Francis Newton "Frank" Gifford (born August 16 1930) is a former American football player and one of the better-known American sports commentators in the latter part of the 20th century who made the transition from an athlete to broadcasting.
Gifford was born in Santa Monica, California
, the son of Lola Mae (née Hawkins) and Weldon Gifford, an oil driller. After graduating from Bakersfield High School
, Gifford was unable to gain an athletic scholarship to the University of Southern California
(USC) due to his low grade point average
. Undeterred, he played a season for Bakersfield College
, making the Junior College All-American team while making the grades needed to enroll at USC. At USC, Gifford was named an All-America
He began his NFL
career with the New York Giants
by playing both offense and defense, a rarity when platoon football became popular after World War II
. He made eight Pro Bowl
appearances and had five trips to the NFL Championship Game, the forerunner of the Super Bowl
. Gifford's biggest season may have been 1956
, when he won the Most Valuable Player award of the NFL
, and led the Giants to the NFL title over the Chicago Bears
He lost 18 months in the prime of his career when he was the victim of one of the most brutal, though completely legal, hits in NFL history. During a 1960 game against the Philadelphia Eagles, he was cleanly blindsided by Chuck Bednarik on a passing play, suffering a severe head injury that led him to retire from football. However, Gifford returned to the Giants in 1962, changing positions from running back to wide receiver (then known as flanker). Despite his long layoff and having to learn a new position, he became a star once again.
His Pro Bowl selections came at three different positions—defensive back, running back, and wide receiver. He retired again, this time for good, in 1964, after making the Pro Bowl as a receiver.
During his 12 seasons with the New York Giants (136 regular season games) Frank Gifford had 3,609 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns in 840 carries, he also had 367 receptions for 5,434 yards and 43 touchdowns. Gifford completed 29 of the 63 passes he threw for 823 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Gifford was officially inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on July 30, 1977.
After his playing days ended, Gifford became a commentator
mainly for NFL
games on CBS
. His big break came in 1971
when he replaced Keith Jackson
announcer on ABC
's Monday Night Football
, joining Howard Cosell
and Don Meredith
, and would continue on as a commentator until 1997
, amid controversy regarding an affair he had with airline stewardess Suzen Johnson
. In 1998
, he was given a reduced role on the pregame show. After that, Gifford left Monday Night Football
Gifford also served as a reporter and commentator on other ABC programs, such as their coverage of the Olympic Games and skiing, and has guest hosted Good Morning America on occasion. In 1995, he was given the Pete Rozelle Award by the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his NFL television work.
He also announced Evel Knievel's jumps for ABC's Wide World of Sports in the 1970s, including when Knievel failed to clear 17 buses at Wembley Stadium in 1975.
Gifford has a younger brother, Waine, and an older sister, Winona. He has a daughter Heidi from a woman he did not marry. Gifford has another daughter, Victoria Denise Gifford (b. February 20
) with Maxine Avis Ewart. Heidi was married to Michael Meyers
. Victoria married a member of the Kennedy family
, Michael LeMoyne Kennedy
Gifford has been married (since 18 October 1986) to current Today Show talk show host and singer Kathie Lee Gifford (who coincidentally shares his August 16 birthday). They have two children: son Cody Newton Gifford (b. March 22, 1990) and daughter Cassidy Erin Gifford (b. August 2, 1993).
In 1997, the tabloid The Globe
hired Trans World Airlines flight attendant Suzen Johnson
to seduce Frank Gifford in a hotel room equipped with cameras installed by the newspaper. ESPN later reported that Johnson was paid $75,000. The Atlantic put the figure at $125,000. Johnson succeeded and The Globe
published photographs showing Frank Gifford with Johnson. The New York District Attorney considered filing criminal charges against The Globe
for, among other things, prostitution
, but the Giffords asked that he drop the case.
Because of his diverse talents -- as an athlete, as a broadcaster, game-show participant (in the 1960s he appeared on Password
regularly) -- Mad magazine
poked fun at him in its Monday Night Football
parody, by calling him "Frank Gifted".
TV network executives also thought he had acting potential. He made an unsold pilot (Turnpike, a crime drama in the mold of Dragnet and Highway Patrol, in which he starred as a New Jersey state trooper) in the early 1960s. Clips were seen in his A&E Biography episode.
He also did occasional guest spots on TV shows, such as Hazel. ("Hazel and the Halfback," episode originally broadcast Dec. 26, 1963.)
Frank Gifford also appears as a character in the semi-autobiographical novel, A Fan's Notes, by Frederick Exley.