Frank Gifford’s passing leaves a hole for millions of Americans who remembered his career on and off the field.
As a nearly 50-year-old American male, I grew up watching Frank Gifford every week on Monday Night Football when the America’s new pastime featured the Game of the Week on ABC. Taking over after Keith Jackson’s one year, Gifford established himself as the face of MNF with his mesmerizing play-by-play captivating me until his keen insight into the National Football League took over as color commentator 1986 until his retirement in 1997.
Sure, there were other legends that we all watched: Howard Cosell, Don Meredith, Alex Karras, Fred Williamson, Fran Tarkenton, OJ Simpson (obviously before a White Bronco) and Joe Namath. But none of them had the staying power that Gifford possessed.
Frank’s cool, calm delivery worked well against just about anyone. When Frank spoke, we listened. His cool calm delivery worked well with others – when Frank spoke – we listened. His professionalism expanded the NFL, proving he could work the screen no matter what sports was on television. And when he left MNF in 1998, an absence was felt. No longer did we have our sage wisdom of what unfolded before our eyes. No longer did we have the familiar voice of Frank’s. His death on Sunday, of natural causes, feels like we are losing that voice all over again.
Gifford left MNF in 1997 – seems like a long time ago now – but he has never been forgotten. The loss of his voice was evidenced by the loss in the quality of color commentary and play-by-play on both that show and others. He accomplished more than just being the best at his profession, he managed to accomplish a very rare feat in sports: he was been famous among the fans for five decades.
Since Gifford’s departure, the NFL has watered down its prime time appearances – force-feeding us a game (or two) every Sunday, Monday, and Thursday – MNF just isn’t the same. It almost seems like they couldn’t match the success of Gifford after letting him go, resorting to more appearances instead of better appearances. Back in the day, Monday Night Football got the best game of the week. Teams coveted that time slot. Now, it often gets a below par match-up, leaving the better games for Sunday night or later Sunday afternoon. Even the network covering MNF has changed, relegating the top-rated regular sports program to a cable network where it can mire in mediocrity.
Monday Night Football never recovered from losing Gifford. And now we all have just the the great memories he gave us.
May you rest in peace, Frank.