Why The 1958 NFL Championship Game Was Called The 'Greatest Game Ever Played'

National Football League games are generally exciting as teams and fans gear up for the Super Bowl. And since the organization's founding in 1920, when it was originally called the ​​American Professional Football Association (via Britannica), there have been hundreds of amazing moments. These include New England Patriot Randy Moss' one-handed catch, New York Giant David Tyree's helmet catch, and Pittsburgh Steeler Franco Harris' "immaculate reception" per the NFL.

To celebrate its 100-year anniversary in 2020, the NFL polled 66 members of the media, asking for their opinion on what they considered to be the greatest NFL game ever played. More than 25% (18) of them cast their votes for the 1958 NFL championship game between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants on December 28 in Yankee Stadium. The drama that unfolded during the game is just a part of what propelled the NFL to become the league it is today (via The Baltimore Sun).  

The 1958 NFL championship game was the first postseason overtime game

Overtime — while it doesn't happen too often — isn't much of a big deal these days. But in 1958, it was. In fact, none of the players knew what exactly was going to happen next after the score was tied. "Nobody really knew what came next," Colts receiver Raymond Berry told The Baltimore Sun. Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas said in an interview with NFL Insider that no one knew what to do at the end of the game. He said the players were "standing on the sidelines waiting to see what came next." It was the officials who told them to send out the team captains, and they would flip a coin to see who would receive. "That was the first we heard of the overtime period," he said.

Prior to overtime, the game was by no means perfect. Both teams managed a total of eight fumbles, but the New York Daily News reported in 1958 that one of the most incredible moments was the Giants coming from behind the Colts 14-3 lead at halftime. At the end of the fourth quarter, the score was tied at 17. The Giants won the coin toss, but they could not score, leaving the field open for the Colts.

The 1958 NFL championship game was televised

Football games on television are part of the modern-day American experience, but it hasn't always been that way. In 1958, football was not as popular as baseball, boxing, horse racing, or college football, according to The Baltimore Sun. However, 64,185 fans sat in the stands at the stadium (via NFL Insider), and 45 million people watched on television as Johnny Unitas led his team to a victory. The quarterback completed 26 of 40 passes with a total of 349 yards (via New York Daily News). Along with Unitas, the game included 16 future Hall of Fame players, including Giants halfback Frank Gifford (via History). Colts defensive back Milt Davis even played the game with two broken bones in his right foot, according to Boston.com.

If you're wondering about the second-greatest game ever played, you won't have to go too far back in history. According to 10 ballots cast in the NFL's poll, it was the 2017 Super Bowl when the New England Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons, coming back from a 28-3 loss to end up winning, per The Baltimore Sun.