Goodbye Frank Gifford, from A Fan’s Notes to Kathie Lee’s swoons, we knew you so well

Frank Gifford died Sunday, the voice on the TV said.

I was watching the Mets broadcast.

But it could have been an entertainment show, or a morning talkie, or a football game. Even a show about books, if such things even exist these days.

Yes, the Giffer cut a wide swath in his 84 years, I thought as a bit of sadness washed over me and I reminisced a bit with my dear wife Karen.

Photos above from Getty Images

Click on any gallery photo for a description. Click and hold on the bottom right photo of any gallery for an enlarged slide show.

The man was a football star with the New York Giants. But I must say that because he retired in 1964, and I didn’t turn 7 until December of that year, it’s not his moves on the gridiron that I most remember about Frank Gifford. Besides, I was more of a Jets than a Giants fan.

No, it’s his role in the broadasting booth for ABC in 1971 as the play-by-play man for Monday Night Football, often refereeing the verbal sparring between his colleagues, former fellow player Dandy Don Meredith and acerbic lifelong TV broadcaster Howard Cosell, that forever will stamp Gifford as one cool cat in my mind. Oh, he stumbled some in those years calling those games as America watched the league in droves and the league and the sport boomed in popularity, but he never let us see him sweat it.

He stayed with ABC until 1997. Two years prior, he had married Kathie Lee, herself a TV star then hosting a popular weekly morning show with Regis Philbin. Oh, she quickly took his name and sang the praises of her handsome of caring hubby as much as he could.

Gifford was also trotted in front of America by a writer, in a big way, but with far less mainstream fanfare, of course.

I found reading the 1968 novel A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley an enigmatic thrill when I discovered it on my reading list for a literature course at the University of Maryland a decade after publication. It was subtitled “a fictional memoir,” and it in Exley painfully described his love-hate relationship with the young, charismatic Gifford when they both were running around the University of Southern California.

Passage written about Frank Gifford by Frederick Exley in A Fan’s Notes:

β€œI cheered for him with such inordinate enthusiasm, that after a time he became my alter ego, that part of me which had its being in the competitive world of men; I came, as incredible as it seems to me now, to believe that I was, in some magical way, an actual instrument of his success. Each time I heard the roar of the crowd, it roared in my ears as much for me as him; that roar was not only a promise of my fame; it was its unequivocal assurance.

Fascinating then; even more so when I moved to Syracuse five years later and became sports editor of the daily Post-Standard in a city just 70 miles south of Exley’s birth place of Watertown. There were many lovers of Exley’s work ready to discuss the book here.

And a decade after that, when I moved over to become music writer and critic and was stationed 12 days every year at the New York State Fair media building, I met a personable young woman fair media department staffer whom I talked with regularly. Somehow the subject of A Fan’s Notes came up. Who knows, maybe it was because we saw Gifford, Frank or Gifford, Kathie Lee on the media room TV. And this nice woman Alexandra quietly shushed me to stay in confidence, and thus assured, told me that her father was none other than Frederick Exley. He was as tortured as had been reported, was all Alexadra wanted to impart that day.

So all of this hit me this morning when I heard about Frank Gifford leaving the world at age 84.

Full life, indeed. Three lives, maybe more.

For what most do you best remember Frank Gifford?
Did you watch him play or broadcast football, and can you say anything about his talents for either? Have you read A Fan’s Notes, and if so, what did you think of the book?

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40 thoughts on “Goodbye Frank Gifford, from A Fan’s Notes to Kathie Lee’s swoons, we knew you so well

  1. I’ll never forget that photo of Chuck Bednarik standing over Gifford after he laid him out with a hit. I think Gifford had to sit out a year. We grew up Giants’ fans (Y.A. Tittle as in Yelverton Abraham), Joe Morrison, Jim Katcavage, Andy Robustelli, Rough-n-Tough Sam Huff, et al. Time marches on.

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  2. His voice is my first memory of Monday Night Football. I appreciated his knowledge of the sport and his insight into the minds of the guys on the field. What I found fascinating about him was that he had an great perspective on both the playing side and broadcast side of the field.

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  3. I never liked football bro Mark. Still hate it, in fact. But I always heard the name Frank Gifford spoken around the house, around the family. With 4 brothers and Lord knows how many cousins, the name was bound to come up each year during that season. When he married Kathy Lee, it was every bloomin’ hour of every day of the year, RIP Frank. I wish I could say the same for the game (if you really want to call it that) also. My grandson is now involved in that activity, and he is more accident prone than I am. God help us all.

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  4. I heard he was most of the time a gentleman but then he strayed. Kathie Lee must have loved him because she is still attractive and so may someday remarry. I think his voice looks and football years carried him far. Rest in peace, Frank.

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  5. Mark, I just “logged back into” your post after several interactions. I blame my new cell phone not wordpress. Sometimes it is my own fault,too. Last night I lost several comments and found them in the deleted comments. Oh well, technically challenged. πŸ™‚

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  6. I have been re-reading a lot of Dan Jenkins of late (Yes. Yes. Yes. I know) My current is something called “You gotta play hurt.” Good, fast read, in that Dan Jenkins sort of way. Certainly easier than Dostoevsky.
    Anyway, yes of course, I am just old enuff to remember the halcyon days of Monday Night Football (and old enuff to remember reading Peter Gent’s ‘North Dallas Forty’)
    Well….
    What is left to say re: Frank?
    Great article My Friend Mark.

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    • Well, Lance, I am forever enchanged with the work of Dan Jenkins, both his journalistic truth-telling for Sports Illustrated in the day on both football and golf, and his mind-morphing for me novels on both of those sports and also the world of newspapering. So, thanks, for reminding me that I should re-dip my toe into his writing well. That’s just good bidness.

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  7. I was away when I heard the news and was so saddened. I didn’t follow his career much and I admit that I knew of him from watching Kathie Lee on her numerous talk shows. Always tough to deal with the loss of a loved one. 😦

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