One of the oldest rituals in sports is known as the pre-game speech, especially in the game of football. There have been many coaches who have specialized in revving up their team before taking the field. Knute Rockne, Don Coryell, Lou Holtz and Barry Switzer come to mind. Frank Broyles of Arkansas was known for his fiery pre-game speeches where he would end his rant by asking one of his better players to say a prayer, before game time. On this particular occasion, Broyles asked his team to hit their knees and said to his All-American tackle, Billy Ray Smith, “Would you say the Lord’s Prayer, Billy Ray?” “Sure Coach” said Billy Ray. Then Billy Ray kneeled with the rest of the team and said, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” Then he looked up and said, “How did I do Coach?” “You did great Billy Ray, now let’s go get’em,” shouted Broyles.
Now that was funny, but there is one pre-game speech that the old pros still talk about from the 1958 NFL Championship game played in New York between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts’. Colts’ Head Coach, Weeb Ewbank, was an interesting man. He was usually quiet, meek, and mild-mannered in his command of the team. But on this day, Ewbank used the very essence of reverse psychology on a team that had dominated the league that year. The Colts led the entire league in offense and defense, and clinched their division three-quarters of the way into the season. It had been a runaway. Ewbanks seemed not to care about their success up to that point and opened his speech by saying that they were nothing more than a bunch of castoffs.
“Ameche: (Alan Ameche) I didn’t like you. I didn’t want you. We had to draft you because the Bears didn’t take you, because they didn’t want you. But we took you, so get it done. Go see if you can do it,” said Weeb. “Unitas: (Johnny Unitas) Pittsburgh didn’t want you. We got you for a seventy-five cent phone call. You’ve had some success here, but I don’t know if it’s temporary or not. We’ll see. Taseff: (Carl Taseff) We tried to trade you; they didn’t want you. Lipscomb: (Gene Lipscomb) The Rams were glad to get rid of you. We got you for a hundred bucks. You’ve been a problem here. See if you can straighten yourself out today,” screamed Ewbanks. Myhra: (Steve Myhra – kicker) You’ve been awful. You’ve had an awful year. You’ve got to put those balls through the uprights. Joyce: (Don Joyce) The Cardinals couldn’t control you. They were glad you came here. Nelson: (Andy Nelson) You were too small. No one wanted you. You weren’t big enough to play this game, but we gave you a chance.”
Nobody said anything while Ewbanks spoke; they just listened. He went right down the line, made it sound like they were all a bunch of guys nobody wanted to have. Weeb continued. “Marchetti: (Gino Marchetti) They said you weren’t going to get any better, but you did. See if you can show up today. Berry: (Raymond Berry) You aren’t fast. One of your legs is shorter than the other and your back is bad,” said Weeb.
Weeb Ewbanks closed his pre-game speech after chewing everyone out by saying, “Remember this: If you want to do anything, you got to do it inNew York.” There was really nothing else to be said. “That was some speech,” said Gino Marchetti. “It worked like charm.”
On December 28, 1958, everything changed for professional football as 45 million people watched the first televised NFL Championship game. For the first time ever the game had to be decided in “sudden death” overtime. The Baltimore Colts outscored the New York Giants, 23-17.