Giants Van Pelt Helped Anchor Crunch Bunch

The Crunch Bunch: Harry Carson, Brian Kelley, Lawrence Taylor and Brad Van Pelt

Brad Van Pelt was one of those rare great athletes who had a long, successful career but missed out on the glory of a championship. Now he’s left us far too soon, victim of an apparent heart attack at the age of 57.

Van Pelt was generally considered the New York Giants best player during the 70s — a decade in which the Giants failed to make a single playoff appearance.

A Maxwell Award winner and a second-round draft pick out of Michigan State in 1973, Van Pelt was the first of the great Giants linebackers that included Brian Kelley and Hall of Famers Harry Carson and Lawrence Taylor. Kelley was drafted in the 14th round in 1973, Carson joined the team three years later, and Taylor was the second pick overall in the 1981 draft. The four were known as the Crunch Bunch, perhaps the finest linebacker group in NFL history.

And they remained extremely close over the years.  “I feel as comfortable with them as I do with my brothers,” Van Pelt said in a 2004 interview. “Obviously, your brothers are your brothers. But these three are probably the closest thing to them. Brian and I played 11 years together. I played nine with Harry. Lawrence being the guy, it didn’t take long for him to fit right in and become one of the guys. I can’t really explain why but they’re the only three I stay close with.”

Turning the Corner with LT
The Giants struggled mightily before Taylor joined the team, winning a total of just 24 games between 1976 and 1980. But Van Pelt made five Pro Bowls and Carson two during that stretch, as the Giants began to build a defense around their linebacking corps, a defense that would eventually win two Super Bowls.

Van Pelt, who wore number 10, unusual for a linebacker, played on just one winning team during his 11-year career with the Giants, in 1981. That team ended an 18-year playoff drought for the G-Men.

Following the 1983 season, Van Pelt and Kelley both left New York. Van Pelt played two years with the Raiders and finished his career with the Browns in 1986.

The Giants, buttressed by another Michigan State linebacker, Carl Banks, won the Super Bowl in 1986 and again in 1990. Banks and Taylor played on both those championship teams, along with linebackers Gary Reasons and Pepper Johnson. Carson retired following the 1988 season.

Van Pelt finished his career with 20 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries, but was never able to win that championship ring. He’s one of few Giants to call four different fields home — Yankee Stadium, the Yale Bowl, Shea Stadium and Giants Stadium.

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