ESPN Mostly Misses With “Greatest Game” Broadcast

December 13, 2008 | Glenn Clark

10:57-I can’t help but admit how disappointed I was with this broadcast. I can’t help but feel as though ESPN did an EXTREMELY poor job by putting ANY focus on the current Colts and Giants; instead of putting the ENTIRE focus on the remarkable game itself. There was no need for the feel-good stuff, stupid questions, and awkward smiles from the likes of Freeney and Pierce; who really didn’t seem particularly interested. The best analysis in the entire broadcast clearly came from the players who played in the game; as well as the likes of Leifer, Levinson, Gildea, Wolff, and Anderson; who offered engaging perspective on the significance of the game itself.

There is no doubt in my mind that when the Giants finished off the Patriots last February; some producer walked into a meeting and said “Do you realize that the Colts and Giants will have won the last two Super Bowls going into the 50th anniversary of the Greatest Game Ever Played? We have to make a big deal about this!” This might have been an interesting concept on that particular day; but 10 months later, the broadcast didn’t need any of the garbage regarding the last two champions. It was downright stupid to try to compare the teams; as the current significance of the game has nothing to do with who won recent Super Bowls.

The only argument for the inclusion of the current players would be for those football fans who are SO new to the game that they wouldn’t have even watched the film without having players they recognized involved. I don’t know how big this group of people is; but I don’t imagine the inclusion of Chris Snee or Adam Vinatieri encouraged anyone in particular to watch the event.

ESPN attempted to address the significance of the game to the city of Baltimore; but BADLY missed. The significance of the ’58 title game is still seen every day in this city by witnessing the passion the town still has for their Colts; and how the Colts came together with football fans in the city to embrace the Ravens so greatly. Instead of using a package to explain this; ESPN attempted to tie the significance of the ’58 game to Peyton Manning. With no offense to Peyton Manning whatsoever; he has no ties to this game 50 years ago; and it was almost uncomfortable watching the Worldwide Leader attempt to force the comparison.

I think ESPN did a good thing tonight, all told. I think they used a Saturday night with little sports competition to attempt to teach a history lesson. They used an entire week of programming on TV and online to also promote that history lesson; which is a good thing as well. But when it came to the show itself; there was too much filler and not enough meat. I never felt as though I was watching a game played 50 years ago; and I don’t feel as though someone watching REALLY learned a fair history lesson tonight.

The game could have been cut up in incriments; with roundtable discussions following each piece of the game. The broadcast should have been THE GAME. You think they might have known this considering the title of the show; but this really was THE GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED. Games like that don’t need much additives. In an era when ESPN re-broadcasts games 2 days later and calls them “Classic”; it’s hard to imagine they didn’t realize that this game itself was more important than what football players thought about it.

That’s it for me tonight. Let’s go Ravens tomorrow! Talk to you tomorrow night.


10:53-Berman points out that Ewbank would move on to coach the Jets; and would win the two most important games in football history. He then touches on the legacy of Giants assistants Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi. The broadcast signs off with a list of the 17 people involved in the game who went on the Hall of Fame.

10:51-Lots of comparisons to the two most recent Super Bowl champions; and a “mutual admiration society” between current and former players. I can’t help but feel as though this “touchiness” was completely unnecessary.

10:48-Sumerall and Gifford amongst others admit that they had no idea how important the game was when they played it. Anderson says watching the game inspired Lamar Hunt to add professional football teams in more cities across the country. Leifer says Unitas’ career helped the game’s “great” reputation grow. Levinson says that in Baltimore; the game was IMMEDIATELY the greatest ever. Dungy says the current Colts feel a “bond” to the Baltimore Colts despite the move to Indianapolis.

10:47-Donovan says the players were “like kings” going back to Baltimore, and “nothing like this had ever happened” to Baltimore. Bill Wolff does a nice job of explaining why the game was “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”

10:45-Levinson describes the title as an “exhilarating moment”, considering how the “small city” Colts were able to dramatically defeat the big bad Giants.

10:42-A massive throng of Colts fans rushed the field following the game; including colts fans taking down the goal posts. Current Colts players marvel at how so many Colts fans were there in New York to celebrate.

10:40-One play later; Moore throws a great block, and Ameche goes in for the 1 yard TD-giving the Colts a 23-17 win in overtime. Gildea discusses how Unitas did not even celebrate after watching his back score the game winner. Leifer says that people had stopped paying attention to where he was; which allowed him to take the legendary picture of Ameche from only 10 yards away.

