By In Stuff

500 Words on the Coolest Guy in the Room

In the hours after Frank Gifford died Sunday, many  connected to  words about him in Frederick Exley’s brilliant “A Fan’s Notes.” I found myself thinking of a different story, one written by columnist Bob Greene. It was called “The Coolest Guy in the Room.”

Frank Gifford was, to me, a bland, likable  broadcaster. I didn’t see him play football. I could not imagine him playing football anymore than I could imagine  Jim McKay or Keith Jackson playing football. He was a broadcaster in my mind.

Then, one day I picked up Bob Greene’s story about Gifford. It began like so:

“There are men in this world who, since they were little boys, have had life beaten.” 

It made little sense to me that a story about Frank Gifford could begin like this.  Greene expected that. “If all you know about Gifford is what you’ve seen on ‘Monday Night Football’ you might be smirking a little by now,” he wrote.

He proceeded to tell quickly of Gifford’s dazzling life. Gifford was an All-America tailback at USC when that was perhaps the most exciting thing an American young man could be. He was an NFL star in New York just as pro football was exploding. He became a handsome and beloved television star in the when that was about the most glamorous thing imaginable.

Greene sought out Frank Gifford to ask one question: What does that feel like, always being the coolest guy in the room?

Gifford, being the coolest guy in the room, didn’t get the question at all. It was too much a part of him. “I enjoy walking into a room,” he said. “Most of the rooms I walk into, either I’m working, in which case I don’t give a s— what the people think about me, or they’re my friends, in which case I know what they think of me. So yeah, I’m comfortable. I’ve never had a problem walking into any room, if that’s what you’re asking.”

That was not what Bob Greene was asking, not really. He prodded. Gifford said he’d never worried about his looks, never felt awkward, never concerned himself with doubts or uncertainty. “People have always looked for things in me that they’d like to see in themselves,” he said, not immodestly.

The story seemed like it should end there. But Greene, almost as an afterthought,  asked Gifford if there was anything that he wanted out of life that was denied him. And that’s when the story turned. Frank Gifford may have been the coolest guy in the room. But, he was still human.

“There wasn’t a whole lot of doubt in my mind,” Gifford said, “that I would have been an All-Pro quarterback.”

Greene was taken aback. “Why did you want to become a quarterback?” Greene asked.

“I didn’t want to BECOME a quarterback,” Gifford said. “I WAS a quarterback. … I was never a halfback. I didn’t want to be a quarterback. I was a quarterback. Nobody ever seemed to understand that.”


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19 Responses to 500 Words on the Coolest Guy in the Room

  1. Kent Morgan says:

    Is that piece in one of Greene’s collections? I have most of his books, but couldn’t spot this one although I know I have read it.

  2. NormE says:

    When I was much younger I remember the Giants going into training camp and Gifford wanting a chance to beat out Charlie Conerly for the QB position. As I recall, at a couple of camps the Giants coaches (Jim Lee Howell, perhaps Allie Sherman) went through the charade to placate Giff. Conerly was a much maligned QB, but he had a strong arm and was the better fit.
    Giff was valuable as a runner and receiver. In his early days he also played DB alongside Tom Landry and the great Emlen Tunnell. The story I remember is that opposing coaches tried to exploit Giff as the game went on and he was getting weary playing on both sides of the ball. Finally, the Giant coaches realized that Giff was too valuable on offense and his defensive career was ended.

    • Great story. Gifford was indeed fortunate to come along at a time when football began to realize that specialization wasn’t somehow “wrong” because real men played defense too, but that it was making the game less than it would otherwise be. It seems obvious today, but at the time there were a lot of people who hated it. In the colleges, they used to have players line up and report in to the referee when the ball changed hands, which meant — literally — lines of players on the field checking in and lines checking out. Eventually, sanity prevailed.

  3. So, if you look at his stats, they are pretty modest. I realize the game was different then, but the most rushing yards he ever had was just over 800, and it was never close to that high again. Oh, and that year, he was just 5th in the league. He only had four years with more than 100 carries. Jim Brown, he was not. I realize that he was versatile and also played Wide Receiver and defensive back, though he only played defense a couple of years. Wide Receiver wise, he was OK. A lot of 25-40 catch years, with one 50 catch years. He was top 5 twice in catches. He did have some good yards per catch numbers in a running era. He did lead the league in yards from scrimmage, running an receiving in his MVP year. But 8 pro bowls? I really didn’t see it. He looks like possibly he was pretty overrated. I don’t know. He was before my time and football was different back then. But see him more as a Reggie Bush type. He added value, scored TDs, but nothing really popped, to me, that said he was a real star player.

    • John Nacca says:

      LOL at this…..just LOL……

    • KHAZAD says:

      You can’t look at stats in different football eras and compare them. As an example, I had a book with alot of NFL all time leaders in it in 1975. I believe the best “passer rating” ever belonged to Otto Graham, with Len Dawson and Sonny Jurgenson tied for second. Graham is now 16th just behind Jeff Garcia, Dawson and Jurgenson are tied for 39th just behind Brian Griese and Neil Lomax. Despite this, they are three deserving members of the HOF, and no one has mentioned the other three and the hall of fame without choking.

