After 40 years, glory of day hasn't dimmed for re-huddling Colts

November 19, 1998|By John Steadman

They came from the hardscrabble, shot-and-a-beer steel towns of Pennsylvania, where football was next to religion from the seemingly endless prairies of the Dakotas from the %o black-gold oil fields of Texas from the congested neighborhoods of New York, Boston, Miami, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

And diverse points in between, such as Athens, Ala.; Kenosha, Wis.; Greenville, Miss.; Perry, Okla.; and Parma, Ohio. A geographical and cultural mix. The Baltimore Colts, as with other teams, were by the nature of the business a migrant community unto themselves, gathering for a fall ritual known as the National Football League season and then hopeful of finding an off-season job to fill out the other six months of the year, because how else could they survive?

They gave unstintingly in all manner of physical effort and, in turn, their devoted followers in the stadium offered them their hearts and souls.

It became the Colts' destiny to play and win "The Greatest Game Ever Played," a badge of honor they wear for perpetuity. The sterling character of the men set them apart and a city that fell in love has continued the romance for 40 years, dating to the time when Eisenhower was in the White House and the Kingston Trio was singing "Tom Dooley."

The Colts went out to beat the New York Giants in pro football's grand finale, attended by 64,185 eyewitnesses (7,000 under a sellout) in the canyon-like theater of thrills known as Yankee Stadium.

The Colts came from diverse backgrounds, young men with down-home Southern accents and the crisp broad-A of New England. One player named Milt Davis was part African American/American Indian, a Roman Catholic raised in a Jewish orphans' home. He knew and practiced ecumenicalism before it was even fully defined.

A slender end, Raymond Berry, with poor vision and one leg shorter than the other, caught passes as if he had a cesta on each hand. Two of the enormously gifted linemen, Art Donovan and Gino Marchetti, had fought, under fire, in the dugouts and foxholes of World War II -- Donovan on those pin-point dots of islands in the Pacific and Marchetti in the Battle of the Bulge.

A lithe, Lithuanian quarterback, John Unitas, showed up as a free agent and was happy merely to be getting the chance, plus a flat, $6,000 salary that provided no bonus or guaranteed contract. He became the meal ticket. And a horse-like fullback, Alan Ameche, who was more interested in the compositions of Brahms and Beethoven and a quick card game than he ever was in football, was a massive force for grinding out yardage and protecting the passer.

Then there was the acceleration and smooth, sliding strides of Lenny Moore, who taped his ankles over his high-top shoes and thereby achieved the nickname of "Spats." He produced electrifying moves, and with his speed and finesse, offered a dimension no other runner could match.

But this is only intended as a capsulated recitation of the still glowing past and the team's extraordinary deeds. There was Alex Sandusky, from the smallest of schools, Clarion State Teachers College, and Jim Parker, by way of Macon, Ga., Toledo, Ohio, and Ohio State.

A smart, rugged pulling guard, Art Spinney, showed a feisty halfback, L.G. Dupre, master of the cutback, the lane to the goal line. And, oh yes, L.G. had a colorful nickname, "Long Gone," representative of his initials, which evolved from Louis George. And there were others -- such as "Big Daddy," "The Reading Rocket," "Tennessee Stud," "Champ," "Chester," "Goucho," "The Horse" and "Johnny U."

Once, on his first trip to New York, Andy Nelson, raised in the quiet of Athens, Ala., went on a sightseeing tour with Bert Rechichar, who was showing him the bright lights of Broadway and Times Square. Nelson looked up in awe, turned to his friend and said, "I'd sure hate to pay the electric bill."

A coach, Wilbur Ewbank, called "Weeb" because a little brother had trouble pronouncing his first name, put all the pieces together. He was in a class by himself when it came to evaluating personnel and in teaching the rudimentary elements of a game that is both basic and complex.

It was a team, by its achievements, that the entire country quickly learned to respect and admire by the excitement it nTC created. And in Baltimore it remains, until this day, the subject of a pulsating love affair. The game of Dec. 28, 1958, has even had two books written about it from both the New York and Baltimore perspectives. Yes, whole books pertaining to one game.

America, to a large part, discovered pro football that day. Forty-five million watched on television, a record then for a sports event, as two skilled craftsmen, Chuck Thompson and Chris Schenkel, captioned words to the black and white pictures. It was to become the first game to extend into overtime as subplots, intrigue and second-guessing were part of the circumstances.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.