'Greatest Game' 40th anniversary stirs memories

October 18, 1998|By JOHN STEADMAN

It was Ordell Braase's desire that the winners of what was proclaimed "The Greatest Game Ever Played" would return home one more time to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Baltimore Colts' most momentous attainment. To him, it's comparable to an old army regiment falling into muster to recall and relive what it was like to be there during an epic battle -- this one of friendly strife -- that produced an identity no other group of men ever approached, because what they were doing had never been done before.

The impact of coming out ahead in football's first overtime game with a championship on the line has been thoroughly defined in the football history books, even to down, yardage and time of the climactic touchdown. They were to survive sudden death, beating back the New York Giants in what carried into an unprecedented extra period.

For Braase, a defensive end on a remarkably talented team that sent six players and the head coach, Weeb Ewbank, to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the reunion banquet on Nov. 19 at Martin's West also has personal and private reminders for him. The gathering, in a way, is a silent tribute to his late wife, Janice, who died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease).

Proceeds from the Baltimore banquet and a luncheon the next day will go to the Johns Hopkins Hospital research effort into finding a cure for ALS. Tickets are $150 for the banquet and $5,000 a table the next day for what's being called a "Fabulous Forty" luncheon, where leaders of the corporate community can gather with the team to replay a game that made a lasting impression, both on the participants and those watching.

"I realize the prices are higher than usual but, you know, I haven't heard a complaint," Braase said. "When people are made aware the purpose is for charity, that the players are contributing their time, they want to know what can they do to help. We hope for the banquet to sell out and the luncheon to duplicate.

"We players realize, as Artie Donovan says, there's no way to foretell how many of us will be around when the 50th anniversary arrives in the year 2008, so we want to do it now."

Of the 35 players, only then reserve guard Fred "Fuzzy" Thurston, who was traded to the Green Bay Packers for linebacker Marv Matuszak the following year, hasn't been contacted, but Braase expects to talk to him. With the clock ticking and determining our own mortality rate, the obituary chart shows eight Colts from the world champions of 1958 have died.

Hopefully, the widows of Art Spinney, Alan "The Horse" Ameche, Eugene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb, Steve Myhra, Bill Pellington, George Shaw, Sherman Plunkett and Ray Krouse will be present to represent their deceased husbands when the roster roll call is made. Braase said he hasn't heard from Patti Shaw or Marge Krouse, whom he has had particular difficulty locating.

That 1958 defensive line of Gino Marchetti, Art Donovan, "Big Daddy" and Don Joyce, plus swingmen Braase and Krouse, was a unit of enormous capabilities. It had talent and depth.

On the offense, John Unitas was injured in the middle of the season, with Shaw taking over for two games. While left with only one quarterback, the Colts called on Gary Kerkorian, who was in law school, to join them on weekends so if something happened to Shaw they would at least have an emergency replacement. Kerkorian, now a judge in San Jose, Calif., knew the offense from prior experience. Yes, he plans to be here for the celebration.

"It's doubtful if two assistant coaches, Herman Ball and Bob Shaw, will attend but we are still hopeful they, too, can make it," Braase said. "We're definite about two other assistants, John Bridgers and Charley Winner, and at least three former Giants, Kyle Rote, Roosevelt Brown and Dick Modzelewski, will be with us."

Braase and Dick McCready, the general chairman, have an extensive committee. The honorary chairman is Peter Angelos, majority owner of the Orioles, who has been an active fund-raiser for Johns Hopkins and its ALS work, plus the fact he grew up watching and associating with the Colts players of that era.

Announcers Chuck Thompson and Chris Schenkel, who handled the NBC telecast, will be present to relate their recollections and to interview representatives of the Colts and Giants.

Making arrangements for hotels, transportation, favors for the players and soliciting corporate executives to buy the $5,000 tables have occupied the committee. Publishing a souvenir program, getting a commitment from John Ziemann and members of the Colts' Band to appear and putting together details with NFL Films for showing game highlights have occupied the group since midsummer.

Because of the Orioles' interest in assisting ALS, committee member Lou Kousouris designated an assistant, Greg Bader, to handle ticket orders by telephone.

"From what I'm hearing, I would be shocked if it doesn't sell out," Bader said. "Maybe both events. I wasn't born when the game was played, but my father was there and told me about it. He'll be at the dinner with his friends from those days. I can hardly believe so many people have their own stories of that game. I enjoy hearing what they tell me. It must have been special."

Indeed it was from being the first official overtime game football ever had to the extraordinary 86-yard and 79-yard scoring drives orchestrated by Unitas. The lure of again seeing the Colts of 1958 means much to a city that enjoyed a kinship with the players and vice versa. It's a night when the Colt song is to be played again with gusto and banner carriers Bill Gattus, wearing a helmet, and Eugene "Reds" Hubbe will be spreading their cheer.

For ticket orders and information on the banquet and luncheon, call 410-547-6105.

Pub Date: 10/18/98

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