Gifford Was Versatile On Field And In Booth
By John Ventola
Worthy athletic role models for our youth are getting increasingly harder to find these days. Off field behavior eliminates quite a few athletes, and for those who can stay within the guidelines of proper personal conduct, the overwhelming desire to win leads to errors in ethical judgment. Steroid use, doping, deflation of footballs—anything to get the slightest of margins in athletic completion.
Sadly, there are not many Drew Brees or Derek Jeter characters for our youth to emulate. Real life characters with true moral character are hard to find. Imagine how
many youngsters had Tom Brady, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemons, Lance Armstrong, Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Rafael Palmiero, and others as role models, but saw the exploits of those individuals devalued because they were accomplished by cheating.
One of my early role models, Frank Gifford, died Sunday, just one week from his 85th birthday. Gifford, born and raised in California, went on to star at the University of Southern California as a defensive back for two years before converting to running back for his senior season. (Frosh were not varsity eligible then).
Gifford was picked in the first round of the 1952 NFL draft, eleventh overall, by the football New York Giants (at that time the baseball Giants were in New York). Before the Super Bowl was established, he participated in five NFL championship games, leading the Giants to the 1956 title. That year he was chosen the NFL’s Most Valuable
Player. During his thirteen year career, he went to eight Pro Bowls and was selected all-pro six seasons. He was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1977.
One of my earliest sports disappointments happened in 1958 when Gifford and the Giants were defeated by the Baltimore Colts in what was deemed then as “The Greatest Game Ever Played”. The photograph of Colt running back Alan Ameche scoring the winning touchdown still pains me almost six decades later. My idol Gifford fumbled twice in that game, and the Colts and Johnny Unitas used them to top the Giants at old Yankee Stadium in the first sudden death overtime playoff game in NFL history, 23-17.
Two years later, Gifford caught a pass over the middle and was hit high in the chest by one of the best linebackers in the game at that time, Chuck Bednarik. He hit the ground so hard that some of his teammates thought he had been paralyzed, or even worse. He spent days in the hospital, but the play, and his injury, led to equipment improvements and brought concussion injuries into the consciousness of the sports world.
Gifford retired after that 1960 season (Bednarik and the Eagles went on to defeat Green Bay for the title), and sat out the entire 1961 season. He came out of retirement in 1962,
and won UPI’s Comeback Player of the Year award. He converted from halfback to wide receiver (flanker) that year.
I pegged Gifford as a role model in 1958 (along with Billy Cannon) because of his versatility. He could do it all. He ended his NFL career with 3,609 yards rushing, 34 rushing touchdowns, 43 touchdowns receiving, and—get this—he passed for 14 touchdowns! Gifford made the halfback pass a true weapon.
After retiring, Gifford used his Hollywood looks, nice speaking voice, and his knowledge of the game, and sports in general, to start a broadcasting career with CBS. In 1971, Gifford replaced Keith Jackson on ABC as the play-by-play announcer in the Monday Night Football’s (MNF) booth, and joined Howard Cosell and Don Meredith. The trio led MNF to top ratings as the game became one of America’s treasured traditions. Gifford continued as a commentator on the popular broadcast until 1998.
Gifford’s calm demeanor seemed to balance Cosell’s eccentric ramblings and
Meredith’s quirky observations, on football and life. Gifford handled the football, Cosell and Meredith contributed the entertainment with a few football insights thrown into the mix.
He was a role model for his football days, but to me, one who aspired to possibly get into sports writing/announcing full-time after finishing college in 1970, he was a professional role model also, well worth emulation as far as his sports knowledge and delivery.
Gifford was a commentator on many other sporting events through the years. He was at the microphone for the controversial 1972 Olympic basketball loss to Russia. Gifford had three children with his first wife, and two children with newscaster and day show host Kathie Lee Gifford, who he married in 1986.
While I categorize Gifford as a role model—-particularly for myself—he still was human. With that humanity comes frailties, and Gifford was part of a scandal that almost broke up his second marriage. An airline stewardess, who he was having an affair with, accepted money from a cheap tabloid to lure him to a bugged and videoed room for a tryst.
Gifford and Cannon, my two role models as a 10-year-old, fell short later in life. I felt
disappointment when I heard of Gifford’s affair, just as I was shocked in the summer of 1983 when I heard of Cannon’s arrest on counterfeiting charges while my family and I watched a minor league baseball game in Nashville.
Role models play important parts in the lives of people. At least Gifford and Cannon waited until well after their playing careers (the affair did hasten Gifford’s disappearance from the MNF booth after 27 years) before they blundered. To their credit, and further evidence of my own good judgment, they each made adjustments, and tried to recover from their misdeeds (Gifford’s marriage was saved, and Cannon gives back by doing dental work at Angola State Prison—as a free man).
I can almost hear Dandy Don Meredith singing, “Turn Out The Lights, The Party’s Over”, a line from Willie Nelson’s “Party’s Over” song, to his old broadcast buddy. The Gifford/Cosell/Meredith trio are now all gone, but the MNF tradition they made famous lives on.
Youngsters will be tuned in—looking for role models of their own!Thanks For Visiting JV Sport Shots .Com’s Website And Viewing Our Latest Blog(s) / Page(s). We Would Really Appreciate It If You Would Leave Us A Comment Or Remark Below. This Helps Us Provide Great Sports Content; You Would Like To See In Future Posts.
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