“Belief in oneself is one of the most important bricks in building any successful venture,” said the legendary Frank Gifford, a celebrated football player and the prototype for the successful transition from the playing field of professional sports to the arenas of broadcasting, entertainment, and popular culture.
Born in Santa Monica, California, on August 16, 1930, Gifford began his NFL career with the New York Giants, playing both offense and defense. He made eight Pro Bowl appearances and five in the NFL Championship Game, the forerunner of the Super Bowl. In 1956, he was named Most Valuable Player of the NFL, and led the Giants to the NFL title over the Chicago Bears.
Gifford’s move to broadcasting and entertainment began in 1957, while he was still an active player for the Giants. In 1959, he was a commentator on the CBS NFL pre-game show, and appeared in the film Up Periscope, as well as in advertisements for Jantzen Swimwear.
He lost 18 months in the prime of his career when he fell victim to one of the most brutal hits in NFL history. The resulting injury led him to retire from football. “Pro football is like nuclear warfare,” Gifford said; “there are no winners, only survivors.”
During this time he developed an unsold television crime drama pilot called Turnpike, and did occasional guest spots on TV shows such as Hazel.
He returned to the Giants in 1962, changing positions from running back to wide receiver. His eight Pro Bowl selections came in three different positions: defensive back, running back, and wide receiver. He retired again, this time for good, in 1964, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.
Gifford became a commentator for CBS Sports, and in 1971, he joined Howard Cosell and Don Meredith on ABC’s Monday Night Football, a post he held until 1998. Gifford recalled, “People remember Don being a country bumpkin, which he wasn’t, and Howard being a pain in the ass, which he was. I was the law and order.”
Gifford was also reporter and commentator on other ABC programs, such as the 1972-1984 Summer Olympics, as well as the 1976-1988 Winter Olympics. In addition, he was host of ABC’s Wide World of Sports and other ABC Sports specials, and guest hosted Good Morning America. Gifford even interviewed then-president Richard Nixon in 1971. In 1977, Gifford received an Emmy® Award as Outstanding Sports Personality.
Over the years, Gifford made numerous film appearances, including Paper Lion, Disney’s The World’s Greatest Athlete, Two Minute Warning, and Jerry Maguire. His memoir, The Whole Ten Yards, written with Harry Waters, was published in 1993.
In 1995, he was given the Pete Rozelle Award by the Pro Football Hall of Fame “for longtime exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football.” Gifford has been married since 1986 to singer, actress, and television host Kathie Lee Gifford. They have two children.
More than anything, Gifford remains enamored of the powerful unity that pro sports and broadcasting can provide. He recalled, “Governor Reagan had his arm around John Lennon, and he was explaining American football to him. Only on Monday Night Football would you get those two guys, who were poles apart, united.”
The celebrated football player, broadcaster, and Disney Legend passed away on August 9, 2015, in Connecticut, at the age of 84.