Championship football game of 1958, was...

THE COLTS-GIANTS

January 13, 1994

THE COLTS-GIANTS championship football game of 1958, was "the greatest game ever played," but the game that was played 25 years ago yesterday may have been even more important.

At least in two regards.

That game was Super Bowl III. The Colts were the National Football League champions and the New York Jets were the champions of the relatively new American Football League. Most sports writers and fans believed the AFL was not quite major league. The NFL champion had won Super Bowls I and II. The Colts were favored over the Jets by 16 1/2 points on Jan. 12, 1969.

The flamboyant young quarterback of the Jets, Joe Namath, predicted victory. And he produced. New York won 16-7.

As a result, the AFL and NFL were regarded as competitive ever after, with the resultant growth of television revenues and salaries and more franchises, etc.

The second way that game was historic was language. Not spoken language. The most ubiquitous finger gesture in sports entered the vocabulary of symbolic "speech" that day. After making good on his brazen promise, Joe Namath left the field waving his right index finger in the face of all who looked his way, which was, thanks to the television cameras, practically all of America.

The gesture meant "We're No. 1!" of course, but also, "in your face!" and "take that!" and, well, supply your own combative sneer. No sports contest is played today without some fans giving "the Namath finger" to opponents and the world. Even when the teams are ranked 99th and 100th, the fingering goes on -- as if to say, "we're No. 1 in this game, you jerks!"

The cliche has even spawned an industry. Fans can buy giant foam rubber "gloves" with an enlarged, extended index finger.

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