The Glory Game: How the 1958 NFL Championship Changed Football Forever

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In 1958 Frank Gifford was the golden boy on the glamour team in the most celebrated city in the NFL. When his New York Giants played the Baltimore Colts for the league championship that year, it became the single most memorable contest in the history of professional football. Broadcast to an audience of millions, it was the first title game ever to go into sudden-death overtime. Its drama, excitement, and controversy riveted the nation and helped propel football to the forefront...

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In 1958 Frank Gifford was the golden boy on the glamour team in the most celebrated city in the NFL. When his New York Giants played the Baltimore Colts for the league championship that year, it became the single most memorable contest in the history of professional football. Broadcast to an audience of millions, it was the first title game ever to go into sudden-death overtime. Its drama, excitement, and controversy riveted the nation and helped propel football to the forefront of the American sports landscape.

Now, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of "The Greatest Game Ever Played," New York Giants Hall of Famer and longtime television analyst Frank Gifford provides an inside-the-helmet account that will take its place in the annals of sports literature. Drawing on the poignant and humorous memories of every living player from the game—including fellow Hall of Famers Sam Huff, Andy Robustelli, Art Donovan, Lenny Moore, and Raymond Berry—as well as the author's own experiences and reflections, The Glory Game captures a magnificent moment in American sports history. It is the story of two very different cities and teams, filled with the joy, the disappointment, and the eternal pride of a day that will forever symbolize all that is great about sports.

Told with gripping immediacy, The Glory Game is an indelible portrait of the NFL's most transcendent hours—a winter version of The Boys of Summer, told by one of football's true legends.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Gifford, the 78-year-old former star for the New York Giants and later an icon on Monday Night Football, tells the story of this much-chronicled game between his Giants and Johnny Unitas's Baltimore Colts from both his perspective and through interviews with teammates and opponents. Gifford decided to write this book after David Halberstam, a friend of Gifford's who had planned to write a book about the game, was killed in a 2007 car accident. Gifford's is a candid, insightful and entertaining look at the camaraderie and culture of the first great stirrings of the NFL, when professional football was a second-class sport in comparison to baseball. He describes vividly an era where the Giants players worked second jobs in the off-season, spent many fall nights barhopping their way across midtown Manhattan and often partook of cigarettes and beer in their Yankee Stadium locker room. Despite the title, this is less a book about how that 1958 game changed the NFL (which was covered in Mark Bowden's summer release of The Best Game Ever) than it is an enjoyable telling of the men who played it. (Nov.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

The 50th anniversary of the legendary 1958 NFL Championship game between the Giants and the Colts-when "sudden death" joined the pro football lexicon-and the startlingly fashioned victory of the Giants in the 2008 Super Bowl have unleashed a perfect storm of books. Already this year, Mark Bowden's The Best Game Ever and Lou Sahadi's One Sunday in December have scrutinized the fabled game of half a century ago. Thus, it's somewhat unexpected that Gifford's account is so revelatory, but he did, after all, play in it! For this project, Gifford interviewed the 37 living Giants and Colts to record their remembrances and combine them with his own first-person account of the action and the players and coaches involved. The result is a fresh, engrossing, anecdote-filled retelling of a familiar but unforgettable gridiron battle. Meanwhile, veteran sportswriter Cavanaugh's book covers not only that 1958 title game but the whole run of that remarkable Giants team that played in six championship games in eight years from 1956 to 1963. Cavanaugh covers that dynastic period year by year and provides a focused portrait of that team, informed by interviews with several players from the time. Both books are recommended for all public libraries; Gifford's will be of especial interest.
—John Maxymuk

Kirkus Reviews

NFL great Gifford (The Whole Ten Yards, with Harry Waters, 1993) reminisces about the legendary game between his New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts.

Deeply ingrained in America's football consciousness, the author starred at USC in the early '50s, played numerous positions brilliantly for the Giants, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977 and anchored the greatest announcing triumvirate ever on Monday Night Football. Gifford's glamour even extends, famously, to his appearance as the narrator's obsession in Frederick Exley's classic novel, A Fan's Notes. Here he's regular guy Frank, telling stories about friends, teammates and opponents, using the most renowned game in which he ever participated, the 1958 title contest, as the centerpiece. The players' conversational reflections re-create the sort of banter that likely occurred among the Giants as they gathered during the '50s at some of the Manhattan watering holes—Toot's Shors, P.J. Clarke's—they helped make famous. The play-by-play account vividly recalls the game's vicissitudes, from the comically inept first quarter through the thrilling overtime. The players remember the almost small-town, family atmosphere inhabited by two professional teams in a postwar era in which many of the players were combat veterans, and all had to take off-season jobs to pay the mortgage. Nobody imagined the money and glory that lay ahead for professional football. The subtitle notwithstanding, how "the greatest game ever played" changed football is better examined in Mark Bowden's recent The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL (2008). Gifford trains the spotlight on the people: Charlie Conerly, who theauthor says is the greatest player not in the Hall; Kyle Rote, so beloved by teammates that they named their children after him; Gene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb, who carried around ghastly photos of his murdered mother; Vince Lombardi, before his mythic tenure as head coach of the Green Bay Packers; Sam Huff, who led the Giants' defense and a pre-game argument with Gifford over playoff shares for a bench-sitting teammate—the then-unknown, future vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp.

Touchdown, Gifford!