10:37-Unitas goes to Ameche on first and goal; Leifer discusses how then Colts owner Carol Rosenbloom was a compulsive gambler; and may have told the team to go for a TD to cover the spread. On 2nd down; Unitas goes to Mutscheller; potentially risking an interception. Anderson asked Unitas about the risk after the game; and Unitas said “when you know what you’re doing”, you don’t get intercepted.

10:36-Before first and goal from the 8; a fan runs out on the field. The analysts discuss how this might have happened because the TV broadcast had lost the picture. A NBC employee was the fan who ran on the field; allowing the network time to fix the missing cable.

10:34-Alex Sandusky admitted to having been “beat” by Dick Modzelewski earlier on this drive, allowing Unitas to be sacked. You forget just how good these teams were; as despite Gifford saying that the Giants were tired and had been picked apart been Unitas; the great players were still making plays.

10:32-Inside the 20; the Colts continued to move towards the endzone instead of settling for a FG attempt. A pass to Berry goes inside the 10; Vinatieri calls the slant route “gutsy.”

10:30-Unitas gets GREAT protection on 3rd and 15; and finds Raymond Berry for ANOTHER first down. Ameche then breaks off a long run to get the Colts in scoring position. Moore says the Ameche play was a “great call”, as it caught Huff out of position.

10:29-Dupree runs for a first down; then Ameche hauls in a first down to get the Colts moving the ball. Moore admits the team was “leaning on Johnny U the whole way.”

10:28-Ordell Braase makes the stop as Conerly rolls to his right on 3rd and 6; but only found 4. Gino Marchetti had stayed to watch the game from the sideline; but police forced him to leave the field.

10:25-Donovan McNabb didn’t know a game could end in a tie; but the players on the field in ’58 had no idea a game could go to overtime.

Disaster almost struck immediately for the Giants; as Don Maynard fumbled the opening kickoff off the extra period; but the Giants recovered. Given the sudden death nature of overtime; the Giants felt as though they just needed to get into field goal range to let Sumerall win the game.

10:23-For all of the talk of things like John Elway and “The Drive”; it is easy to forget just how remarkable this drive was given all of the circumstances. Unitas and Berry’s work in Training Camp clearly paid off; as “Unitas to Berry” was heard over and over again on the drive. Given the fact that most teams didn’t really know you could even score in such a short amount of time; this was particularly remarkable.

10:22-Author Gildea admits he couldn’t watch the play; and buried his head in his father’s coach. Myhra hits the short field goal; and we’re tied at 17 at the end of regulation.

10:21-Dungy again compares the ’58 Colts offense to his current team. Unitas goes to Berry for a THIRD time; then Myhra enters the game to try a 20 yard field goal. Marchetti says the Colts were “worried” about Myhra’s kick with 10 seconds left because he had been playing LB for most of the game.

10:20-Unitas to Berry for ANOTHER first down with 45 seconds left. You really don’t get the sense of what kind of drama was unfolding here.

10:18-Unitas tried to go to “Long Gone” L.G. Dupree; but couldn’t get him. Suddenly, Unitas goes to Raymond Berry; who uses some nifty moves to get the Colts past midfield.

10:17-Gildea says there was no such thing as a “Two minute drill” before this game. Al Barry says that when the Colts got the ball back; he was already discussing what a championship ring would look like. Unitas completes a HUGE 3rd and 10 pass to Lenny Moore; who says he ran 12 yards and came back to make the catch.

10:15-The best analyst pairing thus far has been from two who didn’t even play in the game. Barry Levinson and Neil Leifer have been outstanding. Tirico has done a solid job-but he’s more studio host than analyst-as has Wolff. The players who played in the game should have been talking to each other; not modern players.

10:13-Summerall, Gifford, and Greir all say that the Giants players wanted Jim Lee Howell to go for it on 4th and inches. Howell decides to punt; a decision Dungy says he would have made as well.

Colts get the ball back with 2:20 to play; needing a field goal to tie; or a TD to go ahead.

In the first 75 minutes of this broadcast; the forensic mapping is CLEARLY the best thing ESPN producers have done.

10:10-ESPN returns to a forensic mapper to explain how Gifford was almost exactly 9 inches short of the first down; despite the fact that Gifford still struggles to believe he didn’t make it.

