Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer Frank Gifford Dies at 84
by PJ Bednarski and Jason Dachman
Pro Football Hall of Fame and Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame inductee Frank Gifford died Sunday at the age of 84. The iconic voice of Monday Night Football and New York Giants legend died suddenly at his Connecticut home of natural causes, according a statement released by his family through NBC News.
“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,” his family said in the statement. “We ask that our privacy be respected at this difficult time and we thank you for your prayers.”
One of the most versatile players ever to take the gridiron, Gifford went to eight Pro Bowls combined while playing running back, defensive back, wide receiver and special teams in his NFL career, earning the MVP award in 1956 when the Giants won the title. Following his retirement, he quickly made the transition to announcer and, beginning in 1971, became the first play-by-play announcer for ABC’s Monday Night Football, winning an Emmy in 1976-77.
CLICK HERE for Frank Gifford’s full Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame profile.
Born Aug. 16, 1930, in Santa Monica, Calif., Frank Newton Gifford was the son of an itinerant oil worker and went on to attend Bakersfield Junior College before transferring to USC. After graduating from USC as an All-American, Gifford became perhaps the most beloved Giant ever, and a legend in the television business. His jersey number 16 has been retired, honoring a career that spanned 1952-60 and 1962-64. In that time, he played in eight Pro Bowls and was the league’s most valuable player in 1956, when the Giants crushed the Chicago Bears in the NFL title game. His 78 career touchdowns are still a Giants record.
And, oh yes, he played as a running back and a defensive back and later as a wide receiver. It doesn’t take long to understand why late Giants owner Wellington Mara, New York sports fans, and eventually millions of Monday Night Football viewers have loved Frank Gifford.
On the Field, on TV, on Radio
Long before athletes and TV personalities became superstars, Gifford was well on his way to becoming a star in both fields. He became a fixture in New York, at about the time the NFL began getting popular nationwide and the Giants began getting good, culminating in that 1956 special season.
What a perfect storm. He soon had his own pregame TV show and, by 1959, a radio program that paid more than he made as a football player. He hired an acting coach, preparing for that Hollywood career that never happened.
In the curious way things work out, a vicious hit just about ended Gifford’s career — but the time it took him to recuperate let him get better at his broadcasting work. In 1960, Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Chuck Bednarik clobbered Gifford — who insists it was a clean hit, although some fans don’t agree. The Giants star stayed sprawled on the field. Fans were shocked, and Gifford was through. He didn’t return and announced his retirement following the season. But, in time for the 1962 season, he decided to come back; in the meantime, his radio show and other TV work were improving his skills for his eventual afterlife.
A stint at CBS Sports followed his playing days, and then, of course, came Monday night, where, in 1971, Gifford joined Cosell and Don Meredith, making that new night of pro football a sensation by being funny, sarcastic, sometimes brutal, but above all honest. Back then, Monday-night games filled bars in neighborhoods around the country every week.
Gifford was one of the first former star athletes who could be assigned to cover any sport, not just the one he excelled in as a player. At CBS, he helped cover golf tournaments. For ABC’s coverage of the Olympics over the years, he did play-by-play for skiing, basketball, and wrestling.
Gifford is survived by Kathie Lee and their two children, Cody and Cassidy, as well as his three children from his first marriage to Maxine Avis Ewart, Jeff, Kyle and Victoria, and five grandchildren.