New York Giants
When I came to the New York Giants in 1958, it represented a turning point in my career. I had spent five of my first six seasons with the Chicago Cardinals, a team that had little spirit, little direction, and little success. I can’t say we expected to lose, but it certainly came as no surprise when we usually did. With the Giants, though, we not only expected to win, but did. In three of my four seasons as a Giant, we played in the NFL Championship Game.
The Giants were clearly more talented than the Cardinals, but they had a more positive attitude as well, and I noticed that from the first day I reported to their training camp. I could see immediately that my new Giant teammates were smart, classy, and charismatic. Kyle Rote was so revered by his fellow players that eight of his teammates named a son after him; I would be one of them. Frank Gifford, our multitalented leader on the field, was also leader in the locker room. My roommate was our 37-year-old quarterback, Charlie Conerly, a taciturn ex-Marine who the team loved and respected most of all. He had maintained his dignity and composure through good times and bad. Any of us would do anything for Charlie.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about that team, though, was its two assistant coaches: Vince Lombardi on offense and Tom Landry on defense. Since I was a backup tight end and backup defensive end, I got to watch both men closely. I remember coming to my first meeting on the Giants, sitting down next to reserve quarterback Don Heinrich, and getting the feeling that I was joining a raucous party. Then a short, barrel-chested guy with thick black hair and thick black glasses walked in and the room was instantly silent. Lombardi. Vince commanded respect as any great teacher does, especially one as vocal, dynamic, and detail-oriented as he was.
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Landry, who was not only the defensive coach but my kicking coach as well, was Lombardi’s polar opposite. Tom was just as detail-oriented, but was cool and distant. He told his defense exactly what he wanted them to do, and there was no discussion. His expectations were high, but he offered little praise for his great defense. Tom studied my kicking and recommended I swing my leg like one would a golf swing. With his tips, I had my greatest place-kicking success as a Giant.
Without the support of Landry and my teammates, I doubt I would have made the 49-yard field goal through the snow that forced a playoff for the Eastern Division crown at the end of my first season in New York. Going into the season finale against the Browns at Yankee Stadium, we trailed Cleveland by one game. On a cold and snowy day, the two teams were tied at 10-10 in the last quarter when I shanked a 31-yard field-goal try. Coming off the field I was lower than low, knowing I had probably just cost my teammates a chance at the title. Then linebacker Cliff Livingston patted me on the shoulder and said not to worry because, “we’re going to get you another chance.” Did I mention I had great teammates?
And smart ones, too. We did get the ball back and drove to the Browns’ 42 before three straight incompletions left us facing fourth-and-10. If I was surprised when head coach Jim Lee Howell sent me in to try a field goal from midfield, you can imagine how shocked my teammates were. Charlie Conerly, my roommate and holder, asked what the heck I was doing on the field. However, he and I chipped out a little clearing in the snow, center Ray Wietecha gave me an accurate snap, Charlie gave me a perfect hold, and I booted the ball through the falling flakes. As I came off the field mobbed by my teammates, Lombardi pushed his way through and shouted at me, “You son of a bitch, you know you can’t kick it that far.”
We won that game and the following week’s playoff against the Browns to put us into the sudden-death championship game that changed the image of football forever. Without Johnny Unitas’s late-game heroics, the Giants would have been champs and yours truly would have provided the margin of victory just as I had when we beat the Colts 24-21 earlier in the season. After three more wonderful seasons in New York, I began what would prove to be a 40-year second career as a broadcaster and got to witness many more exciting NFL games, several involving the Giants.
It’s fun to relive those games and the key plays that decided them in this blog. In the following pages, the whole of New York Giants history is described from a fake punt that keyed the first Giants title in 1927 to the David Tyree catch that keyed another New York championship 80 seasons later. This blog brings to life the greatest plays by some of the greatest players in Giants history, including Mel Hein, Lawrence Taylor, Phil Simms, and Tiki Barber. It’s a delight to remember several of the colorful players and coaches that have given the New York Giants such a rich tradition of which I was proud to be a part.
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