NEW YORK (AP) -On Dec. 28, 1958, a teenager grabbed an early train from New York to Philadelphia to watch on television as his beloved Giants played the Baltimore Colts in the NFL championship game at Yankee Stadium - in those years, all home games were blacked out in the area where they were played.
A few hours later, a friend called the youth's home to say he had gotten tickets. Too late. The teenager - me - watched a 17-inch black-and-white tube as John Unitas drove Baltimore down the field for the tying score, then Alan Ameche went in from a yard out in overtime to give the Colts a 23-17 victory.
It was a great game. But was it the greatest?
Over the years, the title ``greatest game ever played'' has been bestowed on the Colts' victory, and later this season the NFL will celebrate its 50th anniversary. You can certainly make a case it was the greatest ever.
It was the first game decided in overtime, and involved 15 future Hall of Famers, six Colts, six Giants and three coaches - Weeb Ewbank of the Colts and assistants Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry of the Giants.
Because it was played in New York, it received the kind of attention the NFL rarely got in those years, when it took a back seat to baseball. The networks and advertising agencies took notice and the NFL began an upward climb that led to today's multi-billion dollar television contracts.
``All of a sudden the networks woke up and saw they had to have football,'' the late Roone Arledge noted. Twelve years later, as president of ABC sports, he was instrumental in bringing ``Monday Night Football'' to the nation.
The Colts-Giants game also helped turn a 12-team league into two leagues of 22 teams.
The NFL expanded in 1960 to Dallas and in '61 to Minnesota. In 1960, the eight-team American Football League was formed. The leagues would merge a decade later.
So make Colts-Giants the most important game every played.
But there were plenty of others that could contend for the title of ``greatest'' - whether that means epic, thrilling or even bizarre.
Here are some that have to be on the list. Apologies in advance if your favorite didn't make it.
deflected off either Oakland's Jack Tatum or Pittsburgh's Frenchy Fuqua to Franco Harris, who caught it at his shoetops and ran in for a TD. In those days, a pass that bounced off an offensive player was illegal, and the debate continues 36 years later over which player it hit.
Like the Colts-Giants game in New York, it wasn't televised in Pittsburgh and the uproar got the Pennsylvania legislature involved in pressing the NFL to change its TV policy and allow sold-out home games to be televised.
Two other amazing endings are worth a mention - the ``Miracle of the Meadowlands'' and the ``Music City Miracle.''
-Nov. 19, 1978, East Rutherford, N.J. The Giants led the Eagles 17-12 in the final minute and Philadelphia had no timeouts. Instead of kneeling, New York quarterback Joe Pisarcik tried to hand off to Larry Csonka. The ball came loose, Philadelphia cornerback Herman Edwards grabbed it and ran 26 yards for the winning touchdown.
In the aftermath, New York cleaned out its front office and coaching staff and started fresh under new general manager George Young. He eventually hired Bill Parcells, who coached the team to two Super Bowl wins and a string of playoff appearances.
-Jan. 8, 2000, Nashville. Steve Christie kicked a field goal to give Buffalo a 16-15 lead over Tennessee with 16 seconds remaining in a first-round playoff game. The Bills kicked off, and the Titans' Lorenzo Neal grabbed the ball and handed it to Frank Wycheck. Wycheck threw across the field to Kevin Dyson, who ran 75 yards for a touchdown. The Bills protested loudly that it was an illegal forward pass, but replay upheld the TD. Tennessee went on to the Super Bowl, where Dyson was involved in another landmark play.
The Bills were not only on the losing end of the Titans' miracle, they also missed their chance at pulling off a dramatic win in Super Bowl XXV. The Giants beat them 20-19 when Scott Norwood's potential game-winning field goal from 47 yards went wide right. Buffalo fans still replay that, but it was a long kick for Norwood and far from a sure thing.
The game was the first of four straight Super Bowl losses for the Bills, who did have their moments of glory during that run - like the greatest comeback ever. That was a 41-38 overtime win in the 1993 playoffs over Houston. Buffalo trailed 35-3 in the third quarter and came back behind Frank Reich, the backup for an injured Jim Kelly.
Jan. 12, 1969. New York Jets 16, Baltimore 7. The third Super Bowl, an otherwise boring game, proved that an AFL team could play with an NFL power. Joe Namath guaranteed that New York, an 18-point underdog, would win and he probably was voted MVP because of it and because his persona gave the young league an identity. The real MVP was Matt Snell, who rushed for 121 yards. The following year, Kansas City dominated Minnesota and parity between the leagues was established. They merged for the 1970 season.
Dec. 24, 1950. Cleveland 30, Los Angeles 28 for the NFL championship. The Browns, coached by Paul Brown, dominated the All American Football Conference, going 52-4-3 and winning all four titles. They were so strong, the league folded and the Browns moved into the NFL. They didn't lose a step, finishing 10-2 and winning the American Conference. Then Otto Graham threw four touchdown passes to beat the Rams in a title game between teams that in 1946 signed the first black players of the modern era - Marion Motley and Bill Willis by Cleveland; Kenny Washington and Woody Strode by Los Angeles.