      The top three receivers (yards) in 1975 were Hall of Famers Don Maynard, Lance Alworth and Raymond Berry, now ranked 26th, 40th and 51st. The #1 in receptions is now 56th. The rushing #1, Jim Brown, is still #9, but 2nd and 3rd place Hall of Famers Joe Perry and Jim Taylor are 31st and 38th.

      Football has to be seen to be judged, and it is easy to click on a couple of computer keys looking at numbers from a time when it was a VERY different game, with very little video to find either, and make a judgement based on a few minutes of parsing numbers that you don’t understand.

      However, if you insist on looking at statistics at a time when the game was very different, here are a couple for you. When Frank Gifford retired, 51 years ago, he was 4th all time in yards from scrimmage. He was 5th all time in touchdowns, and he also threw 14 TD passes on top of the 78 he scored himself. He was a star, a pro bowl player, and a deserving Hall of Famer.

      • Brent says:

        And despite shorter schedules, he is STILL the all time leader in Touchdowns for a team that has been around 90 years or so. Yeah, he was pretty good.

      • shagster says:

        Nicely put.

      • Well, except I was comparing Gifford to his own era, not today. I know comparing a a player from a running & defense era to today would be foolish. In his BEST year, he was 5th in the league in rushing. That year, at 800 yards, was a good year in a 12 game season. It was also about 300 yards better than his second best year. So, his 2nd best rushing year was at 500 yards, which was nothing special (10th in the league), even in the 50s. In his BEST year, he was 3rd in catches & 7th in receiving yards. I noted that he did lead the league one year in total yards (catching and receiving), and his yds/catch were up there a couple of years.

        Keep in mind that there were only 12 teams then, too. So, being 10th in the league in a category meant that 9 out of 12 teams, in a lot of cases, had more productive players. Again, he was a good all purpose back, probably much like Reggie Bush. You’d want him on your team, but he wasn’t Jim Brown or even John Henry Johnson or Joe Perry or anyone like that.

      • I agree that Gifford was 4th in Yards from Scrimmage when he retired. But also when he retired, his best individual Yards from Scrimmage seasons ranked 27th and 43rd all time. No other season was in the top 75. Also keep in mind that until the late 40s, 1,000 yard from scrimmage seasons were rare. So, not only was Gifford getting the advantage of his era being more productive offensively than prior eras, but Gifford was a bit of a compiler in that regard. He definitely benefited from his ability to switch from a running back to a receiver so as to extend his career.

        His ability to score TDs in that era was impressive. But again, he never had more than 8 rushing TDs in a year (his second most was 5) or 7 receiving TDs (twice), with his next best being 4. He definitely had a unique running & receiving ability that helped him compile those numbers. So, I don’t know, maybe he was a very transformational dual threat player. If so, that was his legacy more than his production.

        In the end, you can make a case for his career numbers for his era, as you have. But looking at the individual seasons and the players that were consistently ahead of him in production, along with the low offensive production overall until a few years before his career started, makes one think otherwise.

        • NevadaMark says:

          Obviously, his FAME (not fame) did not come entirely from his stats. He never towered over the game but he is surely the most famous player from his era.

          • Not really. Jim Brown & Johnny Unitas were the two most famous players from his era. I feel very comfortable in saying that. Everyone knows them as great players, while it’s not uncommon for sports fans to not even know Gifford was a really good player. Millennials probably haven’t heard of him at all, but I’ll bet most of them know of Brown and Unitas as HOFers. I could probably add Bart Starr to this list as well.

    • MikeN says:

      Those were 12 game seasons.

    • Andrew says:

      I wonder if the average fan understands just how much free agency has changed public perception. Agents push stats, the media pushes stats and before long everyone thinks they know something.

  4. Wilbur says:

    Gifford was just before my time as far as awareness of players and watching NFL games. He did play in the first game I remember watching, the ’63 Bears-Giants championship game.

    Back then, like today, the QB position was considered the most important on the field. The biggest stars were QBs. EIther the coaches were idiots or Gifford was delusional, because if they had an All-Pro QB on their hands I believe they would have put him there without hesitation.

    I found him bland and predictable as an announcer, but certainly tolerable. That’s more than I can say for the insufferable Howard Cosell, who forced me to find and use the MNF radio broadcast as soon as one was available.

  5. NormE says:

    Another factor to consider when looking at stats from different NFL eras is the change in backfield formations. In the ’50’s, 60’s and into the 70’s (I believe) most teams used the T formation with two or even three running backs aligned behind the QB. The use of one running back behind the QB or in the Shotgun changed the nature of running game. Except for Jimmy Brown it was rare for a single back to get 25 or more carries a game.

    Gifford was on the field at the same time as other running backs such as Alex Webster and Mel Tripplett. Even Kyle Rote shared the running duties before being moved to flanker. The game was different.

  6. Kathie Lee says:

    Cheated on his wife with that airline stewardess. There is nothing “cool” about that.

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