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"The Greatest Game": A Fan's Perspective
By Bill Hughes
In December,1958, I was working on the Baltimore docks as a longshoreman for the Alcoa
Steamship Co. I was living in Locust Point and was a Colts fan right from the start. Like
many from the south side, I was excited about the upcoming championship game against the
Giants. After a very good 1957 season, the Colts looked like the real thing in '58, with
John Unitas, Lenny Moore and Raymond Berry having banner years.
It may be difficult for pro sports fans of this era to realize with the megabucks Orioles'
Camden Yards facility and Ravens' stadium, but back in the late 50s, Baltimore was
considered a hick town. In fact, it was boring, too. There was no "Harborplace",
National Aquarium, Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Morris Mechanic Theatre, Center Stage, or $800
million subway system to be found. This was also long before the "Do-It- Now
Mayor", the incomparable William Donald Schaefer, arrived on the municipal scene to
do his unique version of urban renewal.
That other great attraction, "Fells Point", wasn't even on the tourist map.
Then, it was just a run down neighborhood featuring decaying warehouses and
pot-hole-filled streets, drunks, and sleazy pubs, that even "Elvis" wouldn't be
found dead in. Although, the city has just gotten a new major league baseball franchise,
(thanks to the herculean efforts of then-Mayor Thommy "The Elder" D'Alesandro),
the no-names Orioles were a pathetic joke. In short, in 1958, Baltimore City was a
My unchecked enthusiasm, however, at age 21, led me to buy two tickets for the contest and
to take my Highlandtown girlfriend with me. The tickets cost $4 each! Today, $4 might get
you a large beer at a Ravens game, but not much more. The Baltimore Sun ran a photo of
some of us lucky fans lining up at Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street to buy the Colts/Giant
ducats. I was thrilled to see my mug in it. I was looking forward to driving to New
York for the game, my first trip there, but decided at the last minute to take a train
from Penn Station. We left early that morning, Sunday, Dec. 28, and were lucky to get a
seat. It was very crowded.
After arriving in New York, we took the subway to the Bronx and to fabled "Yankee
Stadium". I had a rush of adrenalin when I first sighted that legendary arena, a/k/a,
"The House that Ruth Built". When we got to our seats, the usher politely
wiped them off and then stuck out his hand. I thought to myself, "He wants to welcome
me to New York by shaking my hand." I quickly found out by the look on his frowning
face that he wanted a (gasp) tip! Under coercion, I gave him a quarter.
I was pleased to see other southsiders at the event, like John "Hopit" Haspert,
Emmet Prenger and Eli Burkum. Soon, after the game started, I got another jolt from the
New Yorkers. When we would stand to cheer for the Colts, the locals would invariably yell
at us in a loud mocking voice, "Sit down you farmers!" I had never thought of
myself as being a farmer, although my late mother, Nora Thornton, was raised on a farm in
the west of Ireland.
I'll leave the actual description of the rightly-labeled "Greatest Game" to the
sport writers. My memories of it, however, will forever center around the dramatic final
touchdown run by Alan "The Horse" Ameche, the pin point passing of quarterback
Unitas, and the record breaking 12 receptions by the end Berry.
The train ride back to Baltimore was a special trip unto itself. The happy Baltimore fans
were at a "Mach-3" level of unbridled celebration. Some of them were carrying
parts of the goal post with them, others could barely walk to their seats from having
one-beer-too many. It was a party train like no other. It lasted right through to our
landing at Penn Station and spilled out into the joyful night on to Charles Street.
I felt then as I still feel today, that the victory by the Colts over the Giants, on that
memorable day, by a score of 23-17, in the first NFL televised overtime championship game,
placed the city in the pantheon of pro sports towns. The Colts' victory also proved to me,
and to many others of my
generation, that Baltimore City was a winner, too!
Bill Hughes is a Baltimore attorney, author and actor and former columnist for The
Published in The Baltimore Chronicle, December, 1998 issue.
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