Frank Gifford, who converted a Hall of Fame playing career with the New York Giants into a successful broadcasting career with “Monday Night Football,” has died, his family announced.
He died of natural causes at his family’s home in Connecticut, according to the announcement, that came through NBC News.
“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 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. We ask that our privacy be respected at this difficult time and we thank you for your prayers.”
The announcement came from NBC because Gifford’s wife, Kathie Lee, works for NBC’s “Today” show. His death comes one week before his 85th birthday.
Gifford, born in Santa Monica, California, played at USC and began his career in 1952, playing both offense and defense for the Giants.
He was an eight-time Pro Bowler and played in five NFL championship games with the team, with which he spent his entire career. His best season came in 1956 when he was Most Valuable Player for the team that beat the Chicago Bears for the NFL title.
“Frank Gifford was the ultimate Giant,” Giants co-owner John Mara said in a statement. “He was the face of our franchise for so many years. More importantly, he was a treasured member of our family. My father loved him like a son and was proud to act as his presenter for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a favor Frank returned years later by presenting my father in Canton. 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 missed 18 months of his career after he was knocked out cold by Chuck Bednarik of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1960. That was a hit that yielded a classic photograph and left Gifford with a severe head injury, labeled “a deep brain concussion” at the time.
Although Gifford always said the hit was clean, its effects were visible years later.
“When I had tingling in my fingers about seven or eight years ago, I had X-rays of my neck,” Gifford told the New York Times in 2010. “The technician asked me if I had ever been in an automobile accident. I told him no, but he said the X-rays showed a fracture of a neck vertebra that had healed by itself. After the Bednarik play, they never X-rayed my neck. They just X-rayed my head.”
As tough as they come, he recovered, he returned to the NFL in 1962, moving from running back to wide receiver. Incredibly, he was a Pro Bowl choice at defensive back, running back and receiver before retiring in 1964. In 136 regular-season games over his 12 seasons, he rushed for 3,609 yards and 34 touchdowns in 840 carries and caught 367 receptions for 5,434 yards and 43 touchdowns. In addition, he completed 29 of 63 pass attempts on the halfback option for 823 yards and 14 touchdowns with six interceptions. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977.
Giants co-owner Steve Tisch called him a “Giants’ Giant.” “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,” Tisch said in a statement released by the team. “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 with his big blue eyes. He was such a strong person in every way. He will be missed and will always be remembered as a Giants’ Giant.”
By the time of his Hall of Fame induction, Gifford’s broadcasting career was well-established.
He replaced Keith Jackson in 1971 as the play-play announcer on ABC’s “Monday Night Football,” offering solid football descriptions and acting as a buffer between his voluble partners, Don Meredith and Howard Cosell. Gifford, memorably, was the one who urged Cosell to announce the news that was to shake the world during a 1980 game.
Cosell, who knew John Lennon, was reluctant to announce that the former Beatles musician had been murdered in New York. Gifford, the former jock, was the one pushing Cosell to interrupt the game broadcast and simply said, “We have got to say what we know in the booth.”
Gifford’s role on the broadcast was reduced after a controversial affair and he left the show in 1998.
Gifford had been married to Kathie Lee since 1986 and they lived in Greenwich, Connecticut, with their son, Cody, 25, and daughter Cassidy, 22. Gifford had three children (Jeff, Kyle and Victoria) with his first wife, Maxine Avis Ewart.