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.

51 years later, NFL title game back in New York

Packer running back Jim Taylor battles Giants defense in the 1962 NFL championship game.

The last time the NFL championship game was played in New York, more than 51 years ago, President John F. Kennedy was in office, the epic film Lawrence of Arabia had just premiered in London, and the Beatles had yet to set foot on American soil.

The date was December 30, 1962, the scene was Yankee Stadium, and the Green Bay Packers were battling the New York Giants for the NFL title for the second straight year.

It was a cold, windy day in the Bronx, and reportedly there were no cell phones in use at the Stadium. While Green Bay was referred to as Title-town for its’ 1961 championship, New York was called Tittle-town, in reference to quarterback Y.A. Tittle.

And for the second straight year, the Packers won the championship — this time with a hard-fought, even savage, 16-7 victory. Here are 10 interesting storylines to that memorable clash:

1. Although the game was sold out, it was blacked out in New York per NFL television regulations of the day. Chris Schenkel and Ray Scott called the game on NBC. But you couldn’t see it in New York unless you had a ticket. (You can see it on this YouTube replay, with Ken Coleman and Ted Moore at the mike. Well at least some of it, there is missing video. And lots of cigarette advertisements.) And you couldn’t read about it either, since the city papers were on strike. So a slightly different New York State of mind.

2. How cold was it? It was cold. Freezing cold, Temperatures in the teens and winds gusting close to 40 mph. Players found inventive ways to warm themselves, huddling around small fires in metal trash cans on the Yankee Stadium sidelines.

3. The Packers were coached by the legendary Vince Lombardi, who was the Giants offensive coordinator before moving to Green Bay prior to the 1959 season. Allie Sherman was in the midst of coaching the Giants to the second of three straight championship game losses. In a soundbite for the ages, Lombardi would say: “I think it was about as fine a football game as I have ever seen. I think we saw football as it should be played.”

4. It was a match-up of Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Bart Starr for the Packers and Y.A. Tittle for the Giants. In terrible passing conditions, Starr was 9-for-21 for 85 yards; Tittle completed just 18 of 41 passes for 197 yards. Neither threw a touchdown pass.

5. In fact, there were Hall of Famers all over the field that day, 16 starters to be exact. 10 Packer starters — Starr, Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung, Jim Ringo and Forrest Gregg on the offense, and Willie Davis, Ray Nitschke, Henry Jordan, Herb Adderley and Willie Wood on the defense — are all enshrined in Canton. And six Giants — Tittle, Frank Gifford and Rosey Brown on offense and Rosey Grier, Andy Robustelli and Sam Huff on defense– are in the Hall of Fame.

6. These were clearly the NFL’s two best teams in 1962. Green Bay won the Western Conference with a 13-1 record, the only loss coming to the Lions on Thanksgiving Day. The Pack ranked first in both offense and defense that year. New York was nearly as dominant, winning the Eastern Conference at 12-2. The Giants were second in offense and fourth on defense in the 14-team league.

7. Guard Jerry Kramer, who authored Instant Replay, a diary of the Packers 1967 season, kicked three field goals for Green Bay to provide the margin of victory that day. Jim Taylor scored the only Packer touchdown; Rookie Jim Collier recovered a blocked punt in the end zone for New York’s lone score.

8. Green Bay linebacker and Hall of Famer Ray Nitschke was named the game’s MVP and drove away with a Corvette. Jerry Kramer was awarded the game ball.

9. If there had been a Super Bowl in 1962, the Packers would have faced the Dallas Texans, who won the AFL championship in 1962 a week earlier with a double overtime win over the Houston Oilers. Later in the decade, Green Bay would go on to win the first two Super Bowls.

10. After the game, Lombardi led his team in prayer in the Green Bay locker room. No champagne, no cameras, no music. Just the Lord’s Prayer. The winning share for the Packers was $6,000 per man. Yes, life was much simpler back then.

Personally speaking — I was 11 years old, and I remember that cold Sunday afternoon in December of 1962. We went sleigh riding over the hills of a golf course in White Plains, NY, but not for long. It was too cold and windy. And I remember huddling with my father around the radio, listening to Giants’ announcer Marty Glickman call the game.

The 10 biggest routs in Giants history

Alex Webster bulls his way into the end zone as the Giants trounce the Bears 47-7 in the 1956 NFL Championship game at Yankee Stadium.

There are wins and there are routs. Blowouts. Total domination. The New York Giants have experienced their fair share of gridiron glory in the 87 years since Tim Mara brought pro football to New York in 1925 — including four Super Bowls and eight NFL championships overall

Here are the biggest of the big, the 10 most dominant wins in Giants history.

1. Giants 47, Bears 7, 1956 — The Giants cap off their first season in Yankee Stadium by crushing the Bears in the NFL Championship game. Alex Webster runs for a pair of touchdowns and Charlie Conerly throws TD passes to Frank Gifford and Kyle Rote as New York races to a 34-7 halftime lead and wins easily.

