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Tuesday, May 1
Updated: May 11, 1:23 PM ET
Title game wasn't that great for '58 Colts

By Eddie Epstein
Special to

Editor's note: Our series on the greatest NFL teams of all time continues with its second installment and a look at the 1958 Colts. The greatest team ever will be revealed on Tuesday, May 15.

Baltimore Colts quarterback John Unitas threw for a league-best 19 touchdowns in 1958.

Yeah, yeah, the game. The Greatest Game Ever Played. The Game That Changed Pro Football. What you probably don't know is that many, if not most, of the players on the 1958 Baltimore Colts do not think that the 1958 NFL championship game was the greatest ever or even the greatest they ever played in.

The Colts' Hall-of-Fame defensive end Gino Marchetti: "To me, the biggest game we played and the one I'll always remember most was not the '58 championship game, but the one on November 30 that year at Memorial Stadium when we clinched the Western Conference against the 49ers." The Colts trailed 27-7 at halftime but rallied to win 35-27 and clinch a spot in the NFL title game.

John Unitas: "I've always felt that it (the '58 championship game) wasn't a real good football game until the last two minutes, and then the overtime ... Just the fact that it was the first overtime in championship play and it happened in Madison Avenue's backyard, that was enough to make people feel they had seen something fantastic.

1958 Colts
  • Record: 9-3
  • Points scored/allowed: 381/203
  • Adjusted power index: +6.02
  • Opponents' record: 64-63-5 (.504)*
  • Record against teams with winning records: 3-2
  • Points scored/allowed against teams with winning records: 151/99
    *For all of these opponents' records, games against this team are excluded.
  • "They always forget that the month before, in the game we clinched the division and put us into the playoff, San Francisco had us down 27-7 at the half and we came back to beat 'em 35-27. That was a much better game."

    The Colts' Hall-of-Fame back Lenny Moore: "I thought the best game we ever played as a team in my years with the Colts was the one when we were down 27-7 to the 49ers in '58 and came back to win."

    The 1958 NFL championship game was no doubt an important game in NFL history, but as many of the combatants would tell you, it wasn't the greatest game ever played. Anyone want to nominate the first Colts-49ers game in 1958?

    Tidbit: Although the Colts of the late 1950s are known primarily for Unitas and their offense, their defense was very good as well. Two of the defensive lineman, Marchetti and Art Donovan, are in the Hall of Fame. The team was also amazing at intercepting passes. Take a look:

    1958 Team Interceptions   1959 Team Interceptions  
    Baltimore 35 Baltimore 40
    Los Angeles 28 Chicago Bears 22
    Pittsburgh 24 Pittsburgh 22
    Chicago Bears 22 New York 22
    Detroit 22 Philadelphia 20
    New York 21 Cleveland 18
    San Francisco 16 Chicago Cardinals 15
    Washington 16 San Francisco 14
    Cleveland 16 Green Bay 14
    Philadelphia 15 Detroit 14
    Chicago Cardinals 15 Washington 13
    Green Bay 13 Los Angeles 7

    One school of thought is that the Colts intercepted a lot of passes because they were usually ahead and forced the other team to throw a lot. Wrong. In 1958, they intercepted 9.6 percent of their opponents' passes; the second-best team was 7.3 percent and the league average was 6.2. In 1959, the Colts intercepted 11.4 percent of their opponents' passes; the second-best team was 7.7 percent and the league average was 6.0. They intercepted a lot of passes because they got very good pass pressure and had good linebackers and defensive backs. The fact that they were usually ahead was only a minor factor.

    Eddie Epstein works as a consultant to major league baseball teams. He is the co-author, along with's Rob Neyer, of "Baseball Dynasties: The Greatest Teams of All Time." He has been a regular contributor to's baseball coverage and is a huge football fan.

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