Frank Gifford (August 16, 1930 – August 9, 2015) was an American football player and television sports commentator. After a 12-year playing career as a running back and flanker for the New York Giants of the National Football League (NFL), he was a play-by-play announcer and commentator for 27 years on ABC's Monday Night Football alongside Al Michaels.
Gifford won the NFL Most Valuable Player Award in 1956, the same season he won his only NFL Championship. During his career, he participated in five league championship games and was named to eight Pro Bowls. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977. After retiring as a player, Gifford was anEmmy Award-winning sportscaster, known for his work on ABC's Monday Night Football, Wide World of Sports and the Olympics. He was married to television host Kathie Lee Gifford from 1986 until his death.
Contents[edit | edit source]
- 1. Early life
- 2. College career
- 3. NFL career
- 4. Broadcasting career
- 5. Acting roles
- 6. Personal life
- 7. Death
Early life[edit | edit source]
Gifford was born in Santa Monica, California, the son of Lola Mae (née Hawkins) and Weldon Gifford, an oil driller. He graduated from Bakersfield High School. Following Gifford's death in 2015, his wife Kathie Lee Gifford said that her late husband grew up in a poverty-stricken home and that he and his family sometimes ate dog food. She said they lived in 29 places even before Gifford attended high school because his father could not find work during the Depression. She also said that as a young child, the family attended church every week and Gifford "asked Jesus into his heart and that remained with him for the rest of his life".
College career[edit | edit source]
Gifford was unable to gain an athletic scholarship to the University of Southern California (USC) because of his low grade point average in high school, so he played a season of football for Bakersfield Junior College. There he made the Junior College All-American team and earned the grades needed to enroll at USC. At USC, Gifford was named an All-American after rushing for 841 yards on 195 carries during his final season. He graduated from USC in 1952.
NFL career[edit | edit source]
Gifford spent his entire NFL career with the New York Giants, beginning in 1952, playing both offense and defense. He made eight Pro Bowl appearances and had five trips to the NFL Championship Game. Gifford's biggest season may have been 1956, when he won the league's Most Valuable Player Award and led the Giants to the NFL title over the Chicago Bears.
He lost 18 months in the prime of his career when he was injured by a hard tackle. During a 1960 game against the Philadelphia Eagles, he was knocked out by Chuck Bednarik on a passing play, suffering a severe head injury that led him to retire from football in 1961.However, Gifford returned to the Giants in 1962, changing positions from running back to flanker (now a type of "wide receiver").
His Pro Bowl selections came at three different positions — defensive back, running back, and flanker. He permanently retired following the 1964 season.
During his 12 seasons with the Giants (136 regular season games) Gifford had 3,609 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns in 840 carries; he also had 367 receptions for 5,434 yards and 43 touchdowns. Gifford completed 29 of the 63 passes he threw for 823 yards and 14 touchdowns with 6 interceptions. The 14 touchdowns is the most among any non-quarterback in NFL history; the 6 interceptions is tied with Walter Payton for most thrown by a non-quarterback.
Gifford was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on July 30, 1977.
After his death, an autopsy on his brain revealed that he lived with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a disease closely related to repeated head trauma. As of November 24, 2015, 87 out of 91 former NFL players tested have been diagnosed with the disease.
Broadcasting career[edit | edit source]
After his playing days ended, Gifford became a broadcaster for CBS, covering football, golf and basketball. When Monday Night Football was launched in 1970, ABC had originally planned to have Gifford in their broadcast booth, but he still had a year remaining on his contract with CBS. He therefore recommended his friend Don Meredith, who was hired. The following year, Gifford replaced Keith Jackson as Monday Night Football's play-by-play announcer, and remained involved with the show for 27 of its next 28 years. His low-key delivery provided a perfect counterbalance to broadcast partners Meredith and Howard Cosell. In an era with only three television broadcast networks, the series became the longest-running prime-time sports program in television history, and developed into one of television's most valuable franchises. In 1986, Al Michaels took over play-by-play duties, and Gifford switched to a commentator role. However, Gifford did play-by-play for the next several years (Gifford was joined by Lynn Swann on color commentary in 1986 and by Dan Dierdorf for the rest of his run on Monday Night Football) whenever Michaels was covering post-season baseball games for the network.
Following his embarrassing affair with airline stewardess Suzen Johnson in 1997, Gifford was replaced in the broadcast booth by Boomer Esiason in 1998. That season, he was reassigned to a nominal role for ABC's Monday night pregame show, but the program was cancelled after one season. Gifford was not offered a new role by the network. Gifford was also host of British TV networkChannel 4's NFL coverage with British born former New England Patriots kicker John Smith in 1986, which included coverage of Super Bowl XXI.
Gifford (center) with Christopher Reeve and Ronald Reagan in 1983.
Gifford was also a reporter and commentator on other ABC sports programs, such as coverage of the Olympics (including the controversial men's basketball Gold Medal game between the United States and Soviet Union at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, which Gifford called alongside Bill Russell), skiing and golf. He announced Evel Knievel's jumps for ABC's Wide World of Sports in the 1970, including when Knievel failed to clear 13 buses at Wembley Stadium in 1975. Gifford also guest hosted Good Morning America on occasion, including once when he met his future wife Kathie Lee.
In 1977, Gifford won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Sports Personality. He was given the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award by the Pro Football Hall of Fame In 1995 for his NFL television work.
Monday Night Football paid tribute to Gifford on September 14, 2015, by having ESPN announcers Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden wear the gold jackets that Gifford helped make famous as a broadcaster.
Personal life[edit | edit source]
Gifford married his college sweetheart, USC's homecoming queen Maxine Avis Ewart, on January 13, 1952, after she became pregnant while they were students at USC. They had three children, Jeff (b. June 1952), Kyle and Victoria, and five grandchildren. Victoria married Michael LeMoyne Kennedy, son of Robert F. Kennedy. Gifford was then married to fitness trainer Astrid Lindley from 1978 to 1986. The first two marriages ended in divorce. Gifford married television presenter and singer Kathie Lee Johnson, who was 23 years his junior, on October 18, 1986. The couple settled in Greenwich, Connecticut, with their son, Cody Newton Gifford, and daughter,Cassidy Erin Gifford. Gifford and his third wife Kathie Lee both shared the same birthday, which was August 16. In 1988, the couple co-hosted ABC coverage of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, while Al Michaels became (play-by-play) and John Davidson became (color commentator).
Gifford had an older sister and younger brother, Winona and Waine.
Controversies[edit | edit source]
In 1997, the tabloid magazine Globe arranged to have Gifford secretly videotaped being seduced by former flight attendant Suzen Johnson in a New York City hotel room. They published photos and stories. ESPN reported that the tabloid paid Johnson $75,000 to lure Gifford to the room, while The Atlantic said it was $125,000. National Enquirer Editor Steve Coz observed, "There's a difference between reporting the news and creating the news. The Globe, there would be no story here. I'm in the tabloid industry, and this is way over the top. It's downright cruel."
According to the former lawyer of Johnny Carson, Henry Bushkin, Gifford had an affair with Carson's wife Joanne in 1970.
Death[edit | edit source]
On August 9, 2015, Gifford died from natural causes at his Greenwich, Connecticut home 1 week before his 85th birthday.
In November 2015, Gifford's family revealed that he had suffered from CTE. The family said, "After losing our beloved husband and father, Frank Gifford, we as a family made the difficult decision to have his brain studied in hopes of contributing to the advancement of medical research concerning the link between football and traumatic brain injury ... We decided to disclose our loved one's condition to honor Frank's legacy of promoting player safety dating back to his involvement in the formation of the NFL Players Association in the 1950s."