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Gifford has had an impact on football, TV

Don Meredith, left, Howard Cosell, center, and Frank

Don Meredith, left, Howard Cosell, center, and Frank Gifford of ABC's "Monday Night Football" broadcast team. Photo Credit: AP

ESPN's interview of Frank Gifford Monday night, during which he choked up over the death of his old pal Don Meredith, was a powerful TV moment.

It also was one of several reminders this past week of the interesting (and underappreciated) roles Gifford, 80, has played in both football and sports TV history. Some examples:

Telling it like it is

ESPN's look at how "Monday Night Football'' reported John Lennon's death 30 years ago Wednesday featured a fascinating off-the-air exchange between Gifford and Howard Cosell.

The former jock had to convince the hard-edged journalist he must share the news, even with the game on the line.

Cosell: "Fellas, I just don't know. I'd like your opinion. I can't see this game situation allowing for that news flash, can you?''

Gifford: "Absolutely, I can see it.''

Cosell: "You can?''

Gifford: "You betcha. If we know it, we've got to do it . . . Don't hang on this. It's a tragic moment. This is going to shake up the whole world.''

Cosell: "All right. I will get it in.''

Lombardi moment

One of the nuggets in the new HBO documentary "Lombardi'' recalls that as a Giants assistant coach, Lombardi reached out to Gifford and Charlie Conerly for advice on how to relate to pros.

They helped, and the rest is coaching history.

"When I first knew him, he wasn't the Lombardi people are honoring now," Gifford said Tuesday. "He was just a good old boy who hung out with us.''

The highlight of the documentary, produced with NFL Films, is some I-can't-believe-they-have-that footage, including audio of sideline strategy before the winning touchdown in the Ice Bowl.

The HBO documentary follows the opening of a Broadway show about Lombardi that opened in October, and precedes a film starring Robert DeNiro slated for 2012.

It's Lombardi-mania! "When we were in the barren wasteland of Green Bay ,'' former Packers guard Jerry Kramer told me, "I really don't think anyone anticipated we would be having a Lombardi renaissance in 2010.''

Dandy television

Meredith might never have landed on "Monday Night Football'' if not for an interview Gifford coaxed the reluctant losing quarterback to grant after the Ice Bowl.

"I went up to him and said, 'You've got to talk; talk to me,' '' Gifford said.

"We had a camera crew there and he was so moving and so right from the heart. He said, 'Dadgum it, I let all these guys down.' It came across so human and so real, the media went bonkers over it.''

The interview made it clear that Meredith had a future on TV, and began a long partnership with Gifford.

Seventeen years later, the two friends starred in a fund-raising stage production of "The Odd Couple'' in Santa Fe.

"I was Felix and he was Oscar,'' Gifford said. "I was much more of a Felix. He could never have been Felix. He was very flamboyant and outgoing."

Meredith told Time magazine during the show's run, "He's so cute in his little apron."

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