Frank Gifford

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Frank Gifford
Frank Gifford 1949.jpeg
Gifford at USC, c. 1949
No. 16
Position: Halfback, wide receiver
Personal information
Born:(1930-08-16)August 16, 1930
Santa Monica, California
Died:August 9, 2015(2015-08-09) (aged 84)
Greenwich, Connecticut
Height:6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)
Weight:193 lb (88 kg)
Career information
High school: Bakersfield (CA)
College: USC
NFL Draft: 1952  / Round: 1 / Pick: 11
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Rushing yards:3,609
Yards per carry:4.3
Rushing touchdowns:34
Receiving yards:5,434
Receiving touchdowns:43
Player stats at

Francis Newton Gifford (August 16, 1930 – August 9, 2015) was an American football player, actor, and television sports commentator. After a 12-year playing career as a halfback 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 .


Gifford won the NFL Most Valuable Player Award from United Press International in 1956, the same season his team won the 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 an Emmy 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.

Early life

Gifford was born in Santa Monica, California, the son of Lola Mae (née Hawkins) and Weldon Gifford, an oil driller. [1] [2] He graduated from Kern County Union High School, now named Bakersfield High School. [3] 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". [4]

College career

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. While at Bakersfield, he made the Junior College All-America team and earned the grades needed to enroll at USC. [3] [5] At USC, Gifford was named an All-American after rushing for 841 yards on 195 carries during his final season. [6] While at USC he was a member of Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity. [7] He graduated from USC in 1952. [5]

NFL career

Gifford c. 1952-1964 Frank gifford ball.jpg
Gifford c. 1952-1964

Gifford spent his entire NFL career with the New York Giants, beginning in 1952, playing both offense and defense. [8] He made eight Pro Bowl appearances and had five trips to the NFL Championship Game. Gifford's best 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. [9]

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. [9] However, Gifford returned to the Giants in 1962, changing positions from running back to flanker (now a type of "wide receiver"). [10]

His Pro Bowl selections came at three positions defensive back, running back, and flanker. He permanently retired following the 1964 season. [11]

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. [9] 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. [12]

Gifford was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on July 30, 1977. [11]

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 September 18, 2015, 87 out of 91 former NFL players tested had been diagnosed with the disease. [13]

Broadcasting career

After his playing days ended, Gifford became a broadcaster for CBS, covering football, golf and basketball. [9] [14] 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. [15] His low-key delivery provided a perfect counterbalance to broadcast partners Meredith and Howard Cosell. [8] [9] 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. [15] [16] [17]

In 1986, Al Michaels took over play-by-play duties, and Gifford switched to a color commentator role. [18] However, Gifford did play-by-play for the next several years (Gifford was joined by Lynn Swann and O.J. Simpson 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. [19]

Following his affair with airline flight attendant Suzen Johnson in 1997, Gifford was replaced in the broadcast booth by Boomer Esiason in 1998. [11] [17] [20] 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. [21] Gifford was also host of British TV network Channel 4's NFL coverage with British born former New England Patriots kicker John Smith in 1986, which included coverage of Super Bowl XXI. [22] [23] Additionally, he narrated the official Super Bowl XLVIII highlight film for NFL Films, for which he had narrated the New York Giants' annual highlight films.

Gifford (center) with Christopher Reeve and President Ronald Reagan in 1983. Ronald Reagan Christopher Reeve.jpg
Gifford (center) with Christopher Reeve and President 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 [24] 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 1970s, including when Knievel failed to clear 13 buses at Wembley Stadium in 1975. [25] [26] Gifford also guest hosted Good Morning America on occasion, including once when he met his future wife Kathie Lee. [27]

In 1977, Gifford won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Sports Personality. [28] He was given the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award by the Pro Football Hall of Fame In 1995 for his NFL television work. [29]

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. [30]

Acting roles

Frank Gifford appeared as Ensign Cy Mount in the 1959 World War II submarine film drama Up Periscope , starring James Garner, Edmond O'Brien, Andra Martin and Alan Hale Jr.

Gifford appeared as himself as a guest star on the NBC television series, Hazel , in the episode, "Hazel and the Halfback", which originally aired December 26, 1963. [31] In the story, Gifford is interested in investing in a local bowling alley. In 1977, Gifford appeared as himself in the episode "The Shortest Yard" of the ABC sitcom The San Pedro Beach Bums . He also appeared as himself in a two-hour episode of The Six Million Dollar Man titled "The Bionic Boy" in the same year. In 1994, Gifford also appeared as himself in the Nickelodeon kids show called The Adventures of Pete & Pete as a customer for the boy's Dad's driving range. In season one episode 4 titled "Rangeboy", Gifford and his wife Kathie Lee appeared in the February 28, 1995, episode of the ABC sitcom Coach , titled "The Day I Met Frank Gifford", in which a character on the show plots to meet the former football star who will attend an event to receive an award.

