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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Frank Gifford will be remembered as a great player and a fine man

Frank Gifford poses for a photo soon after

Frank Gifford poses for a photo soon after he joined the Giants in 1952. Photo Credit: Newsday File Photo

There was not a more respected player, more cherished sportsman or more understated yet polished broadcaster than the man who was just taken from us.

College Football Hall of Famer. Pro Football Hall of Famer. Legendary television announcer who reached generations of sports fans who never got to see him play, yet still recognized his name, his voice, his sense of decency and his fair-minded outlook.

Frank Gifford was all of that, a man who came to New York in 1952 as the "golden boy" halfback and flanker from USC, then transfixed Giants fans with his dazzling moves and a magnetic personality that positively glowed from atop the country's biggest sports stage.

An eight-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team All-Pro, Gifford was the iconic player for a storied franchise at a time when the NFL began to become the most popular sport in America. He played before the introduction of color television, when Giants fans had to travel to the Polo Grounds or Yankee Stadium to see him for home games and had to adjust the rabbit ears on their television sets to make out Gifford and his storied team on snowy screens.

He had one of the greatest seasons ever by a Giant in 1956, winning the NFL's Most Valuable Player Award with 1,422 scrimmage yards and a combined nine rushing and receiving touchdowns in a 12-game season. The Giants beat the Bears for the NFL title that year. It was Gifford's only championship, but he played several more years at a level rarely enjoyed by running backs of his era.

One of the most versatile players of his day, Gifford saw action at defensive back and flanker in addition to halfback and was selected for Pro Bowl honors at all three positions.

Of course, the play he may be most associated with was that nasty hit he took in 1960 from Eagles linebacker Chuck Bednarik, who laid him out after a pass reception and celebrated over him as he lay unconscious. That injury prompted Gifford to retire, but he unexpectedly came back in 1962, switching to flanker. He had a combined 110 catches and 17 touchdowns in his next three years before retiring after the 1964 season.

Giants president John Mara, who grew up watching Gifford and those great old Giants teams presided over by his father, the late president and co-owner Wellington Mara, put it best when he referred to Gifford as "the ultimate Giant. He was the face of our franchise for many years."

Mara said his father "loved him like a son and was proud to act as his presenter for the Pro Football Hall of Fame" in 1977. Twenty years later, Gifford presented Wellington Mara for his Hall of Fame induction.

Future generations of football fans would come to know Gifford in a different, no less memorable way. As a broadcaster who developed a smooth style and blended easily with the more strident voices around him -- including the cantankerous Howard Cosell -- Gifford shared with us his formidable football knowledge. He was an easy listen, a person who built a level of trust rarely seen in such a high-profile position.

He was the straight man for Cosell and "Dandy" Don Meredith, and their commentary on "Monday Night Football" was some of the best in broadcasting history. Cosell was the opinion man with the unforgettable voice and inflection. Meredith was the folksy, down-home ex-quarterback who told it from the players' point of view. But Gifford was the glue for that team and the others that followed.

There was a presence about the man, on television and in person. After his broadcasting career was over, he often was seen at Giants headquarters and on game day at Giants Stadium and then MetLife Stadium. Dressed in faded blue jeans and a navy blue sports jacket, Gifford had the look of a former player and carried himself with grace and humility.

"He had the handshake of a 25-year-old, and he looked you right in the eye with his big blue eyes," Giants co-owner Steve Tisch said. "He was such a strong person in every way. He will be missed and will always be remembered as a Giant's Giant."

The team surely will have a formal send-off for its unforgettable star, a chance for fans to say goodbye one last time to a man whose unique blend of talent, style and sophistication will not soon be forgotten.


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