Frank Gifford: The College Football Star

    Before he went on to become a Hall of Fame pro and an award-winning broadcaster, Frank Gifford was a legendary USC Trojan.

    August 10, 2015

    Follow me @PeteFiutak

    Frank Gifford was about as legendary an American sports hero as could possibly be created with the All-America look, the All-America talent, and the All-America swagger as a larger-than-life figure. Over the coming days after his death just a few days shy of his 85th birthday, the tributes are going to flow about his pro career as one of the greatest NFL players of all-time, while also mentioning the high-profile next act to his career as a legendary, Emmy-winning broadcaster.

    What’s going to be glossed over, though, is the opening act.

    Frank Gifford doesn’t become Frank Gifford without being a part of the “Greatest Game Ever Played” – the 1958 NFL Championship – and without all he did as a New York Giant both on and off the field. It’s also impossible to overstate just how big a part of the NFL’s rise to power he was as part of the iconic Monday Night Football crew with Don Meredith and Howard Cosell. But Gifford’s legend started out as the right guy at the right time as a major sports star in Los Angeles at USC.

    Having movie star good looks was only a part of the puzzle that ended up making him so marketable for the NFL, TV broadcasts, and endorsements. He was the do-it-all guy who was just better than everyone else as an all-around football player, creating a total package that was perfect for the times.

    After needing to up his grades to get to USC, he started out his career at Bakersfield Junior College before turning into the type of guy who’d be known for doing things that just so happened to stand out.

    He didn’t do much as a sophomore after joining the team, but he hit USC’s first field goal in 14 seasons with a 22-yarder.

    He ran for just 43 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries as a junior, but he led the Trojans with three interceptions, was the leading scorer as a kicker, and he booted a 62-yard punt.

    And then came 1951, and it all blew up from there.

    Remembering that it was a different era with statistics nowhere near the level they’re at now, it was a big deal to lead the team with 841 rushing yards and seven touchdowns – highlighted by a 69-yard scoring dash along with a touchdown pass in the 21-14 upset over No. 1 California – to go along with 11 catches on the year for 178 yards on the way to All-America honors.

    Gifford was the best quarterback on the field when he lined up under center, he was the best receiver when he needed to be, he was the best defensive back when called on, he was a dominant halfback whenever he had the ball in his hands, and with his 1951 All-America season, he was good enough to boost his career into the College Football Hall of Fame.

    If it’s possible to stand out among all the legendary figures to come from USC, with his career and his life and his resume, Gifford managed to do just that.

    Info and photo thanks to the USC athletic department


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