IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Frank Gifford: The game that changed football

The New York Giants Hall of Famer marks the 50th anniversary of the memorable 1958 NFL championship game between the Giants and the Colts with his new book, "The Glory Game." He provides an inside-the-helmet look at the team and the win. An excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY books

New York Giants Hall of Famer Frank Gifford marks the 50th anniversary of the memorable 1958 NFL championship game between the Giants and the Colts with his new book, "The Glory Game." He provides an inside-the-helmet look at the team and the game. An excerpt.  

From chapter one:We didn’t all live in the Concourse. The only two bachelors on the team — Cliff Livingston, our strongside linebacker, and Harland Svare, our other outside linebacker — lived in the Manhattan Hotel, downtown in Manhattan, across from Downey’s bar and restaurant. They got a good rate. (All of us were always looking for rates back then — on anything and everything.)

We all envied Harland and Cliff to some degree, but not completely. They’d come to practice after what had been a long, hard night on the town, and we’d look at their bloodshot eyes and eagerly ask them what they’d done the night before. They’d just look at each other and shake their heads. Cliff and Harland always talked about how much better off we were — we had home cooking, wives to go home to, security. But a lot of us fantasized about being in their shoes.

Rosie Grier, our mammoth right defensive tackle, and Mel Triplett, our tough fullback, were roommates in an apartment over in Jersey: “We caught the bus, over and back,” Grier says now, as if it were yesterday, from Los Angeles, where he’s lived for years. “We couldn’t afford a car.” It wasn’t that the black players weren’t welcome at the Concourse Plaza; it was just that the fifties were simply a different time. Rosie and Mel felt more comfortable living across the river — and preferred the cheaper housing prices. But Rosie and Mel did draw the color line, and set a Giant precedent, at an exhibition game in Dallas in 1956. Down there, the hotels were separated by color, and one day Rosie and Mel made a statement for our team: “We were going to go to some hotel for a luncheon, and the black players on the club said they weren’t going to go to the luncheon,” Rosie told me. “We talked about it, and Mel and I decided we wouldn’t go. A couple of the older black players were on the bus. (The Giant roster had four black players in 1958: Mel, Rosie Grier, Rosey Brown, and Emlen Tunnell.) Mel and I wouldn’t get on. We figured, ‘If we can’t stay in the hotel with our teammates, then we’re not going to the luncheon.’

“So Wellington came out and said, ‘You guys never said anything about this before.’ We said, ‘We shouldn’t have to say anything about this.’ Wellington said, ‘I promise you we’ll never again have to separate our team.’ So we got on the bus, and we never stayed in separate hotels again.”

Some of the local guys preferred home cooking to dinners warmed up on a hot plate in a hotel. Andy Robustelli, our elder statesman on the defense, commuted every day from Stamford, Connecticut, the hometown he’s never really left. When we traded stories over lunch at his Stamford restaurant not long ago, diners filed by to say hello to the man — not because he was once a great Giant, but because he was a Stamford guy, a man who never forgot his roots, and never wanted to.

Jim Katcavage, our intense defensive end, commuted from Philadelphia every day — by train, if you can believe that. We called him “Choo Choo.” He’d come racing in just before practice, checking his timetables to see what train he could catch to get home. As soon as practice was over, he’d give it a quick swipe in the shower, and then he was gone.

My fellow halfback, Alex Webster, lived down in Jersey, in East Brunswick, that year. Alex had always been a Jersey guy anyway. He’d grown up in a factory town just across the Hudson River, in Kearny, a tough guy with a reputation for barroom brawling. He’d lost his dad when he was nine, and turned into something of a renegade. He’d been cut by the Redskins after his first training camp. After the Skins let him go, his friends encouraged him to give football one last shot. He’d gone to North Carolina State on a football scholarship, and the Montreal Alouettes’ coach had been down at Wake Forest when Alex was in college, so Alex got himself a tryout in Montreal. He made the team, was named the league MVP in 1954, and the Giants welcomed him home in 1955.

Webster tells me today, from his home in Florida, that he moved down to the Jersey Shore back then in order to stay away from the temptations of the big city. “I was glad I was commuting,” he told me in that distinctive rasp, a voice worn down by years of heavy smoking. “The nightlife up there would have killed me. When I got home, Louise put the axe on me, and that was the end of it. So it was a lot easier coming home from practice every day than going back to a hotel room.”

But no matter how long the commute, whether it was a five-minute walk down the hill or a two-hour ride by the rails from Philly, every one of us enjoyed meeting up in that locker room every day. We liked our work, and we liked the people we worked for. We liked knowing we were playing for a first-class organization — no, a first-class family. We knew that, rain or shine, during practice we could look over to the sideline and see our beloved owner Wellington Mara’s tall, familiar figure, dressed in sweats, that ever-present smile visible from beneath that distinctive little cap.

Excerpted from "The Glory Game" by Frank Gifford. Copyright (c) 2008, reprinted with permission from HarperCollins. To read more, .