Irony: The Rams had moved from Cleveland after the 1945 season, leaving a void that the Browns filled.
Jan. 10, 1982 (San Francisco 28, Dallas 27) and Jan. 11, 1987 (Denver 23, Cleveland 20, overtime). Signature drives in conference championship games by signature quarterbacks, Joe Montana and John Elway.
The 49ers' drive is known for ``The Catch'' - Dwight Clark's leaping grab in the back of the end zone for the winning TD with 51 seconds left. The drive, which started with 4:54 remaining, was an 89-yard masterpiece of play-calling by coach Bill Walsh and execution by Montana. The 49ers went on to beat the Bengals in the Super Bowl, the first of four titles in the '80s and five between 1981 and 1994.
Another notable Montana drive happened on Jan. 22, 1989. That one went 92 yards in 11 plays to beat Cincinnati 20-16 in the Super Bowl. Montana capped it with a 10-yard pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds left.
Elway's drive began on his own 2-yard line with the Broncos trailing the Browns 20-13 and 5:32 to play in regulation. It included a 20-yard completion to Mark Jackson on third and 18. Elway had to pick the snap up off the ground because it hit the motion man. (``I've had nightmares about that play ever since,'' says Marty Schottenheimer, who coached the Browns.) It ended with 31 seconds left on a 5-yard TD pass to Jackson. Rich Karlis' 33-yard field goal in overtime sent the Broncos to the Super Bowl.
Jan 2, 1981. San Diego 41, Miami 38, overtime. The Chargers blew an early 24-0 lead. But in perhaps the most remarkable individual performance ever, San Diego's Kellen Winslow caught 13 passes for 166 yards and blocked what would have been a game-winning field goal by Uwe von Schamann with four seconds left in regulation. Exhausted, Winslow had to be helped off the field after the game played in 85-degree Miami heat. A week later, the Chargers had to play the AFC title game in wind chills below minus-50 in Cincinnati and lost 27-7.
One more overtime note: On Christmas Day, 1971, Miami beat Kansas City 27-24 on Garo Yepremian's 37-yard field goal with 7:20 left in the second overtime period, the longest game ever played.
Jan. 30, 2000. St. Louis 23, Tennessee 16. If not for the Music City Miracle, the Titans wouldn't have been there. This one ended with Mike Jones tackling the aforementioned Kevin Dyson a yard short of the goal line on the final play to preserve the Rams' victory. St. Louis, the NFL's dominant team all year, led 16-0, the Titans rallied to tie it, then Kurt Warner's 73-yard pass to Isaac Bruce with 1:54 left gave St. Louis the lead.
Steve McNair brought the Titans back: 1 yard and 1 second short.
Other super endings in a decade of memorable title games include the one last Feb. 3, when New England's run at the first-ever 19-0 season ended in a 17-14 upset by the Giants on Eli Manning's 13-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left. That final drive was marked by one of the most remarkable plays in NFL history - David Tyree's 32-yard catch against his head after a Houdini-like escape from New England's pass rush by Manning.
little more than a minute after Jake Delhomme's 12-yard pass to Ricky Proehl had tied it.
Dec. 31, 1967. Green Bay 21, Dallas 17. The Ice Bowl of legend, although the temperatures in this NFL title game - an estimated wind chill of minus-48 - weren't as cold as they were in Cincinnati 13 seasons later. With the Cowboys leading 17-14, 16 seconds left and no timeouts, Vince Lombardi, now the Packers' coach, opted to go for the win and not a game-tying field goal. Bart Starr ran a sneak and got into the end zone. ``Well, run it and let's get the hell out of here,'' Lombardi said during the timeout that led up to the deciding play.
What fans often forget is that the two teams played another epic championship game a year earlier. An interception in the end zone of the Cotton Bowl by Tom Brown in the waning moments preserved Green Bay's 34-27 win. That sent Green Bay into the first Super Bowl.
-On Nov. 17, 1940, the Washington Redskins beat the Chicago Bears 7-3 in a regular-season game. Afterward, Washington owner George Preston Marshall called the Bears ``crybabies and quitters,'' a comment used as bulletin board material by Chicago coach George Halas when they met again for the championship three weeks later.
With the Bears using the newly minted T-formation, Bill Osmanski ran 68 yards for a touchdown on the second play of the game; Charlie Malone dropped a sure TD pass for Washington on the next series and the rout was on.
Final score: Chicago 73, Washington 0. To this day, the worst beating in NFL history.
-Dec. 9, 1934. New York Giants 30, Chicago Bears 13. The unbeaten Bears took a 10-3 lead over the 8-5 Giants at halftime of the NFL championship game on a frozen field at the Polo Grounds. Steve Owen, the Giants' coach, sent his equipment manager, Abe Cohen, to find better footwear. Joined by Wellington Mara, the 18-year-old son of the owner, Cohen went to nearby Manhattan College and came back with a full set of sneakers. After Chicago went up 13-3 in the third quarter, the Giants used their traction advantage to score 27 points in the fourth and win ``The Sneaker Game.''
The 2008 season will be Dave Goldberg's 25th covering the NFL.

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