Dave Jennings, who had to be shown how to wear a football uniform by a friend as a college walk-on but became a two-time All-Pro punter for the Giants, died yesterday at his Upper Saddle River, N.J., home after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. He was 61.
Jennings played basketball and baseball at Garden City High but didn't begin his football career until his sophomore year at upstate St. Lawrence. He set Giants records for punts (931) and yardage (38,792) from 1974-84, then finished his playing career with the Jets from 1985-87. He did radio commentary for the Jets (1988-2001) and Giants (2002-2007).
Giants president John Mara called Jennings, who joined the team's Ring of Honor in 2011, "one of the all-time great Giants.''
Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson, noting that the Giants "were not very good when Dave and I were teammates in the 1970s,'' remembered Jennings as "one of the few bright lights on those teams.''
It was two seasons after Jennings departed for the Jets that the Giants at last reached their first Super Bowl.
A gregarious 6-4, 200-pounder, Jennings forever was willing to share his thoughts on punting and football in general. That propensity once caused quarterback Craig Morton, frustrated after another loss by the woebegone Giants in the mid-1970s, to snap at Jennings for accommodating reporters' questions.
"Shut up, Dave,'' Morton ordered. And Jennings shut up. But his respect for teammates never lessened his respect, or willingness to communicate, beyond the locker room.
David Tuthill Jennings was born June 8, 1952, in New York City, the son of a college professor. He once recalled how, as a Garden City senior in the fall of 1969, he had determined he would become a three-sport letterman by going out for football. The other seniors "started laughing,'' he said. "I walked out of the meeting.''
He had won a punt, pass and kick competition in Cortland, N.Y., at 12. He didn't make another attempt at football until he was at St. Lawrence.
Watching from the sideline, Jennings muttered he "could do better than those guys'' punting. Overheard by the coach, he was given a uniform, though he admitted he couldn't figure out where some of the pads went.
A year later, he was the No. 1 punter among New York small colleges, averaging 42 yards a kick. The Houston Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans) cut Jennings after a tryout in 1974, but he was picked up by the Giants and beat out Tom Blanchard.
New NFL rules that season restricted teams to releasing only two players downfield before the ball was kicked, convincing Jennings that accuracy was as vital as distance. He devised a points system taking into account distance and so-called coffin-corner kicks -- placed out of bounds as close to the goal line as possible.
Jennings never married. He is survived by his sister, Susan.