GREENWICH, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Pro Football Hall of Famer Frank Gifford has died.
He was 84.
In a statement released by on Sunday, his family said Gifford died suddenly at his Connecticut home of natural causes that morning.
“It is with the deepest sadness that we announce the sudden passing of our beloved husband, father and friend, Frank Gifford. Frank died suddenly this beautiful Sunday morning of natural causes at his Connecticut home. We rejoice in the extraordinary life he was privileged to live, and we feel grateful and blessed to have been loved by such an amazing human being. We ask that our privacy be respected at this difficult time and we thank you for your prayers.”
His family continued in the statement: “We rejoice in the extraordinary life he was privileged to live, and we feel grateful and blessed to have been loved by such an amazing human being.”
Gifford’s wife, Kathie Lee Gifford, also issued a separate tweet Sunday afternoon thanking the public for their support.
Deeply grateful to all 4 ur outpouring of grace. We r steadfast in our faith & finding comfort in knowing where Frank is. Phillippians 4:13.
— Kathie Lee Gifford (@KathieLGifford) August 9, 2015
Added NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: “Frank Gifford was an icon of the game, both as a Hall of Fame player for the Giants and Hall of Fame broadcaster for CBS and ABC. Frank’s talent and charisma on the field and on the air were important elements in the growth and popularity of the modern NFL.”
As CBS2’s Matt Kozar reported, Gifford was the NFL Most Valuable Player in 1956 as he led the Giants to a league championship with fancy footwork and brute toughness.
He told the NFL Network that he found out he had been drafted by the Giants by listening to the radio, WCBS 880’s Ginny Kosola reported.
“And they were talking about the NFL Draft, and then USC Frank Gifford went to the New York Giants number one… what?” Gifford said in a past interview.
PHOTOS: Remembering Frank Gifford
In a documentary, Gifford said he had caught the attention of Giants owner Wellington Mara while playing against the Army at Yankee Stadium.
“When I arrived here in 1952, my first contract from Wellington Mara was for $8,000 and a $250 signing bonus,” Gifford said in the documentary.
Former WCBS 880 Sports Director Ed Ingles looked back on Gifford’s legacy.
“He was underestimated as a performer and two a very humble man,” Ingles said. “As a football player he was a very good player at USC, with the Giants, as a running back, as a receiver.”
Gifford became a versatile star on both offense and defense in an era when NFL players were starting to specialize. was the centerpiece of a Giants offense that went to five NFL title games in the 1950s and `60s.
“He was a great friend to everyone in the league, a special adviser to NFL commissioners, and served NFL fans with enormous distinction for so many decades,” Goodell added. “We will always remember Frank’s contributions and miss his friendship. Our hearts go out to Kathie Lee and the entire Gifford family.”
Gifford began doing sports broadcasting while still playing football. CBS2’s archives uncovered a 1965 WCBS-TV newscast showing Gifford doing the sports news alongside Robert Trout as anchorman.
Beginning in 1971, Gifford went on to a successful second career as a broadcaster on “Monday Night Football.” Longtime Bloomberg sportscaster Jerry Azar noted that Gifford was a hugely popular broadcaster.
“Guys like Frank and Pat Summerall paved the way; were trailblazers for athletes to make the transition from the field to the booth,” Azar said.
Gifford hosted “Wide World of Sports,” covered several Olympics — his call of Franz Klammer’s downhill gold medal run in 1976 is considered a broadcasting masterpiece — and announced 588 consecutive NFL games for ABC, not even taking time off after the death of his mother shortly before a broadcast in 1986.
While he worked with others, including Dan Dierdorf, Al Michaels, Joe Namath and O.J. Simpson, Gifford was most known for the eight years he served as a calm buffer between the folksy Meredith and acerbic Cosell.
In its early years the show was a cultural touchstone, with cities throwing parades for the visiting announcers and celebrities such as John Lennon and Ronald Reagan making appearances.
“I hate to use the words `American institution,’ but there’s no other way to put it, really,” Gifford told The Associated Press in 1993. “There’s nothing else like it.”
A handsome straight-shooter who came off as earnest and sincere, Gifford was popular with viewers, even if some accused him of being a shill for the NFL.
He experienced the highs and lows as an NFL player. Gifford fumbled twice early in the 1958 NFL championship game, both of which led to Baltimore Colts touchdowns, and later came up short on a critical third down. The Colts eventually won 23-17 in the league’s first overtime game. The thrilling finish helped popularize the NFL and was dubbed “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” although not by Gifford.
“Not my greatest game,” Gifford told the AP in 2008. “I fumbled going out (of the end zone) and I fumbled going in.”
Gifford and his teammates felt he was robbed by an incorrectly spotted ball with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter, though video technology employed for a 50th anniversary documentary indicated the call was correct. In any event, the Giants were forced to punt in the `58 game, leading to a famous drive led by Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas to send it into overtime.
Gifford’s best year was his MVP year of 1956, rushing for 819 yards, picking up 603 yards receiving and scoring nine touchdowns in 12 games. The Giants routed the Chicago Bears 47-7 at Yankee Stadium, where Gifford shared a locker with Mickey Mantle.
“Frank Gifford was the ultimate Giant,” co-owner John Mara said. “He was the face of our franchise for so many years.”
A crushing hit by 233-pound Eagles linebacker Chuck Bednarik in November 1960 flattened Gifford and likely shortened his football career. Bednarik was pictured standing over the unconscious Gifford, pumping his fist in a celebration thought by many to be over the top. Gifford was in the hospital for 10 days and sidelined until 1962.
Born Aug. 16, 1930, in Santa Monica, Calif., Frank Newton Gifford was the son of an itinerant oil worker. Growing up in Depression-era California, Gifford estimated he moved 47 times before entering high school, occasionally sleeping in parks or the family car and eating dog food.
Gifford’s 5,434 yards receiving were a Giants record for 39 years, until Amani Toomer surpassed him in 2003. His jersey number, 16, was retired by the team in 2000.
He married Kathie Lee Gifford in 1986. They had two children and lived in Greenwich, Connecticut, where Frank Gifford passed away Sunday morning.
When he wasn’t on the field, Gifford also tried to put his movie-star good looks to use in Hollywood, appearing in about a dozen films, most notably the 1959 submarine movie “Up Periscope.”
(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)