Welcome to 2018.
In sports, as in everything else, we’re presented with a blank canvas that will be filled with events that will go down in history and will be discussed in future years. Not everything will be memorable, of course. But there will be happenings that will stand out and be reflected on and considered decades from now.
If we go back a half-century to what stood out in our little charmed circle of sports, those of us who remember distinctly, and those of us who are curious, may recall the joy, or the sadness, or where we might have been when these events occurred.
So let’s dive in.
Rewind to 1958. Fifty years ago. We start with a game played at the tail end of that year. December 28, to be exact. It was a contest that changed the face of professional football. Up until that moment, pro football was, in my opinion, one of the sports that bridged the gap between baseball seasons.
That all changed when the Baltimore Colts defeated the New York Giants 23-17 in the NFL Championship game.
Almost a decade before the advent of the Super Bowl.
Later called “the Greatest game ever played”, it was the first game ever decided in overtime.
The Colts and Giants were tied 17-all at the end of four-quarters. For the first time ever, the teams would play sudden-death overtime until there was a score to decide the game.
It was a thrilling and captivating turn of events played in Yankee Stadium in New York. The Colts scored when fullback Alan Ameche took a hand-off from quarterback Johnny Unitas one-yard from the end zone and bolted through a wide opening off the right side of the line and scored the winning touchdown.
That moment changed the face of the sport, and the rest is history. Sudden-death became a by-word in the NFL, now a big-time entity.
1958 was the year baseball saw the expansion of baseball to the west coast, when the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants left for Los Angeles and San Francisco respectively.
For the first time, the national pastime became truly national in scope.
For many who lived in New York’s Metropolitan area, it was heartbreaking to see their favorite teams leave home. For this reporter, a devout Giants fan, it was the last time he would ever be attached to a baseball team.
But for millions of those in southern California and the Bay Area, it was the start of a beautiful thing.
New York was left with only one team, the Yankees, and they won the World Series, beating the Milwaukee Braves in seven games. The Braves got the ball rolling on the movement of teams five years earlier departing Boston for Milwaukee.
In basketball, Kentucky won the NCAA title for a record fourth time. That mark would hold until the amazing run of championships by UCLA began in 1964 under legendary coach John Wooden.
In the NBA, the year of the hiccup for the great Boston Celtics dynasty. After having won its first crown the year before with the arrival of Bill Russell, the Celtics were beaten by the St. Louis Hawks, briefly interrupting a span of 11 titles in 13 years for the Celtics, who, in their own way, put professional basketball on the map.
Dynasties weren’t limited to baseball, and college and pro basketball. In the era of a league with only six teams, the Montreal Canadiens captured the NHL’s Stanley Cup, whipping the Toronto Maple Leafs.
How many out there remember when the NHL consisted of the Canadiens, Maple Leafs, the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings and
Chicago Black Hawks?
How times have changed in every sport.
Boxing would be remembered for two events fifty years ago. The magnificent Sugar Ray Robinson would break his own record becoming world Middleweight champion for the fifth time by defeating Carmen Basilio of Canastota, New York outside Syracuse.
The other memorable moment came when Archie Moore recovered from three falls in round one, and another in round five to knock out challenger Yvon Durelle to retain his Light-Heavyweight title in Montreal in what was considered one of boxing’s greatest fights of all time.
The legendary Arnold Palmer won the first of his four Masters titles in Augusta.
Tim Tam was the winner of the Kentucky Derby, and the Preakness but fractured a bone and lost his chance for the Triple Crown when he hobbled across the finish line and came in second at the Belmont Stakes.
Australians dominated Men’s tennis in 1958, as they did throughout the start of the decade. Ashley Cooper defeated fellow-countryman Malcolm Anderson in the Australian final.
Cooper won again at Wimbledon. This time, besting another Aussie, Neale Fraser. Mervyn Rose, still another Australian, but a veteran compared to the other young hot-shots from Down Under, grabbed the French Open crown on the famed red-clay in Paris. To complete the 1958 Grand Slam, it was Ashley Cooper, once again, holding the trophy at the U.S. Nationals at Forest Hills.
Amazingly, there were two other Australian tennis players who came up at the same time, who would go on to distinguish themselves far beyond
the accomplishments of Ashley Cooper, Mal Anderson and Neal Fraser.
The two? Rod Laver and Roy Emerson.
As we enter 2018, who will become the top performers, and which of the major sporting events will we remember 50 years from now?
Happy New Year!
1958 World Champions – New York Yankees
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