Monday, Dec. 29, 2008

Ron Gibbs

The Game: The veteran referee, who worked his first football game in 1921, was in the middle of the game's biggest controversy. On a third down play with less than three minutes left in the fourth, and the Giants up 17-14, Colts lineman Gino Marchetti broke his ankle while helping tackle New York running back Frank Gifford. Gibbs, who was also such a good basketball official that he refereed the 1950 NCAA title game, cleared Marchetti off the field before spotting the ball. Gifford was ruled short of the first down, forcing the Giants to punt when a first down likely would have sealed the game for them. Unitas marched the Colts down the field for the game-tying field goal.

Post Game: Gibbs, who died in 1985, was a top-rate official. "In the 50 years that I have coached football, I can truly say Ron Gibbs, in my humble opinion, is the best official who ever blew a whistle," Hall of Fame coach Sid Gillman once said. Gifford still disputes Gibbs' spot: in his new book, The Glory Game, Gifford said he received a letter from the referee's son. "Dad told me a few days before he died, 'You know, Joe, maybe Frank was right . . . maybe he did make that first down . . . we shouldn't have ever picked up that ball before the measurement." But in a new ESPN documentary about the Colts-Giants championship, a forensic scientist ran a computer analysis and determined that Gifford was stopped nine inches short of the first down.