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.
When they are good, the New York Giants are the epitome of smashmouth football.
One of the key elements of smashmouth football is a strong offensive line and a physical running attack that’s reliable in all sorts of weather. The Giants have had some terrific rushing offenses through the years, but they’ve never had two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season.
That is, until this year. Brandon Jacobs, above, surpassed 1,000 yards several weeks ago, and Derrick Ward, below, coming off a 215-yard effort against the Panthers last week, is just 51 yards short. No doubt, the Giants will try and get Ward those yards in the season finale against the Vikings.
The Giants have a long history of outstanding runners, including Hall of Famer Frank Gifford and fullback Alex Webster, who led a successful run in the 50s and early 60s, featuring six NFL Eastern Conference titles and the NFL championship in 1956.
And in the past couple of decades, the Giants have played smashmouth football as well as anyone. In fact, counting their first Super Bowl win in 1987, the Giants have won three NFL championships in the last 22 years.
That’s the same number of Super Bowl won by the 49ers, Cowboys and Patriots during that stretch. And this year they have the inside track towards another Super Bowl as the No. 1 seed in the NFC. The road to the Super Bowl goes through the Meadowlands.
Super Bowl Era
The lead back on the Giants first Super Bowl champion was Joe Morris, the dynamic running back from Syracuse. Morris rushed for 1,516 yards and 14 touchdowns in 1986, including back-to-back 181-yard games against the Redskins and Cowboys in key mid-season battles.
Ottis Anderson, below, and rookie Rodney Hampton led the Giants 1990 championship squad that beat the Bills, 20-19, in Super Bowl XXV, a game in which Anderson was named MVP. Anderson ran for 784 yards and 11 touchdowns that year. Hampton rushed for 455 yards before breaking his leg near the end of the season.
Last year, when the Giants upset the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, Jacobs led the running attack with 1009 yards. Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw were the other key running backs, though neither approached the 1,000-yard mark.
Tiki Barber, the Giants all-time and single-season rushing leader, never won in a Super Bowl, though he did play in the 34-7 loss to the Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV. Barber gained 10,449 yards in a 10-year career, including a high of 1,860 yards in 2005.
Hampton stands second on New York’s all-time rushing leader list with 6,897 yards, followed by Morris (5,296) and Webster (4,638) and Ron Johnson (3,836).
Johnson was the first Giant to rush for 1,000 yards (1,027) in 1970. Here’s the all-time list:
Giants 1,000 Yard Rushers
Tiki Barber – 6
Rodney Hampton – 5
Joe Morris – 3
Ron Johnson – 2
Brandon Jacobs – 2*
Ottis Anderson – 1
Gary Brown – 1
* includes 2008 season
It may have been “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” But in New York, it was “The Greatest Game Never Seen.”
The famous 1958 NFL championship game between the Giants and Colts was televised nationally on NBC, but blacked out in New York.
Fifty years later, New York football fans finally got a chance to see the game — or at least a colorized, condensed version of it — on ESPN the other night. The contest, won by the Colts, 23-17, at Yankee Stadium, is still the only pro football championship game ever to go into overtime.
Why was the game blacked out in New York? NFL policy at the time mandated a black-out all home games regardless of whether they were sold out. That policy was in effect virtually from the beginning of the television era, until 1973, and still holds for games that are not sold out. In fact, all Super Bowl games prior to VII were blacked out in the host market.
The TV broadcasters that day were Chris Schenkel, the voice of the Giants, and Chuck Thompson, the voice of the Colts. Many Giants fans listened to Bob Wolff call the game on radio.
Those days, Giants fans would migrate to Connecticut to see games, or build large antennas to pick up TV signals from Hartford and New Haven.
The Giants had a much tougher road to the 1958 championship than the Colts. Going into the final game of the regular season, they needed to beat the Cleveland Browns at Yankee Stadium to earn a tie at the top of the Eastern Conference.
A seven-year-old kid, I vaguely recall that game — the oldest sibling listening to the game in the car on the way back from a family trip to Brooklyn in a driving snowstorm. Pat Summerall kicked a 49-yard field goal to give the Giants a 13-10 win.
The following week, in a playoff game at Yankee Stadium, the Giants limited Jim Brown to a career-low eight yards in seven carries and shut out Cleveland, 10-0, their third win over the Browns that season.
The Colts were the more rested team in the championship game and it showed, as they wore down the Giants in the fourth quarter and overtime to earn the win. The game that is credited with increasing the popularity of professional football in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
A total of 17 players, coaches and owners involved with the 1958 championship game are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Here’s the list:
New York Giants
OL Rosey Brown
HB Frank Gifford
LB Sam Huff
WR Don Maynard
DE Andy Robustelli
DB Emlen Tunnell
Offensive Coordinator Vince Lombardi
Defensive Coordinator Tom Landry
Owner Tim Mara
Vice President / Secretary Wellington Mara
WR Raymond Berry
DL Art Donovan
DL Gino Marchetti
HB/WR Lenny Moore
OL Jim Parker
QB Johnny Unitas
Head Coach Weeb Ewbank