|Duration||September 28 -|
December 14, 1958
|East Champions||New York Giants (playoff)|
|West Champions||Baltimore Colts|
The Baltimore Colts defeated the New York Giants, 23-17, in the first sudden-death overtime in an NFL Championship Game. The game became known to American football fans as "The Greatest Game Ever Played."
The 1958 season is regarded as a watershed year in which the popularity of professional football in the United States began to rival that of baseball in the public imagination. "Professional football was beyond coming of age in 1958," one writer enthused, "it was on an even plane with baseball as the game of the people."
Stadium attendance was robust throughout the league, with crowds in excess of 100,000 twice filling the Los Angeles Coliseum to see the Los Angeles Rams, while the Detroit Lions managed to sell a staggering 42,000 season tickets in advance of the 1958 campaign, ensuring home sellouts at Briggs Stadium.
At the other end of the attendance spectrum, the Chicago Cardinals faltered with the live gate, overshadowed again by the legendary Bears. The team ultimately moved two of their home games for 1959 to Minneapolis before permanently departing for St. Louis the following year. Similarly, the Pittsburgh Steelers were disappointed with their attendance in their new home at Schenley Field, which proved difficult to access and provided a particularly windy and inhospitable place to watch a game. The team sought to remedy its problems by opting out of its two year lease.
Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown electrified football fans around the league by gaining more than 1,500 yards on 257 carries, an average of 5.9 yards per carry. The powerful Cleveland runner smashed the previous NFL record of 1,146 yards in a 12 game season, set by Steve Van Buren in 1949. He also nearly doubled the total of the second leading ground-gainer of 1958, fullback Alan Ameche of the Baltimore Colts. Brown's 17 touchdowns scored similarly dwarfed the tallies of any other player, with Colts end Raymond Berry second on the list with 9 scores.
Young wide receiver Del Shofner of the Los Angeles Rams led all receivers with 1,097 yards gained on 51 catches -- a bountiful average of 21.5 yards per completion. Baltimore quarterback Johnny Unitas made use of a plethora of offensive weapons, connecting with halfback Lenny Moore for nearly 950 yards and wide out Ray Berry for nearly 800 more, leading the league with 2,875 yards passing. Unitas' interception percentage of 2.7% was also a league low among starting quarterbacks.San Francisco 49ers QB John Brodie led the league with a completion percentage of 59.9%.
On the defensive side of the ball, defensive back James Patton of the New York Giants lead the league with 11 interceptions in the 12 game season, followed by Pittsburgh Steelers defender Jack Butler with 9. Quarterback sacks were not an official statistic in this era, but the league-low 183 points allowed by the New York Giants (15.25 per game) give testimony to the stoutness of their defensive unit.
The 1958 Colts-Giants title game was a milestone in the popularity of pro football, but the Giants almost did not qualify. The Cleveland Browns led the Eastern Conference title race up until the final week. On December 14, the 9-2 Browns visited the 8-3 Giants. As a snowstorm swept over Yankee Stadium, the Browns' 10-3 lead gave way to a 10-10 tie game on Frank Gifford's pass to Bob Schnelker, which would still have suited Cleveland. The Giants' Pat Summerall missed a 31-yard field goal with 4½ minutes left. With two minutes to play, Summerall had another opportunity from 49 yards out, in inclement weather and connected for a 13-10 win. The Browns and Giants finished with 9-3 records, and in the playoff the next week, the Giants won again at Yankee Stadium, 10-0.
The Western Conference race was over after ten games, with the Colts at 9-1, and the Bears and Rams mathematically eliminated at 6-4. The Colts lost their final two games on the road in California to finish at 9-3, a game ahead of Chicago and Los Angeles.
The Green Bay Packers finished with a league-worst record of 1-10-1 and hired Vince Lombardi, offensive coach of the Giants, as head coach in January 1959. Philadelphia finished tied for worst in the East, at 2-9-1. Two years later, both the Eagles and Packers would play for the championship.
W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, PCT= Winning Percentage, PF= Points For, PA = Points Against
Note: The NFL did not officially count tie games in the standings until 1972
Eastern Conference Playoff Game
NFL Championship Game