When Steve Myhra kicked his field goal in the last seconds of regulation time to tie up the "Greatest Game Ever Played," I had my head buried in my father's shoulder. I remember the feel of his wool overcoat against my nose.
It was Dec. 28, 1958, and the Baltimore Colts--my Colts--were on the verge of blowing the NFL title game to the New York Giants. My father and I were sitting in the middle deck of Yankee Stadium, at the opposite end from the kick. The view was perfect, but I couldn't bear it when Myhra charged onto the field with the clock running. He was anything but automatic. He had converted only 4 of 10 field goal opportunities that season.
"What happened?" I asked.
"He made it!"
I looked up to see Myhra whirling and leaping, and George Shaw, the holder, clapping as he ran off the field.
Watching overtime was easier because Johnny Unitas was at the controls. He marched the Colts down the field, just as he did when he introduced the two-minute drill (although it wasn't called that yet) to set up Myhra's field goal. Alan Ameche made the last yard and Colts fans spilled onto the field to celebrate. On television, it came across as a masterpiece in black-and-white and ushered pro football into a new era. Final: 23-17, Colts. It remains the only overtime NFL title game.
That evening, my father and I took the Pennsy home to Baltimore, returning as if from enemy soil. The train was crowded, but he found two seats in the dining car. I had on a heavy brown wool suit that stuck to my legs in the steamy heat coming from the kitchen next to us. We ate prime rib.
In January 1969, the Colts played the New York Jets in Super Bowl III in Miami's Orange Bowl. Now my seat was in the press box; I was being paid to write about games.
The Colts were 17-point favorites. In Baltimore, a bookie gave 40 points! But Jets quarterback Joe Namath guaranteed an upset victory. More surprisingly, he delivered. The Colts became the first NFL team to lose a title game to a team from the upstart American Football League, confirming the credentials of the AFL teams that soon were to be merged with the established league.
On the game-turning play--what should have been a Baltimore touchdown pass just before the half--Earl Morrall, subbing most of that season for an injured Unitas, failed to see a wide-open Jimmy Orr, who was obvious to almost everyone else in the stadium. Orr waved frantically for the ball--to no avail. Final: 16-7, Jets.
I had witnessed the two most significant games in the history of pro football, although in the immediate aftermath I took no solace from such a thought. I visited both locker rooms, then hurried across the field and up the steps of the empty stadium to the press box to write. I was still breathing hard when a colleague looked me in the face, which apparently was pallid. "You're not going to die, are you?" he asked. I had to bury my feelings as I sat down behind my clunky portable typewriter to attempt an objective report. I did what I could.
William Gildea has written about sports for The Washington Post since 1965.
CAPTION: A frozen moment for Baltimore Colts fans: Alan Ameche scores the touchdown that gave his team the 1958 NFL championship in overtime.