Bengals president Mike Brown saw Frank Gifford cause numerous problems for his beloved Browns before watching him help grow the NFL as a broadcaster and he admired him in both roles.
As he recalled Gifford in the wake of his sudden death Sunday morning, Brown had a difficult time comparing the Giants Hall-of-Famer to anybody currently in the league.
"You just don't see it very much anymore, a guy who starts out as a running back and evolves into pretty much a wide receiver," Brown said. "Lenny Moore, but that's a long time ago. The guys are smaller today, like the guys who dart around in New England. He was a bigger guy, a long-armed guy, a loose athlete who was very well coordinated. He was a splendid player. Very reliable and he produced under pressure. He had some big games against my father's teams in Cleveland. He made big plays."
The Giants fly to Cincinnati Monday night to practice against the Bengals Tuesday and Wednesday before opening the preseason at Paul Brown Stadium in Friday's 7:30 p.m. game. Brown knows Gifford's death is a blow to Giants co-owner John Mara. Wellington Mara, John's father who scouted Gifford's big game for USC against Army at Yankee Stadium the year before the Giants took him with the 11th pick in 1952, later became the club's owner.
"One of (Gifford's) close friends was Wellington. They probably became friends right when he got there," Brown said. "They remained friends and I always thought highly of Wellington. That impressed me."
Gifford later became one of the staples of Monday Night Football as the play-by-play man in the booth, his most well-known role in a broadcasting career that spanned the Olympics among other top assignments.
"He was part of the Monday night crowd and they gave a boost to pro football," Brown said. "It was night time and it was on TV. They had a way about them. You came to appreciate it. You almost thought they were your buddies down there doing the telecast. He was the straight man if you will. It was a mix that worked."
It worked so well and made Gifford and the gang so popular that when ABC re-aligned the booth in 1997 without Gifford, the network approached the Gifford of the next generation. He just happened to be Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason and Brown wasn't surprised when Esiason took the job instead of another contract. Both thought it was the chance of a lifetime.
Brown watched Gifford in a career he scored 43 receiving touchdowns and 34 rushing touchdowns. He was 6-1, 195 pounds, which means Gifford had three inches on Rex Burkhead, the Bengals running back who is currently getting a lot of snaps at receiver. Brown says physically Gifford reminds him more of the 6-2, 210-pound Mohamed Sanu, the Bengals versatile wide receiver.
"He was a big guy," Brown said. "And he could do a lot of different things."