Remembering the Great Frank Gifford - New York Giants #16

For Football & New York Giants fans like myself growing up in the late sixties & early seventies, Frank Gifford was a legendary name. He was known as a great football player & great broadcaster. He was a celebrity figure & an ambassador for the NFL......

Frank Newton Gifford was born August 16th 1930 in Santa Monica, California. Although he was a star football player in high school he needed to improve his grades & do one year at Junior College before being accepted at the University of Southern California. Gifford began as a defensive back until his senior year when he became a tail back. He became an All American college star at USC & joined the New York Giants NFL team in 1952.

At first he was unhappy about being drafted by the Giants & even after his first two seasons thought about quitting football, mostly because he did not want to play defense. He began his career as one of the NFL's 60 Minute Men, playing on both sides of the ball at offense as well as defense, even special teams. Not only is this a rare feat but Gifford made All Pro at both, offense as well as defense.

In his first two seasons he was an All Pro defensive back. In 1954 new coaches arrived, Jim Lee Howell & offensive coach Vince Lombardi & that changed everything for the young Gifford. He became a full time offensive player, something he wanted all along. He gave everything he had to playing football & became one of the best of his era or any era.

There is no question he was one of the Giants main offensive players, in the hey days of the teams 1950's & early 1960's star studded teams. He was a key player of five Giants teams that got to the NFL Title game in those years, winning one Championship. In 1956 he was the league's MVP helping the Giants to an NFL Championship victory over the Chicago Bears, routing them 47-7.

Two years later, in the legendary 1958 NFL Championship game which is now known as the greatest football game ever played, Gifford was the center of a controversial play. With two minutes to go & the Giants leading the Baltimore Colts 17-14, Gifford carried the ball on third down-and-four, from the Giants own 40 yard line.

Baltimore's Gino Marchetti, was down & had broke his leg on the play. In all the confusion the Giants say they got a bad spot on the field, from the officials. It was short of the first down. Gifford always insisted that he had enough to make the first down.

The result is history, the Giants punted the ball and Johnny Unitas led the Colts to the game tying field goal. Then Baltimore won it 23-17 in the NFL's first overtime game. This was the game that put the NFL on the television map & brought pro football into the spot light.

It was players like Gifford who were at the fore front of what the NFL became. In 2008 he wrote the book "The Glory Game" telling all about his accounts of the game & of that time. It's a must read for Football & Giants fans.

Gifford was the good looking, All American boy, he would appear in television commercials as well as radio & printed advertisements. He was one of the NFL's first players to be in the limelight. He made appearances on television shows & became a commentator early on while still in his playing career.

In 1960 he suffered a brutal injury, getting laid out cold, on the field during a pass play, by Philadelphia's Chuck Bednarik, a legendary tough guy old time dirty player known as "Concrete Charlie". After the tackle he reacted in an what seemed an unsportsmanlike manner, which forever caused controvery. Gifford suffered a severe head injury, spent days in the hospital & remembered none of it. He was soon forced to retire. But after just one season he returned as a full time flanker (wide receiver) playing three more seasons making another Pro Bowl. In 1962 he also won the UPI Comeback Player of the Year Award.

He retired from playing in 1964, ending his career after 136 games played for the Giants. As a running back he has 840 carries with 3609 rushing yards & 34 touch downs. He also made 367 receptions for 5434 yards ( a Giants record for 39 years) & 43 touch downs.

As a flanker Gifford was a master at the option pass, throwing the ball, he completed 29 of 63 passes for 14 touch downs. He is tied with Walter Payton for 6 interceptions, most by a non quarterback. His 14 TDs are also the most in NFL history by a non quarterback.

Overall Gifford, amassed a combined 9753 yards & had 78 touch downs which is still a Giants record. He would make the Pro Bowl seven times in his 12 seasons. In 1958 he was the Pro Bowl MVP player. Frank Gifford was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1977. His NY Giants #16 has been retired by the team & he is a member of the Giants Hall of Fame. Gifford was also selected to the NFL's 1950s All Decade Team.

Frank Gifford at his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Don Meredith, Frank Gifford & Howard Cosell
Monday Night Football Team
Retirement: His broadcasting career began in 1965 as he covered Pro Football, College Basketball & Golf for CBS. In 1971 Frank Gifford joined Howard Cosell in the new Monday Night Football program replacing Keith Jackson. At the time it was a ground breaking program & brought the NFL into prime time for the first time.

The show was obviously a huge success. Gifford was the play by play man & spent 13 seasons alongside Cosell. The two paired up with Dandy Don Meredith for 11 of those years.

Overall Gifford would spend 27 seasons on Monday Night Football & for those of us who grew up in Footballs golden age, he will always be remembered for it. Gifford teamed up with different broadcast partners over his years while covering over 600 MNF games. In 1986 he gave up the play by play to Al Michaels & became an analyst.

Two Giants Hall of Famers: Lawrence Taylor & Gifford
In 1997 he was forced out of the booth & into a pre game host role. With the excuse he was too out dated it also had to do with controversy over an alleged affair with an airline stewardess. (Look at what players & people involved in the NFL get away with now, certainly how times have changed & the how the league has lowered its standards.)

Gifford was married three times, most recently to the former Kathy Lee Johnson of Good Morning America, & Regis & Kathy Lee fame. The two have been married since 1986 & have two children together. They were a well publicized couple sharing the celebrity spot light.

with wife Kathy Lee
Although the 1997 affair incident may have put a blemish on his character, Frank Gifford should always be remembered as the All American gentlemen. A professional, classy dignified hard working man.

He was one of the game's best players of all time as well as one of the game's best broadcasters of all time. He helped lead Football to where it is today in both of the aforementioned fields.

Frank Gifford passed away at his home in Greenwich, Connecticut this weekend at age 84.


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