When I heard that Frank Gifford had died at age 84, I immediately thought of my father who passed away two years ago. Dad always said that Gifford was “one of the last of a dying breed,” the kind of gritty and extraordinary player who excelled at both offense and defense in the National Football League. I am sure somewhere on that gridiron in the great beyond, Dad is lining up to try to shake Giff’s hand.
If you look at Gifford’s career statistics you can gain an appreciation for his accomplishments. Among the most outstanding are 3,609 yards rushing and 5,434 yards receiving (with 43 touchdowns receiving and 34 touchdowns rushing).
Even more impressive is that Gifford also played as a defensive end. In the early 1950s players were starting to be “specialized” in the NFL, but in his multiple roles Gifford led his New York Giants to 5 NFL Championship games, winning the title in 1956 (the same year that he won MVP).
My Dad also liked that Gifford spent his entire career as a NY Giant. He felt Gifford always represented his team and city well, and though Gifford played before my time, I have only heard great things about him as a player. Apparently the Giants organization still appreciates his loyalty and performance, as team president John Mara makes clear in this statement:
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.
In my lifetime I became aware of Frank Gifford when he started co-hosting ABC’s Monday Night Football with Howard Cosell and “Dandy” Don Meredith. Having to get my homework done in order to watch the show, I rushed home from school on Mondays and made sure to be ready. Of course, for those who never saw these guys together, it was more than the game that attracted such interest.
Dandy Don was the “colorful” one, and Cosell would drone on and on, but Gifford’s knowledge of the game and insightful comments kept everything real and made the game interesting. And while the other two were expected to be entertaining – though came off many times as annoying – Gifford was the reason I watched.
Frank was also known for hosting Wide World of Sports and covering the Olympic games. It was without a doubt that the NFL Hall of Famer had earned the respect of fans and players across the sports spectrum, and he was a much better announcer than I think people realized at the time.
This “model” of the three commentators in the booth can be seen today as a reflection of the impact that MNF had on sports. And while many combinations of broadcasters have been used since that time (think of comedian Dennis Miller’s foray into the MNF booth), I don’t think any broadcast team has risen to the level of those crazy, funny, and truthfully must-see games hosted by Meredith-Cosell-Gifford.
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.
So a legend has passed away, and many will talk about his on the field abilities, which stand the test of time. In this age of so many injuries in sports, the fact that Gifford could play offense and defense in the NFL seems even more extraordinary. Can we imagine any of our current crop of players doing the same?
Gifford will thus be remembered as a Hall of Fame player and respected as a broadcaster. He brought great dignity to the game he loved on the field and in the broadcast booth. Somewhere up there, we can imagine Howard Cosell getting a bright idea for doing some kind of heavenly play-by-play now that Gifford joins him and Meredith in the great beyond. If anyone can get the passed on greats to be willing to gather and play, it will be someone of Gifford’s stature. What a game that will be!
Rest in peace, Frank Gifford.
Photo credits: wtok.com, nydailynews, sportsgrid.com, ew.com
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