Frank Gifford

Last updated

Frank Gifford
Frank Gifford 1949.jpeg
Gifford at USC, c.1949
No. 16
Position: Halfback
Personal information
Born:(1930-08-16)August 16, 1930
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Died:August 9, 2015(2015-08-09) (aged 84)
Greenwich, Connecticut, U.S.
Height:6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)
Weight:197 lb (89 kg)
Career information
High school: Bakersfield
(Bakersfield, California)
College: USC
NFL draft: 1952  / Round: 1 / Pick: 11
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Rushing yards:3,609
Rushing average:4.3
Rushing touchdowns:34
Receiving yards:5,434
Receiving touchdowns:43
Points scored:484
Player stats at PFR

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, flanker and safety 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 (UPI) 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 and education

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

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 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". [3]

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. As a result 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. [2] [4] At USC, Gifford was named an All-American after rushing for 841 yards on 195 carries during his final season. [5] While at USC he was a member of Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity. [6] He graduated from USC in 1952. [4]

NFL career

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

Gifford spent his entire National Football League (NFL) career with the New York Giants, beginning in 1952, playing both offense and defense. [7] 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. [8]

He lost 18 months in the prime of his career when he was tackled by Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Chuck Bednarik, in what is widely considered the hardest defensive hit, or one of the hardest, in the history of the NFL and is often referred to simply as The Hit. During a 1960 season game against the Eagles, he was knocked out by Bednarik on a passing play, suffering a severe concussion that led him to retire from football in 1961. [8] However, Gifford returned to the Giants in 1962, changing positions from halfback to flanker. [9]

His Pro Bowl selections came at three positions, safety, halfback, and flanker. He permanently retired following the 1964 season. [10]

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. [8] 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. [11]

Gifford was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on July 30, 1977. [10]

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. [12]

Broadcasting career

After his playing days ended, Gifford became a broadcaster for CBS, covering football, golf and basketball. [8] [13] 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. Instead Gifford 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. [14] His low-key delivery provided a perfect counterbalance to broadcast partners Meredith and Howard Cosell. [7] [8] 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. [14] [15] [16]

Gifford was providing play-by-play in the waning moments of a 1980 Monday Night Football game between the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins when he and Cosell learned of John Lennon's murder. Cosell initially balked at breaking the news live on air, but Gifford convinced him, saying, "You’ve got to. If you know it, we’ve got to do it. Don’t hang on it. It’s a tragic moment, and this is going to shake up the whole world". [17] Cosell then informed the national audience of the tragedy.

On January 20, 1985, Gifford provided play-by-play for the first Super Bowl to be broadcast on ABC, Super Bowl XIX between the San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins in Stanford, California. Gifford was joined in the booth by Don Meredith and Joe Theismann.

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. [10] [16] [20] That season he was reassigned to a nominal role for ABC's Monday night pregame show, but that 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 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 acting roles 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. [2] They had three children, Jeff (b. 1952), Kyle, and Victoria; and five grandchildren. [33] Victoria Gifford married Michael LeMoyne Kennedy, son of Robert F. Kennedy. Frank Gifford was next married to fitness trainer Astrid Lindley from 1978 to 1986. His first two marriages ended in divorce. [8] 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, August 16. The couple co-hosted ABC's coverage of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. [35]

Gifford had an older sister, Winona, and a younger brother, Waine. [ citation needed ] In 1997, the tabloid magazine Globe paid a woman named Suzen Johnson to meet, befriend, and lure Gifford into a New York City hotel room secretly equipped with videotape systems enabling the Globe to take and obtain photos of Gifford being seduced. [36] They published photos and stories. ESPN reported that the tabloid paid Johnson $75,000 to lure Gifford to the room [2] while The Atlantic said it was $125,000. [37] 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." [38]

Henry Bushkin, Johnny Carson's former lawyer, claimed that Gifford had an affair with Carson's second wife Joanne in 1970. [8]


On August 9, 2015, a week before his 85th birthday, Gifford died from natural causes at his Greenwich, Connecticut, home. [39] [40]

In November 2015, Gifford's family revealed that he had 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." [41] He was one of at least 345 NFL players to be diagnosed after death with this disease, which is caused by repeated hits to the head. [42] [43]

Awards and honors




NFL career statistics

Won NFL championship
Led the league
BoldCareer high

Regular season

Rushing/receiving stats

1952 NYG 1010381163.111.61505367.211031
1953 NYG 129501573.113.11521829216.249423
1954 NYG 99663685.640.93021415411.035171
1955 NYG 1111863514.131.94933343713.254450
1956 NYG 12121598195.268.36955160311.848451
1957 NYG 12121365283.944.04154158814.363491
1958 NYG 10101154684.146.83382933011.441235
1959 NYG 11111065405.149.17934276818.377452
1960 NYG 88772323.029.01542434414.344363
1962 NYG 14142189.01.31213979620.463710
1963 NYG 14114102.50.71204265715.664720
1964 NYG 1312122.00.2212942914.8403
Career 1361298403,6094.326.579343675,43414.877434817

