In a part of the NFL off-season that loves to examine the history of pro football, what were the greatest drives in history?
‘Unitas to Berry’ – Baltimore Colts over New York Giants – 1958
Pro football was still considered a second-tier league compared to baseball in 1958. However, television distribution was beginning to help the game grow. All that was needed was something to push it over the top. That event came in the 1958 NFL championship, eventually titled the “Greatest Game Ever Played.” The match pitted the New York Giants against the Baltimore Colts.
In what was a bitterly contested game. With two minutes left in the 4th quarter, New York had Baltimore pinned on their 14-yard line. What followed was a furious seven-play march led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas. In completing four passes, three of them to wide receiver Raymond Berry, the Colts had moved 62 yards. With just seven seconds left, a 20-yard field goal tied the game 17-17. What followed was the first sudden death overtime in league history. Baltimore eventually came out on top for their first championship, and ushered in a new era for the league.
‘The Catch’ – San Francisco 49ers over Dallas Cowboys – 1981
Up until the early 1980s, few teams had owned the NFC quite like the Dallas Cowboys. In the previous decade they had reached five Super Bowls and won two of them. Much of their success often came at the expense of the San Francisco 49ers. So when the two teams met in the 1981 NFC title game, it was a matchup charged with emotion. Late in the 4th quarter it seemed like America’s Team was at it again, going ahead 27-21 and killing to clock to just under five minutes to play. One more stop would likely ensure a victory.
To that point San Francisco had turned the ball over six times, so confidence was shaky as to whether they could mount a drive. Thanks to the precise passing of young quarterback Joe Montana and the masterful play calling of head coach Bill Walsh, the 49ers drove 83 yards in 12 plays to the Dallas six. On third down with only 58 seconds left, Montana rolled right on the play hoping to find an open receiver in the end zone. With pressure in his face, he lofted a pass that was barely snared by the fingertips out of the air by wide receiver Dwight Clark. The touchdown gave the 49ers a 28-27 win, which they would ride to their first of four Super Bowls in the decade.