Monday, August 10, 2015

Remembering Frank Gifford

August 9th, 2015.
Frank Gifford died today.
I go online and gather a lot of information
                about him
--things I didn’t know
even though I was a huge fan
as a kid, as was my father
as were my brothers
--our devotion to the New York Giants
football team
          rivaled in its religiosity
only by our devotion to the New York Giants
baseball team.
Back then
I didn’t know Frank Gifford was from Bakersfield, California.
I didn’t know his grades were so bad in high school
he couldn’t get an athletic scholarship to his dream school
I didn’t know he played for Bakersfield Junior College
and made the Junior College All-American Team.
In fact, I didn’t know there was a Junior College All-American Team.
I vaguely remember my dad telling me he was
an All-American once he did make it to USC.
My dad probably knew all the stats of Frank Gifford’s career
as it unfolded
playing three different positions and each
He loved sport stats, my father,
      and today
the day of Frank Gifford’s death
I discover he had enough achievements
 in a 12 year career
to fill a pocket sized record book
                all on his own.

But today, even as I marvel
                at how much I did not know
about him,
I am the captive of what I did know
--the hours
spent stretched out beside my father in his bedroom
                on Sunday afternoons
as the Giants’ fortunes rose and fell
and their names crackled in our mouths
                like hard candies
--Charlie Conerly, Joe Morrison,
Rosey Brown and Rosey Grier, Andy Robustelli, Sam Huff,
Pat Summerall (the kicker with the golden leg) and
Frank Gifford;
Dad’s voice
my brothers’
and mine
whispering and shouting
 in a harmony of hope
Yet, as sweet and bitter as it is
       to recall those Sundays
(my father and brothers are all gone;
my oldest brother, Larry, was a director for ABC
and actually worked with Frank),
                        at this instant
                I am gripped by a memory
of the day Frank Gifford, All-American, All-Pro,
visited our high school in Summit, New Jersey.
I was in junior high at the time.
Our classes were in a wing of the same building as the high school.
If memory serves, our All-American high school coach, Howie Anderson,
made it happen.
The event was held in the gym.
Frank Gifford did not come alone that day.
He brought one or two teammates with him,
but I really only remember him.
He was that big a presence.

The entire student body
               was crammed onto the wooden bleachers.
Frank enlisted our two top players
in a demonstration—Mike Papio, our quarterback
and Darnell Mallory, our halfback
                 —both exceptional athletes,
                champs of our division
                       and adored and idolized by all.
As I do the math today
I reckon Frank must have been about 29 or 30 years old.
But he had no age that day.
He was young, tall, tapered and beautiful.
My father and his friends called him “the golden boy”
but he was more like Mercury than gold.
I thought Mike and Darnell were geniuses of the gridiron
but as they all ran plays together
                     Frank Gifford showed us a whole new level of mastery
          that couldn’t be achieved in high school
and couldn’t be appreciated through a TV screen,
a mastery that said, “This is what you get if you keep at it,
keep practicing, keep honing your gifts for another ten years.”
He moved like music
                in a way that was his and his alone.
He was animal, wind and god.
His ready and open face
               shone with a light
                                that was his and his alone
yet shared generously with all of us in the gym that day
the way a king shares his beneficence.                                  
Because my father was a journalist
       I had already met a lot of stars
--Roy Rodgers and Dale Evans, 
             Gene Autry,
           Fess Parker, to name a few.               
But in these years of my own athletic dreams
                I had never seen the likes of him.
He was a true action hero before the term was created.
I see him there, still...
                Frank Gifford
           beautiful in his youth
                                and beautiful in mine
in a way that only youth bestows
      when moments themselves
                          and wide
           as a roaring
            and feel like they'll never end.

C 2015 Bob Kamm

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