The Passing of a Giant
Last Saturday night, the sporting world turned to the NFL to watch as 6 new members were inducted into football immortality. But on the following day, tragedy befell upon the Gifford family as former New York Giants Hall of Fame halfback and Monday Night Football sportscaster Frank Gifford past away in his home in Greenwich, Connecticut this morning at the age of 84.
Gifford was born on August 16, 1930, in Santa Monica California to Weldon and Lola Mae (Hawkins) Gifford. He went to school Bakersfield High School and then Bakersfield Junior College before enrolling into the University of Southern California. At USC, Gifford was named All-American during the 1951 after he ran for 841 on 195 carries for 7 touchdowns, caught 11 passes for 178, and completed 32-for-61 passes for 303 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions.
After he graduated in 1952, Gifford entered the 1952 NFL Draft and was selected 11th pick overall in the first round by the New York Giants. In his 1952 rookie season with the Giants, he amassed just 116 yards on 38 carries and caught only 5 catches for 36 yards. However head coach Steve Owens saw his athletic ability and prowess that he talked with defensive coordinator Tom Landry to allow Gifford to play on defense as well.
However with the firing of Steve Owens after the 1953 season and the hiring of Jim Lee Howell in 1954, Gifford’s dual-role of halfback/defensive back began to diminish. His offensive numbers then began to take off with the change.
In 1956, Gifford experienced one of his best years playing football. He played in 12 games with the Giants, rushing for 819 yards on 159 carries (average of 5.2 yards per carry) with 5 touchdowns. He also caught 51 passes for 603 yards and had 4 receiving touchdowns that same year. He was voted to the Pro Bowl and was named to the All-Pro NFL team that season. Not to mention that his Giants won the 1956 NFL Championship over the Chicago Bears 47-7, the only championship he won during his 12-year career.
Gifford’s stock continued to rise higher and higher as he received more Pro Bowl berths (1957, 1958, 1959) and All-Pro selections (1957, 1958, 1959). He also helped the Giants reach the NFL Championship games in both 1958 and 1959, including scoring the go-ahead touchdown for the Giants in the 1958 NFL Championship game against the Baltimore Colts in what many called ‘The Greatest Game Ever’
But that all changed on November 20, 1960, in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Late in the game, with his team trailing, Gifford caught a pass and tried to get to the sideline. However Eagles LB Chuck Bednarik tackled the Giant halfback with a vicious hit that would define both their careers. Because of that hit, Gifford missed the rest of the 1960 season and sat out the 1961 season in retirement. However in 1962, Gifford came out of retirement to reunite with his team. He switched from halfback to flanker (wide receiver) and enjoyed a mini-revival of his career. But with him getting older and the physical abuse of football taking a toll on his body, Gifford decided to hang up his football cleats for good after the 1964 season.
During his 12 year career (all with the New York Giants), Gifford played in 136 total games. He had 840 total carries for 3,609 yards and 34 touchdowns while catching 367 passes for 5,434 yards and 43 touchdowns. His 5,434 receiving yards are 2nd all-time among Giant players while his 43 receiving touchdowns place him 4th overall. Gifford also completed 29 passes out of 63 attempts (46.0% completion) for 823 yards and had 14 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. His 14 touchdown passes thrown are the most by a non-quarterback in NFL history. Gifford also amassed a total of 121 punt return yards on 25 punt returns and had 594 total yards on 23 kickoff returns. He also made 2 field goals (out of 7 attempts) and 10 extra points (out of 11 attempts) throughout his career and scored a career total of 484 points. Gifford’s 484 points ranks 4th all-time among Giant players and 1st all-time among non-kicker Giant players.
Gifford was named to 8 Pro Bowls (1953-1959, 1953) and was selected to the NFL All-Pro Team 6 times (1953, 1955-1959). He also was named the UPI NFL MVP in 1956, the UPI Comeback Player of the Year in 1962, and was also selected to the NFL 1950s All-Decade Team. Gifford was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1975 and then into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1977. His #16 jersey was officially retired in 2000 by the New York Giants and was named to the team’s Ring of Honor in 2010.
After he retired, Frank Gifford got into the sports broadcasting industry. He first became an NFL commentator for CBS before then making the big leap in 1971 to ABC’s Monday Night Football. Gifford joined Howard Cosell and Don Meredith in the booth to form one of the most famous sports commentators crew in sports. After Cosell and Meredith left the booth (1984 and 1985 respectively), Gifford remained on Monday Night Football until 1998 when finally left the booth, marking the end of respective and accomplished sports commentator career that included being awarded the Pete Rozelle Award in 1995 for his work in the booth.
Gifford was a talent nobody had ever seen, a football player who could do it all. Whether you needed 5 yards rushing, a catch down the middle, a quick pass to catch the defense off guard, Gifford could do it all. He was considered by some as one of the greatest to ever don the Giant blue uniform and had a close bond with the Mara family, especially with Wellington Mara, whom Wellington considered Gifford like a son. Upon finding out about his death, current Giant owners John Mara and Steve Tisch released statements:
(From John Mara via The Washington Post)
“Frank Gifford was the ultimate Giant. He was the face of our franchise for so many years. More importantly, he was a treasured member of our family. My father loved him like a son and was proud to act as his presenter for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a favor Frank returned years later by presenting my father in Canton. For my siblings and me, Frank was like a revered older brother whom we looked up to and admired. We loved him and will miss him terribly.”
(From Steve Tisch via The Washington Post)
“Not only was Frank a member of the Giants family from the time he left USC and will be forever, but because Frank, my father (Bob) and Pete Rozelle were so close in the ’60s, I felt like he was a member of my family. I always loved seeing Frank on our sideline before our games. He had the handshake of a 25-year old, and he looked you right in the eye with his big blue eyes. He was such a strong person in every way. He will be missed and will always be remembered as a Giants’ Giant.”
Frank Gifford is survived by his wife, Kathie Lee Gifford, their children (Cody and Cassidy Gifford). Gifford also has three children (Jeff, Kyle and Victoria) from a previous marriage with his first wife, Maxine Avis Ewart. The Gifford family released this statement following the passing of Frank:
It is with the deepest sadness that we announce the sudden passing of our beloved husband, father and friend, Frank Gifford. Frank died suddenly this beautiful Sunday morning of natural causes at his Connecticut home. We rejoice in the extraordinary life he was privileged to live, and we feel grateful and blessed to have been loved by such an amazing human being. We ask that our privacy be respected at this difficult time and we thank you for your prayers.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the Gifford family and the New York Giants organization as they lost a man who really was a Giant among men.
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