Agent: Andrew Blauner/Blauner Books Literary Agency

John Madden
“The NFL, as we know it today, began with the 1958 Championship. There’s nobody better to tell the story of that game and the guys who played it than Frank Gifford. This book, like those players, is All-Madden.”
Bill Belichick
“Frank Gifford’s superb memoir shows what it really takes and means to be a champion. Also, it’s nice to read about the Giants losing a title game.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616840419
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/3/2009
  • Pages: 285
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Frank Gifford played for the New York Giants for twelve seasons (1952-1964). He received the NFL's Most Valuable Player Award in 1956 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977. After his playing career, Gifford worked as a sports broadcaster for more than thirty years. In 1995 he received the Pete Rozelle Award for his television career covering the NFL, which included twenty-seven years in the booth for ABC's Monday Night Football. He lives in Greenwich, Connecticut, with his wife, Kathie Lee Gifford, and their children.

Peter Richmond is the author of three books. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, the New York Times Magazine, and GQ. He lives in Dutchess County, New York, with his wife.

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Read an Excerpt

The Glory Game
How the 1958 NFL Championship Changed Football Forever

Chapter One

The Beginnings

On December 28, 1958, the National Football League grew up. From Madison Avenue to small-town living rooms, fans began to pay attention to our weekly battles on their small-screen televisions. On that long Sunday afternoon, a nation began to recognize the unique appeal of a sport in which any one play could bring extraordinarily athletic feats or grimace-inducing collisions. Or both.

It wasn't complicated, our game, and this was a big part of its appeal. Professional football had speed and it had brutality. We didn't have a legion of reverential sportswriters covering the game, as the national pastime did. Covering the Giants were off-season baseball writers, guys who didn't understand the nuances of the offenses or the defenses—or even some of the rules. But you didn't need to know about nuances or rules when you saw a man carrying a football, looking for running room—and then watching our linebacker Sam Huff meet him head-on, pick him up, and slam him to the ground.

Sam, of course wasn't the only man on the field that day who began to capture a nation's imagination: Kyle Rote, Johnny Unitas, Big Daddy, Rosie Grier, Donovan, Marchetti, Conerly—these were guys who did things on a football field that the common fan could understand. Could feel. Could get excited about. The hypnotizing rainbow passes, the open-field sprints . . . these were exciting, but just as compelling was the violence: the hits, the man-to-man contact that echoed into the rafters—all interwoven with the highest level of individualathleticism any sport could offer.

And after that day, the advertisers and the television programmers could feel it, too: how, in a very real way, the men who brought beauty to brutality every week on a football field could be seen as a new breed of the old American frontier ideal of ruggedness, and individuality, and—above all—toughness and resilience. We were men who made a living on physical contact, who could endure pain of some sort—a blow to the face, a cleat crushing your hand, a limb being twisted in a way that nature never intended—on just about every play, and then rise to our feet and do it again. And again, and again.

Crowds began filling stadiums across the country, in cities whose stadiums had been half-empty in the years before. Television ratings began to climb. Athletes who'd once labored in a lunchpail league were now the stars of prime-time television shows and graced the covers of the weekly magazines. On December 28, 1958, everything changed.

But for the Giants, the final day of the old era began the way it always did, game day or practice day: by walking to work three blocks down the hill from our hotel home, in a working-class neighborhood in a working-class borough of a mighty city—a fitting starting point for a team that really was a band of brothers.

Star running backs, obscure linemen, punters and kickers, the oldest quarterback in the league, and a ­couple of brand-new rookies—we all lived in the Concourse Plaza Hotel, a twelve-story redbrick building planted atop a hill above Yankee Stadium, on a wide, ambitious avenue called the Grand Concourse, optimistically modeled on the Champs-Elysées in Paris.

We loved the hotel, we loved the neighborhood, we loved the time, and we loved our team.

In the late fifties, the Bronx was a pretty vibrant place—and the heart of a working-class football team was camped right in the middle of it, five months of the year. Most of us were making just about as much money playing professional football as the electricians, cops, and subway drivers who lived all around us. A lot of us were making less.

The rest of the year, we lived back home, working at our other jobs: as teachers, insurance salesmen, plumbers. Bert Bell, our colorful commissioner—a Philadelphia and Jersey Shore guy with no pretense—used to tell the new crop of rookies every summer: You are not going to make a living playing pro football, so don't quit the day job.

For me, the off-season before '58 had meant a brief movie-acting career that was winding down and a broadcast career that was just starting up. I'd always had my eye on the next thing I might do with my life. I'd always known—as any football player knows—that one blind-side hit on a planted leg, one searing jolt of pain as you feel the ligaments tear from your knee, could mean the instant end of a career.

But during the football season, we were residents of a proud borough, living in a giant, friendly boardinghouse, surrounded by our parks, our restaurants, our coffee shops, our subway stop—and our stadium. There was no disconnect between where we lived and where we played. We didn't have to fight traffic, or leave a suburban gated community, to drive to some stadium with an Internet company–sponsored name that would change as soon as the company declared bankruptcy. Our home and our workplace sat side by side. Our commute was by foot: down the hill a few blocks, past the shops and bars, under the rumbling el, through the glass doors.

I'd stop for a cup of coffee at a deli on my walk to the stadium, like any other guy on his way to work, and walk through the players' entrance and down the stairs to the locker room. After the game, I'd take a shortcut home: I'd walk back up through the dugout, across the scarred field, flanked by empty stands still smelling like beer and liquor and cigar smoke, then leave the stadium through a door tucked underneath the bleachers and go back up the hill to the hotel, maybe stopping to pick up a pack of cigarettes, a quart of milk.

The Glory Game
How the 1958 NFL Championship Changed Football Forever
. Copyright © by Frank Gifford. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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