Wrong in specifics, right in recall of glorious game

September 20, 1997|By GREGORY KANE


The day you've all been waiting for has come. It is the day when Gregory Kane made a total idiot, as opposed to a partial idiot, of himself.

Actually, the day came some three weeks ago, in the Aug. 31 column. In criticizing how fanatically devoted we've become to professional sports, in trying to argue that today's professional football is far inferior to that of days gone by, I made a grievous error that should make those folks who still have Colt blue blood in their veins cringe.

And if it hadn't been for a reader, I never would have caught it. In fact, when the reader -- through a telephone voice mail message -- pointed it out, I couldn't believe I'd made it. But when I checked the column, there it was:

"There is no [NFL] game in recent memory," I pontificated from my columnistic high horse, "that can compare with the 1967 'Ice Bowl' NFL championship game between the [Green Bay] Packers and the Dallas Cowboys, the 1958 championship game between the Colts and the New York Giants and the 1965 NFL Western Conference playoff game between the Colts and the Cleveland Browns."

How's that again, Columnist Boy? The 1965 Western Conference playoff game between the Colts and the Cleveland Browns? The Browns weren't even in the Western Conference. The game was between the Colts and those despised Packers, as the caller pointed out. It might seem self-serving to say that I knew that, but I did. I watched every agonizing second of that game the Colts should have won but lost in overtime by a field goal. I would have cried at the end, but I was so angry my thoughts were more on tarring and feathering the game officials, who, to put it kindly, seemed to have had it in for the Colts that day.

But the incompetence of game officials, thank heavens, in no way diminished the greatness of this game. The Colts-Packers playoff game of 1965 was one of those truly rare moments in athletics when the event transcended the sport, in much the way the second Joe Louis-Max Schmeling fight transcended boxing. That game, indeed that entire season, was more than about merely football. It should have taught us all something about courage, about persistence, about struggling against the odds and rising like a phoenix.

It was the year before criticism of the Vietnam War became widespread, before the assassinations and riots of 1968 and before Watergate forced a president, who swore he wasn't a crook, from office. It was an age before America became cynical, before professional sports team owners and athletes and agents somehow got their x-chromosomes to take on the shape of a dollar sign.

It was 1965, the year after the Colts had had their heads handed to them by the Cleveland Browns in the NFL championship game. Needless to say, Colts fans were looking for some payback. The only thing that stood in the way of a rematch with the Browns was the Packers, who had dominated the league in the early '60s but who by 1964 -- when the Colts won the Western Conference -- had become merely pesky.

But the Packers won the second game of the season against the Colts by a mere field goal. In the much anticipated rematch at Memorial Stadium late in the season, the Colts' defense let Packers halfback Paul Hornung run buck wild for five touchdowns and lost 42-27. Needless to say, us folks who had Colt blue blood in our veins were starting to worry.

Adding to our worries were the Chicago Bears, a team that was even more despicable than the Packers -- and that took some doing. The Bears had won five games and lost nine in 1964 and started off slowly in 1965. Then, inspired by two rookies named VTC Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus, the Bears took off. They had thrashed the Packers and lost a hotly disputed game to the Colts in Chicago. They came to Baltimore looking for revenge.

The Bears beat the Colts 13-0 at Memorial Stadium. Two Bears defensive players caved in on Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas' knee and put him out for the season. Some said the play on which Unitas was injured looked like a cheap shot. A viewing of the game film showed it bordered closely on felony assault. Later, the Colts' backup quarterback, Gary Cuozzo, was injured and lost for the rest of the season. Limping toward season's end, the Colts needed a miracle to force a playoff game with the Packers.

They got it when the San Francisco 49ers tied the Packers in the final regular season game. Colts' coach Don Shula -- in perhaps his finest coaching hour -- had to draft halfback Tom Matte as quarterback for the playoff game. Thus did a crippled Colts' team -- with its quarterback having the plays written on a wristband -- go into Green Bay and fight the haughty Packers to a standstill. Only a few questionable calls by the officials allowed the Pack to escape with a victory.

The Colts escaped with the admiration of sports fans across the nation. There will never be another professional football season like this one, many of us probably thought then.

And you know, there hasn't been.

Pub Date: 9/20/97

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