Transitions: Frank Gifford (1930-2015)

Paying Attention: Frank Gifford died Sunday at his home in Greenwhich, Connecticut. Gifford was both a very talented  college athlete (he was an  All-American running back at  the University of Southern California) and an outstanding and versatile pro football player who became an 8- time  Pro Bowl player (at three different positions: defensive back, running back, and wide receiver)  and six time All Pro selection  playing for the New York Giants. Gifford, gifted with movie star looks, easy charm, and ” a quality of mind,”  that writer Gay Talese once said was “an anomaly among pro football players” may, however, be best remembered as the man who turned ABC’s Monday Night Football from an an experiment in adventurous programming by ABC Sports czar Roone Arledge (himself one of the sharper minds ever in the business) into a national tradition, establishing both the sport and the telecast as American institutions.  Today, in 2015, it is difficult to imagine a time when pro football–The NFL, The Shield–was not the powerhouse that it is now, but when Gifford came into the league in 1952, baseball was America’s game. Gifford provided an electric, charismatic image for the New York Giants in a town where baseball ruled, and his impact on the game was often compared to that of Mickey Mantle on baseball–it is not a coincidence that both of these superstar athletes transformed their sports in the biggest market in America. Gifford came into the Monday Night Football booth in the second year of the series, replacing ABC’s Keith Jackson (who went on to a stellar career as ABC’s prime college football announcer). In the booth, Gifford was paired with the ascerbic, self-centered sports critic, Howard “I Never Played The Game” Cosell and “Dandy” Don Meredith, the former Dallas Cowboy quarterback who was as loose as Cosell was tight and much quicker on the draw with a good line. Gifford was the cool, polished play-by-play man who tied the disparate personalities and intellects together; the combination was an instant hit and Monday Night Football is now America’s longest running series. Gifford  was involved with the show, in total, for 28 years. He was both a College Football Hall of Fame Player and a Pro Football Hall of Fame Player but Gifford had one trait that made him a stand out in everything that he did: he never stopped trying to improve. He had a very good life but it was one that he earned; he did not come from privilege but from an extremely modest family background.  Frank Gifford was 84 and married to the NBC television personality, Kathy Lee Gifford, with whom he had two children, son Cody and daughter Cassidy. He was legendary on the field and off and his presence will be missed.
 

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