2. Giants 41, Vikings 0, 2001 — Quarterback Kerry Collins tosses a club playoff record five TD passes to lead the Giants past Minnesota in what remains the largest shutout margin ever recorded in an NFC Championship game.

3. Giants 49, 49ers 3, 1987 — Phil Simms, right, throws four TD passes, Joe Morris runs for two,  and Lawrence Taylor takes a Joe Montana pass to the house as the Giants rout San Francisco in the divisional round en route to the first Super Bowl in team history.

4. Giants 48, Browns 7, 1959 — Frank Gifford, Kyle Rote and Alex Webster all score touchdowns as the G-Men build a 48-0 lead and roll to the Eastern Conference championship.

5. Giants 53, Redskins 0. 1961 – Y.A. Tittle connects  with Del Shofner for three TDs, linemen Dick Modzelewski and Jim Katcavage record safeties, and the Giants outgain the Redskins 383-82.

6. Giants 36, Redskins 0, 2005 — In their first game since the death of beloved owner Wellington Mara, Brandon Jacobs, Tiki Barber and Jeremy Shockey all score touchdowns and Jay Feely kicks five field goals in a shutout at the Meadowlands.

7. Giants 62, Eagles 10, 1972 — Norm Snead throws three TD passes and Randy Johnson two and Ron Johnson runs for a pair of scores as the Giants post the most points in team history.

8. Giants 56, Eagles 0, 1933 — Led by Hall of Famers coach Steve Owen, left, and fullback Ken Strong, along with passing leader Harry Newman, the Giants rout Philadelphia at the Polo Grounds in the first meeting ever between the two teams.

9. Giants 33, Browns 6, 1963 — The Giants roll into Cleveland and rout the previously unbeaten Browns behind four Don Chandler field goals. Adding insult to injury, the Giants block the extra point after a late Cleveland touchdown.

10. Giants 49, Packers 3, 1948 — Charlie Conerly throws for three TDs and runs for a fourth score as the Giants overcome an early 3-0 Packer lead with seven straight touchdowns in Green Bay.

10 things you must know about Giants-49ers

Giants Leonard Marshall levels 49ers Joe Montana in New York’s epic 15-13 upset in 1990 NFC Championship game that dashed San Francisco’s hopes for a Super Bowl three-peat.

The New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers is one of the all-time great NFL rivalries, starting with their first-ever meeting in 1952 at the Polo Grounds.

That day Charlie Conerly threw a touchdown pass and Ray Poole’s three field goals made the difference in a 23-14 Giants win. Y.A. Tittle, who would later take the Giants to three straight NFL Championship games, pitched two touchdowns for the Niners.

Here’s 10 things you need to know about Giants-49ers:

1. Even Steven: The two teams have split 28 regular season games. In those games, the 49ers outscored the Giants by just seven points, 560 to 553.

2. Playoffs…playoffs: Same in the playoffs. San Francisco holds a 4-3 edge in playoff matchups, scoring 161 points to the Giants 156.

3. Familiar foes: No two NFL teams have met in the playoffs more often than these two, with Sunday’s title game at Candlestick Park marking their league record-tying eighth postseason showdown. Only the Bears-Giants and Cowboys-Rams have as many playoff matchups.

4. 10-Year Super run: The two teams met five times in the playoffs between 1981 and 1990. In four of those five games, the winner went on to win the Super Bowl.

5. Hey Joe: Joseph Clifford Montana Jr. led the Niners to divisional round wins over the Giants in 1981 and 1984, and San Francisco went on to win its first two Super Bowls.

6. Home cooking: The Giants won their first-ever playoff game in Giants Stadium in 1985, beating the 49ers 17-3 on touchdown passes by Phil Simms to tight ends Mark Bavaro and Don Hasselback. Hasselbeck went on to father NFL quarterbacks Tim and Matt.

7. 49 vs. 49ers: In 1986, Simms threw four touchdown passes and Lawrence Taylor took an errant Montana pass to the house as the Giants romped 49-3 en route to their first Super Bowl.

8. Bahr for three: The two teams met in the NFC Championship game for the only previous time in 1990. Matt Bahr, right, kicked five field goals, the last in the final seconds, to send the Giants to more Super Bowl glory with a 15-13 victory. Bahr’s field goal was set up by a costly fumble by Roger Craig.

9. Running Watters: Ricky Watters set a playoff record with five touchdowns (all rushing) and 30 points in 1993 when the 49ers beat the Giants 44-3, the last game for both Simms and Taylor.

10. Huge comeback: In their last playoff meeting in 2002, the 49ers overcame a 24-point deficit to win 39-38 the second greatest comeback in NFL playoff history. 19-year veteran Trey Jenkin, playing in his only game for the Giants, botched a snap as they Giants attempted a potential game-winning field goal in the waning seconds.