gone looking in 1954, and they all knew how close he and his staff had come to being fired after the 1955 season. The message was, they were a team of self-made men, playing against the glamour boys of the NFL, the only team that had beaten them in a game that mattered that season.
Linebacker Don Shinnick led the team in the Lord’s Prayer, and then they set off for the field like men with a score to settle, not just with the Giants, but with the world.