The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL by Mark Bowden
Review by C. Douglas Baker
The Best Game Ever is a fairly good account of what is probably the most famous game in NFL history—the 1958 NFL Championship game where the Baltimore Colts defeated the New York Giants 23-17 in the NFL’s first sudden death overtime game.
The game pitted some of the greatest players of all time against one another, such as Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry of the Colts and Frank Gifford and Sam Huff of the Giants.
It also sported three legendary coaches: Vince Lombardi on offense for the Giants, Tom Landry on defense for the Giants, and Weeb Ewbank, the head coach of Baltimore who went on to win another seminal NFL Championship when his New York Jets upset his former team, the Baltimore Colts, in Super Bowl III.
As most who follow football closely know, this game is considered the launching point of the modern NFL because it occurred in the early years of television and at least the last part of the game was seen by an estimated 30 million people. After this game, the popularity of professional football took off, particularly because the action is well suited for television viewing.
This book tells the story of the game mostly from the players’ perspective, focusing somewhat more on the Baltimore Colts, particularly Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry, who both had phenomenal performances in this game. But it also tells the story of other key players on both sides of the ball to greater or lesser degrees.
It does a less stellar job of building the drama of the game, maybe because we already know the outcome. But overall, it completely documents the game and the key turning points that lead to the eventual outcome.
These include Frank Gifford not making a first down on third and short that would have allowed the Giants to run out the clock to win the game, and the Unitas-to-Barry connection on an improvised play for a first down on the final drive in regulation to tie the game.
For a football fan, this is certainly an enjoyable book that provides some insight into the game and the players, particularly Raymond Berry, who gets the most coverage. While I wouldn’t classify this as The Best Football Book Ever, it is well done and worth reading.