An oral history of one of the NFL’s most storied franchises, We Are the Giants is the complete story of the New York Giants as told by the men who built it. Based on exclusive interviews with the greatest players in team history, from Pat Summerall and Phil Simms to Y. A. Tittle, Sam Huff, and many others, this book is a must have for any Giants fan.
About the Author
Richard Whittingham is the author of more than 30 books, including the ESPN 10-part series tie-in Rites of Autumn and the definitive histories of the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Giants, and the Washington Redskins. He collaborated on projects with Joe DiMaggio, Sir Edmund Hilary, and Life magazine. He lives in Chicago. Dave Buscema is an award-winning sports author and journalist who covered the Giants’ last two Super Bowls. He is the author of Game of My Life New York Yankees: Memorable Stories of Yankees Baseball. He lives in Astoria, New York. Wellington Mara was the owner of the New York Giants for nearly 50 years.
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We are the Giants!
The Oral History of the New York Giants
By Richard Whittingham, Dave Buscema
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2014 Richard Whittingham
All rights reserved.
FRANK GIFFORD at USC
It had been a great experience at USC. My coach at Bakersfield High School, a man by the name of Homer Beattie, had played for USC and at that time he was certainly one of the most important persons in my life. He got me going in the right direction academically as well as on the football field. I hadn't been the greatest of students. He felt I could possibly play for USC, and he knew I would have to qualify on both levels if I were to be accepted at that school.
After my fourth year at Bakersfield, USC did indeed offer me a football scholarship, but I was deficient in a few academic units and I had to make them up. So I went for a year to Bakersfield Junior College and then moved on to USC.
At USC, they never really could find just what to do with me. I had played offense and defense in high school and ended up a T-formation quarterback my junior year. I played safety on defense. And in my senior year they switched to a wing T and I became a running back. Then in junior college we had an offense where I both ran and passed the ball.
So, at USC I didn't exactly fit anywhere in particular. For two years I played defense.Then in my senior year they brought in a new coach, Jess Hill, and he designed an offense that was pretty much suited to me, a single wing and a wing T, and I was sort of the focus of it, running and passing and receiving. He also had a fine staff with Mel Hein and Don Clark, who would later become head coach at Southern Cal. And it made a big difference. We were 3–7–0 in 1950, my junior year, and won our first seven games in 1951. The fifth game that we won that year was over the University of California, and at the time they were ranked number one in the nation and had a thirty-nine-game winning streak. Well, after that all the bells went off and we jumped from nothing to something like fourth or fifth in the nation. Suddenly the press and the media were all over the campus, and a week later I was being photographed for All-American. It was the weirdest thing — we all kept wondering how it happened so fast.
We didn't go to the Rose Bowl because we lost our last three games that year, but I did play in the East-West Game and the Senior Bowl. As I learned later, Wellington Mara had scouted both those games. Mel Hein had told him to take a close look at me. That's really how they scouted in those days. There weren't any combines or things like that, or even scouting departments for the individual teams. People like Wellington Mara relied on coaches they knew, former players, and they listened to their recommendations.
LANDRY at Texas
It was in the summer of 1950 when I officially joined the Giants. I was twenty-five years old at the time, a little old for a rookie in the NFL, but there were several things that had come up before my entering the NFL.
I had attended the University of Texas after playing football in high school down in south Texas along the border there, in a town called Mission. There was an oilman in our town who was a Texas U. graduate, and he was the one who got me an interview with the university.
In those days, D.X. Bible [also known as Dana Xenophon Bible] was the coach there, and they had a tremendous program under him. That was around 1941 and 1942. They were anticipating a national championship in 1941, and Life magazine featured them in a big article as the nation's top team. After that they lost three games.
I came there the next year, and D.X. Bible was still the coach. I played in 1942 but then I went into the Army Air Corps in February 1943. I came back and reentered school at the university in the spring of 1945. So my sophomore year was actually the 1946 season. That, as it turned out, was D.X. Bible's last year — he had actually been coaching in the college ranks since 1913.
When I came up into the varsity that year, we were playing D.X. Bible's single wing and I was pegged at fullback and defensive back. The next year Blair Cherry took over as head coach, and he moved me into a quarterback position behind Bobby Layne. So I played first-string defensive back and second-string quarterback. But I busted up the thumb on my right hand and the joint kind of froze up on me, so I couldn't play quarterback anymore. Coach Cherry moved me back to fullback then. But let's face it — nobody was going to beat out Bobby Layne at quarterback.
TITTLE at LSU
I was born and raised in Marshall, Texas, which is where I started playing football. It was in junior high — that was about 1938. I ended up going to LSU. Marshall is right near the Louisiana border, and during the war my brother was going to Tulane in New Orleans — he was an outstanding blocking back. They were big rivals with LSU in those days. I went over to see him play at LSU in Baton Rouge and I was impressed with the campus there.
But the main reason I chose LSU was because they let freshmen play on the varsity team in those days. The other colleges didn't. I felt I could play a lot the first year and, in fact, I did. I had offers from the University of Texas, Rice, Tulsa, TCU — but in those schools I couldn't play right off.
SUMMERALL at Arkansas
I went on a lot of college recruiting trips as a high school senior. In those days you could go and put on a uniform and work out with the college teams, a lot of things like that. The NCAA rules have changed considerably since then. The two places that I was invited to and was most serious about were West Point and the University of Florida. West Point, I thought when I went there, looked a little too much like a jail. They were also suggesting that they would be sending me first to Kentucky Military Institute to study to be sure I could pass Army's entrance exams — my high school grades weren't all that good. