It sounded like a rifle shot.
Chuck Bednarik knocked Frank Gifford clear into another season with his concussion-inducing smack-down. The 30-year-old Gifford went into retirement in 1961, but he missed the action and was eager to return in 1962, when he replaced his old teammate Kyle Rote as the Giants’ dependable flanker for three more years.
Handsome and stylish, Gifford was an early pop-culture icon who moved easily in the bright lights on and off the field. He inspired hero worship from many fans most notably troubled writer Frederick Exley, whose novel A Fan’s Notes used Gifford and the Giants as a prism through which he viewed his own life.
Gifford was a Southern California native who starred as an All-American tailback at USC, and he also did some acting. He was the top pick of New York in 1952, but Giants coach Steve Owen was suspicious of Gifford and primarily used him on defense. Under new offensive coach Vince Lombardi, though, Gifford’s career changed course in his third year. Lombardi valued Gifford’s “versatility and alertness” and used his running, receiving, and passing abilities as the centerpiece of New York’s offense. In 1956, the Giants won the title and Gifford won the league MVP award.
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When he retired for good in 1964, Gifford was first in team history in points, touchdowns, and receiving yards and second in receptions and rushing yards. He had been selected for the Pro Bowl five times as a running back, once as a flanker, and once as a defensive back three different positions in all. He had thrown 14 touchdown passes on the halfback option play.
Gifford was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977 and had his number retired by the Giants in 2000. In a high-profile second career, he spent more than 30 years as a broadcaster, most notably on Monday Night Football with Howard Cosell and Don Meredith.
Frank Gifford was taken off the field on a stretcher after being knocked out by Chuck Bednarik. Gifford spent a year in retirement because of the injury.
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