Passing statistics

1952 NYG 1250.0189.01018120.8
1953 NYG 3650.0477.81021116.0
1954 NYG 4850.015519.4318395.8
1955 NYG 2633.39616.02071121.5
1956 NYG 2540.0357.0212964.6
1957 NYG 4666.714323.82066149.3
1958 NYG 31030.010910.0116366.2
1959 NYG 51145.515113.7224392.0
1960 NYG 3650.0244.0011320.8
1962 NYG 1250.0126.0001268.7
1963 NYG 11100.03333.00033118.7

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. [8]

Selected books



1953All AmericanStan Pomeroy
1959 Up Periscope Ensign Cy Mount
1973 The World's Greatest Athlete Himself
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)
1964 Password HimselfEpisode: "Lauren Bacall & Frank Gifford" (S 3:Ep 136)
1965PasswordHimselfEpisode: "Jane Wyatt & Frank Gifford" (S 4: Ep 151)
1965PasswordHimselfEpisode: "Betty White & Frank Gifford" (S 5: Ep 36)
1966PasswordHimselfEpisode: "Betty White & Frank Gifford" (S 5: Ep 86)
1966PasswordHimselfEpisode: "Betty White & Frank Gifford" (S 5: Ep 141)
1966PasswordHimselfEpisode: "Florence Henderson & Frank Gifford" (S 5: Ep 256)
1966PasswordHimselfEpisode: "Florence Henderson & Frank Gifford" (S 6: Ep 71)
1967PasswordHimselfEpisode: "Betty White & Frank Gifford" (S 6: Ep 196)
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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  31. page referring specific episode Retrieved February 28, 2011
  32. thecelebratedmisterk (July 13, 2010). "Frank Gifford Gets Lucky". Archived from the original on December 12, 2021 via YouTube.
  33. "Kathie Lee's Story". Retrieved August 10, 2015.
  34. Cf. Gifford & Richmond, The Glory Game, 2008, p.291
  35. Szul, Barbara (February 13, 1988). "The 1988 Winter Olympics kick off this Saturday, and". Chicago Tribune.
  36. Furse, Jane (May 17, 1997). "Gifford Fling Bombshell Sleuth: I Was Asked To Tape Tryst". New York Daily News. Retrieved August 26, 2012.
  37. ""CREEPING TABLOIDISM!" LAWYER CLAIMS". The Atlantic Online. August 1999.
  38. "Tabloid Gets Snared In Gifford Affair". Orlando Sentinel. May 18, 1997. Archived from the original on August 26, 2015. Retrieved August 10, 2015.
  39. "Pro Football Hall Of Famer, Giants Legend Frank Gifford Dead At 84". New York City: WCBS-TV. August 9, 2015. Archived from the original on August 10, 2015. Retrieved August 9, 2015.
  40. Gittens, Hasani (August 9, 2015). "NFL Legend Frank Gifford Passes Away at 84". NBC News (NBCUniversal). Archived from the original on August 10, 2015. Retrieved August 9, 2015.
  41. "Hall of Fame player Frank Gifford suffered from CTE, family says". November 25, 2015. Retrieved November 25, 2015.
  42. "The driving force behind Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)". Concussion Legacy Foundation. Archived from the original on July 2, 2023. Retrieved July 2, 2023.
  43. Ken Belson and Benjamin Mueller (June 20, 2023). "Collective Force of Head Hits, Not Just the Number of Them, Increases Odds of C.T.E. The largest study of chronic traumatic encephalopathy to date found that the cumulative force of head hits absorbed by players in their careers is the best predictor of future brain disease". The New York Times . Retrieved July 2, 2023.
  44. 1 2 Shmelter, Richard J. (2013). "Frank Gifford". The USC Trojans Football Encyclopedia. pp. 210–11. ISBN   9781476615110 . Retrieved August 10, 2015 via Google Books.
  45. Prevatte, Pam (September 30, 1997). "A reunion of sorts at Ericsson Stadium". Spartanburg Herald-Journal . Spartanburg, South Carolina. p. D1. Retrieved August 11, 2015 via Google News Archives.
  46. "Shane Stafford joins Arena team". Reading Eagle . October 19, 2000. p. C3. Retrieved August 11, 2015 via Google News Archives.
  47. Ausiello, Michael; Webb Mitovich, Matt (August 9, 2015). "Frank Gifford, Legendary Monday Night Football Sportscaster and Husband of Kathie Lee Gifford, Dead at 84". Yahoo! TV. Retrieved August 11, 2015.
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Preceded by Monday Night Football play-by-play announcer
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Preceded by Monday Night Football color commentator
1986 (sole commentator), 19871997 (with Dan Dierdorf)
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Super Bowl television play-by-play announcer (non-cable prime-time package carrier)
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