Frank Gifford was not born a Giant, but he might as well have been.
"My father [Wellington Mara] loved him like a son," Giants president John Mara said in a statement on behalf of his family, which co-owns the NFL team. "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."
Gifford, a Hall of Famer and icon of the franchise's early glory days, died on Sunday at the age of 84. Gifford was known not only as an all-time great player but an Emmy-winning broadcaster and part of ABC's "Monday Night Football" crew from 1971 to 1997.
Gifford was married to "Today" co-host Kathie Lee Gifford. His family released a statement announcing his death:
"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."
In a golden age of New York sports, there were few athletes who gleamed brighter than Gifford. He was the Giants' equivalent of the Yankees' Mickey Mantle in terms of popularity and marketability despite playing a sport that lacked the exposure of baseball. He helped groom professional football into the institution it has become.
"Frank's talent and charisma on the field and on the air were important elements in the growth and popularity of the modern NFL," Commissioner Roger Goodell said. "He was a great friend to everyone in the league, a special adviser to NFL commissioners, and served NFL fans with enormous distinction for so many decades. We will always remember Frank's contributions and miss his friendship."
Gifford played for the Giants from 1952 to 1964 as a halfback, defensive back and wide receiver. He was the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 1956, when the Giants won the championship. He scored 34 rushing touchdowns and 43 receiving touchdowns in his career. His 5,434 yards receiving was a Giants record for 39 years, until Amani Toomer surpassed him in 2003.
"Frank Gifford was the ultimate Giant," Mara said. "He was the face of our franchise for so many years."
Wellington Mara presented Gifford at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977. Twenty years later, Gifford presented Mara. Gifford also had a close relationship with the Tisches, who co-own the franchise with the Maras.
"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," Giants chairman Steve Tisch said. "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 . . . He was such a strong person in every way. He will be missed and will always be remembered as a Giant's Giant."
Perhaps the most memorable play of Gifford's playing career was a crushing hit from Eagles linebacker Chuck Bednarik in 1960 that left him unconscious and hospitalized for 10 days. Gifford did not return to football after that hit until 1962.
Gifford's popularity went beyond the Giants as his broadcasting career flourished. He hosted ABC's "Wide World of Sports" and covered several Olympics, but he is most well-known for "Monday Night Football," often serving as a buffer in the broadcast booth between Howard Cosell and Don Meredith.
Born Aug. 16, 1930, in Santa Monica, California, Gifford was the son of an itinerant oil worker. Growing up in Depression-era California, Gifford estimated he moved 47 times before entering high school, occasionally sleeping in parks or the family car and eating dog food.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by their two children, Cody and Cassidy, as well as three children from his first marriage to Maxine Avis Ewart: Jeff, Kyle and Victoria.