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Frank Gifford is seen here on the left of this cropped photo taken at the White House in 1983 with then United States president Ronald Reagan - (White House Photo, Courtesy Reagan Library, PD - Public Domain)

 

Chuck Bednarik proved extremely durable, missing just three games in his 14 seasons for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1949 through 1962 and was the last of the NFL's "Sixty-Minute Men," players who played both offense and defense on a regular basis - Bowman Large Football Card - (public domain)

 

SPORTS NOTES - REMEMBERING FRANK GIFFORD

James Loving/National Radio Text Service

 

Former NFL (National Football League) player and Hall of Famer who moved on to become a host of Monday Night Football and television star was instrumental in me becoming a sports journalist. Without him it would have never happened since I previously never gave it a thought. How did it come about? Read on…

 

Friday, August 14, 2015

FRANK GIFFORD MADE A DIFFERENCE

This past week two events took place that brought back memories from my experience covering the NFL (National Football League). The death of Frank Gifford and the NFL Hall of Fame enshrinement of Jr. Seau and Jerome Bettis stimulated some memories.

Ironically my interview with Frank Gifford was the starting point of my getting involved and obtaining work as a sports journalist. At the time I was working at KFI radio in Los Angeles as a production assistant and occasionally being assigned interviews with music recording artists since I had a background as a print journalist for music and entertainment publications.

The encounter with Gifford came about at a Television Critics Association meeting where the ABC Television Network was holding a press conference regarding their televising their then upcoming Monday Night Football season. Gifford was one of the hosts of the show and was in attendance at the press conference.

I was familiar with Gifford as a player with the New York Giants where he was one of the greatest players in the league at that time. Gifford spent his entire 13-year National Football League (NFL) career with the New York Giants, playing both offense and defense. He participated in five NFL Championship games and eight Pro Bowls, and won the league's Most Valuable Player Award in 1956, the same season he won his only NFL Championship.

In 1977, Gifford was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He could do it all; run, catch and throw passes and place kick the football. I also witnessed on television one of Gifford's most memorable and forgettable moments in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles in 1960, when he was knocked out by Chuck Bednarik on a passing play, suffering a severe head injury that led him to retire from football in 1961. It was a horrific moment as Gifford lay motionless and appeared to be dead. However, he returned to the Giants in 1962, changing positions from running back to wide receiver (then known as flanker).

Monday Night Football was fine but it was the Bednarik incident that I wanted to know what and how he felt about it. When I asked the question he looked at me somewhat puzzled and I could see the anguish on his face as he recalled the experience. His first words were that is something that he preferred to forget but went on to share with me his thoughts on the matter. He was a gracious man in doing so.

Bednarik proved extremely durable, missing just three games in his 14 seasons for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1949 through 1962 . He was named All-Pro eight times, and was the last of the NFL's "Sixty-Minute Men," players who played both offense and defense on a regular basis. Bednarik's nickname, "Concrete Charlie," originated from his off-season career as a concrete salesman for the Warner Company, not (contrary to popular belief) from his reputation as a ferocious tackler. Yes... if you got the drift... in those days professional athletes weren't paid enough to survive year round and many had to take jobs in the off-season to get by.

Here's the twist… prior to the Gifford interview I received a phone call at the KFI all news radio station, where I was working, from a sports and entertainment network seeking someone in Los Angeles to represent them for a entertainment program that they were launching. I recommended KFI's entertainment journalist Tracy Miller, who I occasionally worked with in field interviewing entertainers for her entertainment features show as well as with her as a field producer, since she hated to go outside and interview celebrities. Tracy and the network couldn't come to terms and I was asked if I had experience and would do it.

They also informed me that they needed a sports reporter which she was not, nor had I any experience in covering sports since Jr. High School but I was a huge sports fan and knew the topic well.

Following the Gifford interview I called the network and told them I had the conversation with Gifford on tape. They said send them a copy in a package. I had no idea what a package was and didn't want them to know that.

I then called a friend of mine in New York, Michael Abramson, who was a VP of a production company who were the creators of what is now known as the UFC. He explained to me what a package was. I did it and sent the tape to the network.

A package is a sound bite of the athlete, a voicer (my voice) describing the event and a wrap which are sound bites with me writing a script, joining it together with my voice with an intro and a closing sign off within a limited time frame.

After a few days of hearing nothing back from the network I followed up with a call to see if they received the tape. I was informed that, "YOU'RE ON THE AIR!"

WHAT!!!! My voice was on 400 stations throughout the USA in my initial venture into sports broadcasting journalism. What I didn't know nor made any arrangements beforehand was…. HOW MUCH WAS I BEING PAID?

I then called Abramson and informed him what happened and he suggested that I call Mel Karmazin then president of Infinity Broadcasting Radio Network. I did and Karmazin suggested who to talk to in charge of production at his network. That didn't work out but I moved on and within three months had agreements with seven networks and was on over 1000 stations in the USA in my new founded career as a sports journalist.

Expanding our National Radio reach to have our print material be published in five languages was another indirect result of the Gifford encounter as sports made a difference.

The bottom line is my career as a sports journalist was largely made possible by Frank Gifford. Gifford passed away of natural causes in his sleep Sunday August 9 at the age of 84.

In another strange twist Bednarik passed away earlier this year on March 21, 2015 at the age of 89.

I will forever be grateful to Gifford for giving me his time and telling me his story which gave me opportunity to expand my journalism career to include covering sports. He was a great player and a great man.

Next: Jr. Seau & Jerome Bettis to NFL Hall of Fame


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