ESPN looks back at a ’Greatest Game’ from 1958
Too much about professional football on television is oversized, oversold, pumped up and exaggerated. But the two-hour special “The Greatest Game Ever Played” (8 p.m., today, ESPN) lives up to the hype. A celebration of the 1958 NFL championship game between the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts, “Greatest” offers a play-by-play glance at the game, along with commentary from surviving players, including Frank Gifford, Pat Summerall, Lenny Moore, Gino Marchetti and others.
The old timers share their memories with the audience and a select group of contemporary players from the winning teams of the last two Super Bowl games, who just happen to be the (Indianapolis) Colts and the Giants.
You don’t have to love football to appreciate the 1958 game for its drama and for the human scale of the event. The copy of the televised game has been lost to history, so we’re shown colorized fragments of remaining film footage. Most of the Colt and Giant players at the time were making $5,000 per year and considered themselves rich. Many worked off-season jobs, and one veteran here says he was on a factory floor the Monday morning after this classic contest.
“Greatest” also includes interviews with sportswriters and photographers who captured the game, the first and only playoff to feature sudden-death overtime. It took place in soon-to-be-demolished Yankee Stadium, then the home to the Giants, on a field that consisted of ice, frozen mud and dust. The “color” film doesn’t add much to the brown field. The game wasn’t even broadcast on a New York TV station because the team owners feared it would cut down on attendance.
• “Animal Gladiators” (8 p.m., Sunday, Animal Planet) recalls the role of exotic species in the popular and cruel spectacles that entertained ancient Rome. Employing an impressive computer re-creation of the Roman Coliseum (reminiscent of the Ridley Scott epic “Gladiator”), this two-hour documentary also includes live-action re-creations of battles to the death between enslaved fighters and their frightened prey. The animals included lions, tigers and bears plundered from the furthest reaches of the empire.
While we are spared the sight of the ghastly conclusions to these bouts, you have to wonder how many Animal Planet viewers will tune into a show that is essentially a chronicle of human cruelty. This seems as if it would be more appropriate for the History Channel.
• Santa’s got a brand-new rig in the computer-animated special “A Miser Brothers’ Christmas” (7 p.m., Family).
• Jimmy Stewart stars in the 1946 Frank Capra holiday favorite “It’s a Wonderful Life” (8 p.m., NBC).
• Hugh Laurie hosts “Saturday Night Live” (10:30 p.m., NBC), featuring musical guest Kanye West.
• Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (6 p.m., CBS): the enduring mortgage mess; Barney Frank; and a college-football coach takes on gang violence.
• A winner emerges on “Survivor” (7 p.m., CBS), followed by an hour-long retrospective (9 p.m.).