I was saddened to hear of the passing of Frank Gifford. Most people knew him as a sportscaster on Monday Night Football. An older generation remembers him a fantastic player with the New York Giants. However, I will always remember him as a great after dinner speaker.
When I met him, Frank Gifford was in transition between being a professional athlete and becoming a T.V. star. He was one of many ex-athletes who were competing for a very small number of openings on T.V. or in the movies. Some guys could make the transition. Most did not.
Frank was taking whatever gigs he could get so as to get used to speaking to the public. When I saw him he was the after-dinner speaker at King School’s annual father-son dinner. The dinner was held at a restaurant called the Halfway House which is on the Stamford-Greenwich border. This was so long ago that the term “halfway house” was not yet associated with ex-cons and drug addict rehabilitation. (The restaurant is still there, but now calls itself Twin Faces).
Frank Gifford could have just showed up after dinner, given his speech and left. But that was not his style. He arrived early, had drinks with the fathers and told funny stories to the boys. At dinner he sat at the front table with the headmaster Mr. Jackson and made everyone around him feel comfortable.
During dessert it was time for Frank Gifford’s speech. All these years later I can still remember it. He spoke of his days as a professional football player and the funny things that happened on the field and in the locker room. The man was a natural story teller, and the audience loved him.
The funniest parts of his speech were when he spoke about his days after football and his attempt to be an actor. With his good looks and athletic build, Hollywood tried putting him in the movies. For some reason they kept trying to put him in Westerns as a cowboy, even though he knew nothing whatsoever about horses
He told a story about one scene where he was supposed to pick up a saddle from a fence and “saddle up” a horse. No one had told him the saddle was strapped to the fence and you had to unbuckle it first. Frank went over to the saddle, grabbed it with one hand and heaved. This resulted in Frank falling flat on his back and ruining the scene. After that, directors had no interest in trying to make Frank Gifford into John Wayne.
After the speech, Frank stayed for the rest of the evening and everyone got a chance to spend a lot of time with him. Even then, we all realized that there was something special about Frank Gifford. He had a natural charm that came from the fact that he could genuinely connect with people. We knew that his career after football was going to be a success.
It was only a few years after that when Monday Night Football started and Frank Gifford became a household name. I am glad he was such a success.
Goodbye Frank. Thanks for the stories.