10:07-A 3rd and 3 described as a “crucial play” goes to Gifford; who gets close to the sticks on the right side. On the same play; Marchetti is badly hurt, and a stretcher is brought onto the field. Many players debate whether the official might have moved the ball back during the confusion on the play because of the Marchetti injury.

10:05-The Giants are looking to melt the clock late; and Conerly finds Webster for a big first down with about 4 minutes to play.

10:04-Just over an hour into the broadcast; and we’re already midway through the 4th quarter. Removing commercials, there’s probably only been about 45-50 minutes of programming. The lack of showing the actual game remains disappointing.

10:02-The Colts’ next drive ends when Bert Rechicher leaves a 46 yard field goal short. The score remains 17-14 Giants in the 4th.

10:01-On the next Giants drive; Conerly throws a deep ball to Bob Schnelker, then finds Frank Gifford for a 15 yard TD pass. The Giants take a 17-14 lead in the 4th quarter.

9:56-Clearly the goal-line stand was a momentum shift in the game; as Conerly through a deep ball that Kyle Rote caught and advanced past midfield; where he fumbled. The fumble was recovered by Alex Webster; who took the ball down to the 1 yard line. Multiple players discussed whether Webster would have been given a TD could the Giants challenge the play. Two plays later; Mel Triplett plunged in for the TD; and the Giants cut the lead to 14-10.

Former New York Times writer Dave Anderson informs us that Lew Alcindor attended the game; and wore the number 33 in honor of Triplett.

9:54-Berry describes the Colts’ inability to capitalize on that drive as leaving him in “disgust.”

The most difficult part of this broadcast for me is that those analyzing the game are being shown on the screen during the plays. Instead of having the play shown with analysis in the background; the broadcast makes the analysis seem more important than the game itself. Very frustrating.

9:52-Moore reminds Jacobs that the field at Yankee Stadium was frozen that day; as the Colts are stopped 4 straight times from inside the 2 on a crucial drive in the 3rd quarter; where the Colts had a chance to extend their lead to 21-3. Ameche was stopped on a pitch-out on 4th down-he was supposed to throw the ball to Mutscheller, who was wide open in the endzone.

9:50-Opening the 2nd half; Weeb Ewbank is not happy with how Sam Huff is roughing up his guys. Levinson is wowed by a remarkable catch made by Mutscheller  on the 3rd drive of the half.

9:47-A very nice touch by ESPN goes sour; as they ended the package on the cheerleaders and the band by showing the footage of the Mayflower truck taking the Colts out of Baltimore; and had the band members discuss just how empty that feeling was for those in Baltimore.

HOWEVER, the package turns particularly sour as the cheerleaders then discuss how Peyton Manning ended the “curse” of the Colts because he is so similar to Johnny Unitas. Another attempt to wash the Colts’ move; and not even a reference to the return of the NFL with the Ravens. VERY POOR work by ESPN there; as ending that package with the sadness of the city of Baltimore OR with the joy of the return of the Ravens would have been much more fitting.

9:45-A Colts cheerleader tells a funny story of how they performed a “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” performance at halftime; but in black and white it appeared as though they weren’t wearing leotards. The trombone player-Bill Miller-admits that the band played the fight song 56 times that day; and that his mouth was bloodied by the time he got back.

9:42-Berman tells us that the Baltimore Colts marching band played the halftime show at the ’58 title game. Barry Levinson discusses how he used the Colts’ fight song in the wedding scene from “Diner”, a clip ESPN showed. ESPN then talks to members of the Colts marching band and cheerleaders; who also discussed the importance of the Colts to the city of Baltimore. Nice touch by the ESPN producers here.

9:39-Unitas finds Berry for a 15 yard TD pass; and the Colts lead 14-3. Going back to the Colts’ first TD; Berry said that while trying to block for Ameche; he had fallen on top of Jim Parker; who then blocked Rosey Grier. Bob Wolff says the Colts thought the game was about over taking their 14-3 lead to halftime.

Expect more game footage the rest of the way; as Wolff says the 2nd half footage remained in tact. Unfortunate that more first half footage couldn’t be recovered; and/or ESPN couldn’t find a better way to piece their first half footage together.

9:37-We get our first Unitas-Berry story from author Bill Gildea; who discusses how the pair would continuously work on route running and pass catching well after practice would end in Westminster.