Gifford also had an acting role in television commercials. [32]

Personal life

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. [3] They had three children, Jeff (b. 1952), Kyle and Victoria, and five grandchildren. [33] 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. [9] 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. [34] Gifford and his third wife Kathie Lee shared the same birthday, which was August 16. The couple co-hosted ABC's coverage of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. [35]

Gifford had an older sister and younger brother, Winona and Waine. [36]

In 1997, the tabloid magazine Globe paid a woman named Suzen Johnson to meet, get to know, and lure Gifford into a New York City hotel room secretly equipped with videotape systems, enabling the Globe to take photos of Gifford being seduced. [37] They published photos and stories. ESPN reported that the tabloid paid Johnson $75,000 to lure Gifford to the room, [3] while The Atlantic said it was $125,000. [38] National Enquirer editor Steve Coz observed, "There's a difference between reporting the news and creating the news ... [w]ithout 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." [39]

The former lawyer of Johnny Carson, Henry Bushkin, claimed that Gifford had an affair with Carson's second wife Joanne in 1970. [9]


On August 9, 2015, a week before his 85th birthday, Gifford died from natural causes at his Greenwich, Connecticut home at the age of 84. [40] [41]

In November 2015, Gifford's family revealed that he had suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (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." [42]

Awards and honors




In literature

Gifford is a character in Frederick Exley's novel A Fan's Notes . In the novel, Gifford becomes the narrator's hero while both are at USC. Subsequently, the narrator continues to be an intense fan of Gifford and his team, the New York Giants, during his NFL career. [9]

Selected books



1953All AmericanStan Pomeroy
1959 Up Periscope Ensign Cy Mount
1977 Viva Knievel! Himself
1996 Jerry Maguire Himself
2002 Three Days of Rain Extra
2011Beatles Stories Guest


1956 What's My Line? Himself
1962 Captain Kangaroo HimselfEpisode: "October 6, 1962" (S 8:Ep 30)
1963 Our Man Higgins Guest Episode: "Delinquent for a Day" (S 1:Ep 30)
Hazel HimselfEpisode: "Hazel and the Halfback" (S 3:Ep 15)
1964What's My Line? Guest Episode: "EPISODE #732" (S 16:Ep 4)
The Reporter HimselfEpisode: "How Much For A Prince" (S 1:Ep 3)
1971–97 Monday Night Football Play by Play Announcer Main
1975 The Way It Was PanelistEpisode: "1958 NFL Championship" (S 1:Ep 1)
$10,000 Pyramid HimselfEpisode: "Kate Jackson & Frank Gifford" (S 3: Ep 36–40)
Episode: "Sandy Duncan & Frank Gifford" (S 4:Ep 12–16)
1976 The Six Million Dollar Man HimselfEpisode: "The Bionic Boy, part 1" (S 4:Ep 8)
1977 The San Pedro Beach Bums HimselfEpisode: "The Shortest Yard" (S 1:Ep 2)
1981 The Primetime Emmy Awards HimselfEpisode: "The 33rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards" (S 33:Ep 1)
1984 Webster HimselfEpisode: "You Can't Go Home Again" (S 2:Ep 7)
1993 The Adventures of Pete & Pete HimselfEpisode: "Range Boy" (S 1:Ep 4)
1995 Coach HimselfEpisode: "The Day I Met Frank Gifford" (S 7:Ep 20)
1996CoachHimselfEpisode: "You Win Some, You Lose Some" (S 9:Ep 8)
1997 Spin City HimselfEpisode: "An Affair to Remember" (S 1:Ep 17)
1999 Biography HimselfEpisode: "Kathie Lee Gifford: Having it All" (S 2:Ep 33)
2000–05 SportsCentury ABC Sports Reporter Recurring
2004 ESPN25: Who's#1? IntervieweeEpisode: "Most Outrageous Characters" (S 1:Ep 5)
2007 Intimate Portrait Guest
2008 Celebrity Family Feud HimselfEpisode: "Episode 106" (S 1:Ep 2)
TMZ on TV HimselfEpisode: "Episode #2.029" (S 2:Ep 29)
Center Stage Guest Episode: "Frank Gifford" (S 4:Ep 6)
2009 Psych Play-by-Play voice

See also

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Media offices
Preceded by
Analysts for game in viewing area
The NFL Today host
Succeeded by
Jack Whitaker
Preceded by
Keith Jackson
Monday Night Football play-by-play announcer
Succeeded by
Al Michaels
Preceded by
Joe Namath and O. J. Simpson
Monday Night Football color commentator
1986 (sole commentator), 19871997 (with Dan Dierdorf)
Succeeded by
Dan Dierdorf and Boomer Esiason
Preceded by
Super Bowl television play-by-play announcer (non-cable prime-time package carrier)
Succeeded by
Al Michaels
Preceded by
Jim McKay
ABC's Wide World of Sports host (with Becky Dixon from 19871988)
Succeeded by
Julie Moran