Recalling a famous game, and an era, 40 years on

November 19, 1998|By MICHAEL OLESKER

THEY'LL BRING back a generation tonight.

It's officially billed as a reunion of yesteryear's sainted Baltimore Colts, those Sudden Death immortals who stunned an entire country by grabbing pro football's championship eight minutes and 15 seconds after regulation time had run out in the dreamy twilight of a howling Yankee Stadium.

But it's also a reunion of those Baltimoreans of a certain generation who have memories of a time, the winter of '58, and a state of mind, the city's historic mass inferiority complex, and names that started to lift us out of it: Unitas somehow finding Berry in the gathering gloom, and Spats giving a hip and taking it away, and Marchetti and Donovan and Big Daddy meeting at the quarterback, and Ameche the Horse charging into the end zone through a hole as wide as the New York subway system.

Remember that time? Tonight at Martin's West, they will. The dinner has been sold out for weeks. Most of the '58 Colts will be there, though not their coach, Wilbur "Weeb" Ewbank, who died Tuesday, at 91, and thus signaled the underlying poignancy of this gathering.

Time waits for none of us. For many, the dinner is a last roundup, an extended gathering of the alumni of that era, whose membership has begun its inevitable thinning out.

For those who recall the impact of that Colts-New York Giants overtime game, how it lifted the local spirit for so many years, how it raised an entire league more firmly into the national consciousness and helped usher in the marriage of television and football, and how it made the Colts feel like grand extended family, it might seem impossible that 40 years have passed. But they have, and here's our bittersweet reminder.

Remember that time? Summers were spent with Paul Richards trying to teach his baby Orioles the fundamentals of baseball. In winter, you could go to that old battered suitcase of a Coliseum to watch minor-league Baltimore Bullets with names like Bill Spivey and Tarzan Spencer.

On the radio, the old smoothies like Crosby and Como were yielding air time to the kids with pompadoured hair and strange-sounding names like Little Richard and the Big Bopper, who were introduced by a generation of local jocks with names like Fat Daddy and Hot Rod, Johnny Dark and Jack Gale, Larry Dean and Buddy Deane.

On television, we heard, "Ward, something's wrong with the Beaver." Or Danny Thomas' wife would be traumatized because Rusty's room was untidy. Or Ozzie Nelson shuffled into the living room with his weekly crisis: They had run out of ice cream. We were a whole country still wishing to believe in our eternal innocence.

Remember? Harley Brinsfield was selling hot Harley burgers by day and cool jazz at night. Everybody went to Gino's, but they could still meetcha at Ameche's for a Powerhouse. Or they'd gather at scores of neighborhood bars where Colts banners hung on the walls and the buses gathered on Sunday mornings for the cross-town trek to the holy land at 33rd Street.

Remember? Forty years ago, they were showing Rosalind Russell in "Auntie Mame" at the Century. "Tom Thumb" was playing at the Hippodrome. And the New had Susan Hayward in "I Want to Live." They're all gone: the movies, and the big-name actors, and the theaters.

Forty years ago, this was a city whose collective runty ego was stuck along a highway between Washington and New York. The boom industrial years of the war were over, and the town seemed to have gone to sleep in its aftermath. The first migrations to suburbia had begun - not only people but businesses discovering that new mecca, the shopping mall.

Though Baltimore was listed as one of the nation's biggest cities, it seemed to have lost its self-confidence, its belief in its own possibilities.

The Colts helped bring some of it back. They brought not only thunderous athletic drama, and a community rallying around it, but they climaxed it in the nation's biggest media center against the glittery Giants of New York.

So that's what they'll recall tonight at Martin's West. They'll remember a fellow named Myhra swinging his leg forward in the final seven ticks of the clock to tie the score at 17-17. And they'll remember Mutscheller falling out of bounds with a Unitas pass at the one.

And then they'll remember Ameche the Horse a moment later, with head down and Lenny Moore and George Preas in front of him, and so much joy that 30,000 people made their way out to Friendship Airport that night to welcome the club home.

Forty years later, they'll offer a moment of silence for Weeb Ewbank, who brought it all together. And they'll remember not DTC only his football team, but a time, and a way of life that can't possibly be 40 years behind us.

Pub Date: 11/19/98

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