The late Frank Gifford supported your MSHoF
Frank Gifford, the All-Pro running back, was before my time. I don’t remember much, at all, about Gifford, No. 16 of the New York Giants.
I well remember Gifford, the play-by-play man for Monday night football, more for his peace-keeping between Howard Cosell and Dandy Don Meredith than for his professionally concise accounts of the games. As a broadcaster, he had a smooth, soothing voice and style and was the perfect straight man for Cosell’s bombast and Meredith’s corn pone humor.
“Welcome to Mile High Stadium, and I really am,” Meredith once said in the Monday night opening.
Of Cleveland Browns receiver Fair Hooker, Dandy Don observed: “Fair Hooker? I have yet to meet one.”
Cosell? Well, if you are too young to remember the egocentric Cosell, I do not
possess the words to describe him. “Bombastic” is the adjective usually employed to describe Cosell. That’s inadequate. He was “bombastic squared.” And he often drank heavily during the games.
Gifford, who died Sunday at age 84, somehow made it all work. It was not easy.
During his playing days with the Giants, Gifford’s best friend was quarterback Charlie Conerly, the Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer from Clarksdale. Perian Conerly, Chunkin’ Charlie Conerly’s wife, well remembers.
“The two of them were so close,” Perian Conerly said. “Frank was a California boy, from Hollywood, and of course Charlie was a Mississippi guy, but they became best friends.
“I think that goes back to when Giff first came to New York and was this dashing, handsome young man from Hollywood getting all this attention,” Perian continued. “That didn’t go over well with some of the older Giants, who might have been jealous. But Charlie took him under his wing and I think that made it easier for Giff.”
Gifford, who later moved to wide receiver, played running back most of his years with Conerly. At one point, Gifford imagined himself as the team’s quarterback.
“Giff flew down to Mississippi to tell Charlie he was going to try to play quarterback, because he wanted Charlie’s blessing and he wanted to tell him in person,” Perian said. “Charlie told Frank that it was OK with him, but he also told him that he didn’t think it would go well for Frank.”
It didn’t. Gifford stayed at running back and Charlie remained the quarterback.
It didn’t change their friendship.
“I don’t know why this pops into mind,” Perian said, “but Frank, being from Hollywood, never wore a tie and some places in New York, you had to wear a tie or you couldn’t get in. Charlie always would put a tie in his pocket for Frank when they would go out on the town. He always had one handy.”
Charlie Conerly was very much involved in the establishment of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, although he died five months before the museum opened. Gifford came to Mississippi on his own dime for a fund-raising event on behalf of the museum. He returned to Mississippi at least two more times, always paying his travel expenses, to support the museum after Charlie’s death. He was here for the presentation of the first C Spire Conerly Trophy and came for yet another Conerly Trophy presentation.
Perian Conerly was shocked by Gifford’s death at age 84.
“Frank was very thoughtful, so well-mannered and such a good friend,” Perian Conerly said. “He would have done anything for Charlie and Charlie would have done anything for him. I just can’t believe he’s gone. It was so sudden.”
One last thing: Once, when I was working on a column the injustice of Charlie Conerly not being in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I called Gifford, who is a Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Said Gifford, “I am embarrassed to be in the Hall of Fame when Charlie Conerly is not.”
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