Frank Gifford: A Giant Loss


Frank Gifford passed away Sunday from natural causes at the age of 84. Gifford became a national icon and depending on what era you grew up in, Gifford became a household name whether it be the standout star at USC, the All-Pro for the NY Giants, the Hall of Fame broadcaster, or the countless movies and commercials he starred in.

Gifford was born in Santa Monica, California in 1930.  After receiving All-American honors at USC during his senior season, Gifford was drafted 11th overall in the 1952 NFL Draft by the NY Giants. One of the most versatile players to ever play the game of football, Gifford started his career as a defensive back who played offense, then switched to a halfback who played defense. After suffering a devastating hit in 1960 and retiring in 1961, Gifford made a return to the NFL as a pass catching flanker, and played 3 more seasons in his new role.  Gifford helped launch the Giants and the NFL, for that matter, into the national spotlight.  Gifford played in the Golden Years of the Giants franchise when Vince Lombardi was their offensive coordinator and Tom Landry was their defensive coordinator.  Gifford was considered the ultimate team player and sometimes was asked to call plays in the huddle for YA Tittle or use his arm to throw touchdown passes to receivers.  In his 12 NFL seasons with the Giants, Gifford was named an All-Pro six times, named to the Pro Bowl eight times, helped take the Giants to the NFL Championship Game five times (winning in 1956), voted NFL Most Valuable Player in 1956, and played in the 1958 Championship game against the Baltimore Colts, still considered the “Greatest Game Ever Played.”

Frank Gifford’s NFL stat line consisted of:

Rushing Attempts: 840
Rushing yards: 3,609
Rushing Touchdowns: 34
Receptions: 367
Receiving Yards: 5,434
Receiving Touchdowns: 43
Pass Completions: 29
Passing Yards: 823
Passing Touchdowns: 14

Gifford is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame. Gifford was also one of the first NFL athletes to receive celebrity type status, which was not common back then for professional football players. He often hung out with Frank Sinatra or Mickey Mantle at Toots Shor’s, appeared in movies with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and utilized his looks and stardom to sign endorsements for commercials and advertisements. Gifford was a predecessor to the sport’s business model that athletes seek to emulate today.

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The Daily News put together a timeline of Frank Gifford’s life:

Aug. 16, 1930
Born in Santa Monica, Calif.

The Giants select Gifford out of USC with their first pick — No. 11 overall — in the NFL Draft. He draws attention from professional scouts as a two-way threat with the Trojans, and earns All-American honors as a senior.

Gifford appears in “The All-American” alongside actor Tony Curtis.

The Giants claim a league championship as Gifford rushes for 819 yards and picks up 603 yards receiving. He scores nine touchdowns in 12 games, and is named the league’s Most Valuable Player.

NFL Championship Game: Giants versus Colts. Gifford fumbles twice and the Colts capitalize on both turnovers for a pair of touchdowns. Gifford catches a 15-yard pass for a touchdown, but the Colts win, 23-17, in the NFL’s first overtime game. As Gifford notes later, he lost the ball coming out of the end zone and going in. The contest becomes known as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”

He goes Hollywood to play Ensign Cy Mount in “Up Periscope,” a submarine movie starring James Garner.

November 1960
Eagles linebacker Chuck Bednarik levels Gifford with a devastating hit after Gifford hauls in a reception. Bednarik stands over the unconscious Gifford and pumps his fist in a celebration. Gifford suffers a severe head injury, and the blow likely shortens his career. He is in the hospital for 10 days.

February 1961
Gifford retires and serves as a team scout.

He returns to NFL as a flanker.

Gifford returns to the Pro Bowl at his new position. It is his eighth Pro Bowl at his third different position. He retires soon after.

Gifford makes transition from player to broadcaster, working mostly as an NFL commentator for CBS.

He is part of the CBS broadcast team for the first Super Bowl.

Giffored opens the broadcast for the Ice Bowl in Green Bay by saying he had “just taken a bite out of his coffee.”

ABC’s “Monday Night Football” offers Gifford a new stage. His partners are Howard Cosell and Don Meredith.

The Professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, welcomes Gifford as an inductee. Forrest Gregg, Gale Sayers, Bart Starr and Bill Willis are his classmates. Former Giants owner Wellington Mara introduces Gifford.

Gifford calls Austrian downhill skier Franz Klammer’s dramatic gold medal run at the Innsbruck Olympics on “Wide World of Sports.”

The Multiple Sclerosis Society of New York honors Gifford with its Founders Award, which included a $100,000 research grant in his name.

The Hall of Famer picks up the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award, which recognizes “longtime exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football.”

Boomer Esiason replaces Gifford in the MNF booth.

October 2000
The Giants retire Gifford’s No. 16.

Aug. 9, 2015 
Gifford dies at his home in Connecticut.

Personally, I had the pleasure of seeing Frank Gifford a few times live when he would return to East Rutherford during Giants’ games.  The last time I saw him was when he came back to support Michael Strahan during halftime of the Giants-Colts game on November 3rd, 2014.  Strahan was being honored for being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame earlier last season in Canton, Ohio.  On stage alongside Gifford and Strahan were Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson, all of them wearing their HOF jackets.

GiantsColts 2014_fotorGifford’s legacy will live on by many and his life and career will be remembered with deep admiration and respect.


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