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NFL’s First Evolution: ‘The Greatest Game Ever Played’

NFL Films

This is the first part in a series of articles leading up to Super Bowl LIII from former Ute and NFL quarterback, Scott Mitchell, now working with KSL Sports.

NFL NATION – Super Bowl LIII is looming and the NFL Playoff races are heating up. This is my favorite part of the NFL season, because you never know what to expect. The teams you never thought would make it have a glimmer of hope, and the ones you expected to go all the way are floundering.

In building up to the Super Bowl, one of the most popular televised events in the United States, I started to think about the moments, games or players that truly changed football. The first one that came to mind is sometimes called, “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”

Before Football Ruled America

Can you remember a time when football didn’t take over TV every weekend? It’s hard, but there was once a time when it was unheard of for every game, even the big ones, to be aired coast to coast.

Back in the day baseball ruled the world. The players were untouchable heroes. It was truly America’s game.

That was until the 1958 NFL Championship game changed everything.

The Greatest Game Ever Played

The Baltimore Colts, led by Johnny Unitas, took on the New York Football Giants in the first championship football game that was seen by audiences from coast to coast. That almost sounds crazy to say in this day and age, when viewers can easily watch every game, every weekend and even multiple games on one screen.

This game was a thriller. It was the first championship game to go into overtime. In fact, when the fourth quarter ended and it was tied, the players kind of stood around wondering what to do next. There was no precedent.

The teams went into overtime and in a very famous play, Alan Ameche of the Baltimore Colts scored a touchdown and won the game.

LISTEN: Scott talks about Johnny Unitas & the power of television

The Power of Television

Johnny Unitas, quarterback for the Baltimore Colts, was arguably the greatest quarterback to play for a long time, and it was probably because of this game. Because a national audience saw him lead a team in heroic fashion.

This showcases the power of television and being in front of an enormous audience. All of america watched Unitas march his team down the field in the fourth quarter to tie the game, like we have seen so many other great quarterbacks in championship and playoff games.

Mind-Blowing Coaching Staff

But wait, there’s more to the significance of this game. The offensive coordinator for the New York Giants was none other than the great, Vince Lombardi. A football genius and one of the greatest coaches of all time, whom the Super Bowl trophy is named after.

Still not blown away? The defensive coordinator for the Giants was Tom Landry, who later led the Dallas Cowboys to 20 consecutive winning seasons.

Let that sink in.

Two of the greatest coaches of all time on the same team – and they weren’t even head coaches yet. Maybe if Lombardi and Landry would have switched, the New York Giants would have won.

Football’s Growth Spurt

This game propelled football to a national audience. The popularity of the sport took a monumental step forward, and that is why this is first moment in the evolution of the NFL.

Stay tuned to this series on my podcast, Helmets Off. We’re going to discover how the NFL got to where it is today and what the next big moment, player or game may be.