Lenny Moore admits he was hurt in the 2nd quarter; but had to stay in the game as a receiver to remain a decoy so the Giants’ defense wouldn’t know he was hurt.

9:34-Ameche then finishes off the drive for the first TD of the game. Colts lead 7-3 in the 2nd quarter. Colts stop the Giants after one first drive; but the Colts fumbled the punt return. Frank Gifford then also fumbled the ball as the Giants were marching towards the endzone. Unitas attempts to go deep downfield; but Lindon Crow makes the solid coverage. Crow admits to Steve Smith that defensive backs could get away with more 50 years ago.

9:33-The Giants turn the ball over on their next drive; Mutscheller admits that the game was not quite as pretty as the “Greatest Game” monicker given. Alan Ameche picks up a big first down on the Colts’ ensuing drive.

9:29-Love Neil Leifer’s story regarding how he got onto the field to take pictures. He would volunteer to help wheel around patients from the Veteran’s Hospital. Smart kid; it obviously changed his life.

The analysis would be better if it came other times during the broadcast. After plays; after quarters, etc. I understand that part of the problem is that some of the game video doesn’t exist; but this game is bigger than any analysis that can be given.

9:26-On the ensuing drive; a big run from Gifford takes the Giants into Colts territory. Snee and Freeney chime in with interesting information regarding how O-Line blocking has changed over 50 years; as you COULD NOT hold in ’58; but everyone often gets away with holding today.

Sumerall nails a 36 yard field goal to open the game’s scoring; and the Giants take a 3-0 lead.

9:23-The Colts and Giants players thus far don’t appear to be offering particularly much; especially Freeney, and Jacobs.

Steve Myhra’s first FG attempt was missed after a bad snap; but an offsides call on the Giants negated it. Instead, Sam Huff blocked Myhra’s 2nd FG attempt.

9:21-So far too much analysis, not enough game. Players asking silly or awkward questions or each other, even questions they clearly already know the answers for. Game includes multiple turnovers before Unitas burns Lindon Crow on a bomb to Lenny Moore down to about the Giants’ 30.

9:11-Gino Marchetti, Gifford, and Tom Coughlin are together on analysis. Michael Smith of ESPN admits that he doesn’t know much about Frank Gifford the player. Why is he involved in this? Pat Sumerall and Adam Vinatieri are also involved in this. Gifford says the players on the Giants team didn’t much respect Coach Jim Lee Howell; as the coaching was done by coordinators Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry. He also said the players didn’t understand Howell’s decision to rotate QB’s Charlie Conerly and Don Heinrich. Al Barry, Chris Snee, and Rosey Greir team up for O-Line analysis; as do Steve Smith and Lindon Crow.

9:09-Johnny U brought a streak of 25 consecutive games with a TD pass into the game. Jim Mutscheller and Antonio Pierce are also doing analysis; as are Alex Sandusky and Dwight Freeney. Sandusky tells Freeney that athletes weren’t quite as glamorous as today’s are. Lenny Moore tells Brandon Jacobs that players made just over $10,000; and thought they were “rich.”

9:07-Mike Tirico and Bob Wolff, Art Donovan and Michael Strahan set up the background. Donovan says the Colts did not arrive much in advance of the game. Neil Leifer and Barry Levinson discuss what the game meant to those in Baltimore. Raymond Berry and Tony Dungy are also paired up for analysis.

9:05-Good job by Berman of setting up the background-funny to think about the fact that John Unitas missed the team’s regular season matchup due to bruised ribs and a punctured lung. You think anyone would come back from that this season?

9:00-Immediately host Chris Berman begins the broadcast by linking the Baltimore Colts to the Indianapolis Colts; comparing Johnny U to Peyton Manning. This will make some uncomfortable; but it particularly understandable given the fact that the Colts and Giants have won the last two Super Bowls. Berman is hosting from Monument Park in Yankee Stadium.

8:58-I have no idea how this is going to go; but I figured we’d give it a try. This will be a half “live blog” as if the game was live; and a half “live blog” of the production ESPN has put together. Feel free to clue me in regarding anything I might miss or not know. I have read “The Best Game Ever” by Mark Bowden and the lengthy chapter on the game in Tom Callahan’s “Johnny U”; and have begun reading “Glory Game” by Frank Gifford, but I don’t know everything. Let’s see how this goes.