The ultimate Giant: Memories of Frank Gifford

Five days before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, I saw my first NFL game. On a cool Sunday afternoon in 1963, the Giants rolled over the visiting 49ers 48-14 at Yankee Stadium.

Frank Gifford caught a pair of touchdown passes that day, a 10-yarder from Y.A. Tittle and later a 30-yarder from New York’s back-up quarterback Glynn Griffing. Later that year, Gifford scored the Giants’ only touchdown in a 14-10 loss to the Bears in the NFL championship game at Wrigley Field.

A year later, Gifford retired. He lived the life of “the ultimate Giant.” And of course Gifford would go on to make a huge imprint on pro football, broadcasting Monday Night Football games on ABC for nearly 30 years.

Gifford, who passed away earlier this week at the age of 84, still ranks first all-time in Giants touchdowns with 78, second in receiving yards and eighth in rushing yardage.

“Frank Gifford was the ultimate Giant,” said Giants co-owner John Mara. “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.”

For a kid growing up in Westchester County, a kid who went to Iona Prep, the same high school as John Mara, Frank Gifford was the epitome of cool. Giants cool. Lawrence Taylor was the greatest Giant, but for half of century Gifford was the face of the franchise. To be called a “legend: by Joe Namath is quite a tribute.

I’ll always cherish that Frank Gifford autograph and the words of encouragement I received at a Communion breakfast in White Plains when I was 12 years old. #16, gone but not forgotten.

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Will Severino ride to the rescue like Stott?

On the morning of Wednesday, August 12, 1964, the Yankees were languishing in third place, trailing the Orioles by 3 1/2 games and the White Sox by 2 1/2. The Yankees were in the last days of a great dynasty, having won 13 American League pennants and nine World Series in the previous 15 years.

That day a tall, slender right-hand pitcher named Mel Stottlemyre was called up to make his major league debut. Aided by a tape measure home run by Mickey Mantle, Stott pitched a complete-game, seven-hitter and beat the ChiSox, 7-3, for his first big league win. He even singled in his first at bat. .

That was 51 years ago, but the Yankees made arguably their most important pitching call-up since then when they brought up highly touted Luis Serevino, pictured below, in early August. Although Severino didn’t fare quite as well as Stottlemyre in his debut, he did pitch well, striking out seven batters, walking none, and allowing only two hits and one unearned run in a 2-1 loss to the Red Sox.

The Yankees have had plenty of starting pitching prospects since then. But outside of a few notable exceptions, like Ron Guidry and Andy Pettitte, few have lived up to expectations. Home-grown talent like Jim Beattie, Scott Kamieniecki, Sam Militello and later Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, have struggled in the Bronx. And then there was the sad tale of Brien Taylor, the top overall pick in the 1991 draft, who injured his shoulder in a bar fight and never pitched in the majors.

Stott down the stretch

Back to 1964. Stottlemyre went 9-3 down the stretch that year and was a major force as the Yankees advanced to the World Series against the Cardinals. He beat the Orioles, 3-1, just three days after his debut.And on August 22, in his third start, he righted the ship and stopped a six-game losing streak with an 8-0 shutout win over the Red Sox. The Yankees won 30 of their last 41 games to take the flag.

Stottlemyre won six more games in 1964, highlighted by a 7-0 shutout of the Washington Senators on September 26  in which he allowed just two hits. But the kicker was at the plate, where Stott went 5-for-5 and drove in a pair of runs.

In the World Series that October, the Yankees became heavily dependent on Stottlemyre after Whitey Ford was injured in the opener. Mel beat Bob Gibson in Game Two, a complete game 8-3 victory. Despite pitching seven strong innings in Game Five, he came away with a no decision. Finally, pitching on just two days rest, he lost to Gibson and the Cardinals 7-5 in Game Seven.

Stottlemyre would pitch 10 more years in the Bronx and never saw the playoffs after 1964. Severino’s fate is still TBD.

Related blog: Mel Stottlemyre’s inside-the-park grand slam.