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Frank Gifford's 'Glory Game'

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Frank Gifford's 'Glory Game'


Frank Gifford's 'Glory Game'

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Pro football used to be a second-tier sport, not as popular as baseball or as glamorous as horse racing. They played their games in baseball stadiums that were imperfectly and sometimes absurdly aligned for football. The locker rooms were cold and grimy. Halfbacks and tackles made about as much as electricians and plumbers, which a lot of pro football players actually were for most of the year because no one could make a living just playing football just a few weeks a year.

The college game had class. The pro game was considered just a little seedy. That was already changing in the mid-1950s as television made the game vivid and dramatic for millions. December 28, 1958, the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts played the game that turned pro football into America's sport, maybe even a metaphor for the country.

Frank Gifford was the Giant's running back in that game, of course a broadcaster for many years thereafter. He's now looked up all his old teammates on both sides of the line to write a new book, along with Peter Richmond, "The Glory Game: How the 1958 NFL Championship Changed Football Forever." Frank Gifford joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. FRANK GIFFORD (Author, "The Glory Game: How the 1958 NFL Championship Changed Football Forever): Scott, delighted to be with you.

SIMON: Were all of your old teammates, as I said, pointedly, on both sides of the line, glad to hear from you?

Mr. GIFFORD: Well, I wish I could say all of them, Scott, but as you well know, for the New York Giants, there were 17 that are still alive, and there were - I found 18 Baltimore Colts. It was interesting for me because I wanted to talk about the football game and getting the background for the book, and so many of them wanted to talk about many other things. And primarily, they wanted to know where the other guys were.

SIMON: If I could get you to take us back to that day, December 28, 1958. First quarter, you took a short pass from the Giant quarterback, Charlie Connerly, Big Daddy Lipscomb. I'm being tenuous with my language, Frank, because this is painful.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GLIFFORD: You mean, about my fumble?

SIMON: That's it, yes.

Mr. GIFFORD: There you go. Well, I had actually two fumbles. We were going in for a touchdown when I fumbled the ball. Later on I would fumble again, and Baltimore would recover and they would take it in for a touchdown. And that would have made a major difference in that game. There were six fumbles in that game, though...

SIMON: And you only had two of them.

Mr. GIFFORD: The last two. So I didn't dominate.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: The game ends in a tie. The referees come over to individual sidelines and tell you there's going to be an overtime period. Had you even heard of an overtime period at that time?

Mr. GIFFORD: No, I think Sam expressed it perfectly...

SIMON: Sam Huff?

Mr. GIFFORD: What the hell is overtime? We all went and got the captains out in the middle of the field, and they flipped a coin and away we went again.

SIMON: Tell me what Vince Lombardi - the man famous for saying, "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing" - what did Vince Lombardi say to you in that moment?

Mr. GIFFORD: Well, he made easier between us, and Vince Lombardi was not the Vince Lombardi that we have heard about so much, the tyrant and all of that. He was a friend as an assistant coach, and later he'd become all these other things when he went to Green Bay. But he came up to me and put his arm around me. And I, really, I felt terrible because I had lost the game, no question. He put his arm around me and he said, Frank, don't take it so hard. Don't feel so bad. We would never have been here without you.

It made it better, but what really hurt was my father was watching me for the first time ever to play a professional football game. It was very tough for him. The best thing about it, he sat with (unintelligible), and they had a little flask, and he felt a hell of a lot better than I did back in the locker room.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIFFORD: Has it remained with me? Yeah, of course it has. And like so many other losses that I probably was responsible for, I like to think maybe that I also won a few.

SIMON: What changed about football on that day?

Mr. GIFFORD: Something about that game just caught people's imagination. And Scott, if I had really pin it down, I just - we talked about the individuals that were involved. People all of the sudden began to wonder who these people were. What were they like individually? Sports reporters had never covered the person, had never done any upclose and personal features on them, so to speak, and all of the sudden there - the media got involved, the print press got involved, and they were doing features and Johnny Unitas became a national hero. And all of a sudden, they discovered a game that is unbelievably (unintelligible) today.

SIMON: Frank, may I ask? Are they still times when you're dreaming or maybe having some problems sleeping, you don't fumble the ball?

(Soundbite of laughter)


(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIFFORD: I usually wake up and go down and look at my scrapbook.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIFFORD: And look up the part that says, Frank Gifford didn't fumble.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: In a funny way, over the past 50 years, have you become teammates with both teams, the guys you played with on the Giants and the ones who were your opponents on the Colts?

Mr. GIFFORD: I really have, and particularly after I started looking these guys up. Cliff Livingston, for instance, he didn't know where Harland Svare was, his counterpart, the other linebacker. And so I had already talked to Harland, so I gave him Harland's phone number. So Harland called me back and said, hey, I just talked to Cliff. And all of the sudden, I find Bob Schnelker. He's down in Florida, and Bob wanted to know where Dick Mojoleski(ph) was. And it went on and on, and so I've been kind of the - sort of the conduit, if you will, of putting it all back together again. And I've enjoyed it. It's - things have changed so much, but when you get into something that's so emotional like this, it takes you way, way back to - and like a friend of mine said to me, he said, you know, you're dusting off all those old dreams.

SIMON: Frank, thanks so much.

Mr. GIFFORD: Well, thank you. I enjoyed it so much. I enjoy listening to you all the time.

SIMON: Well, thanks. Frank Gifford has written a new book with Peter Richmond, "The Glory Game: How the 1958 NFL Championship Change Football Forever."

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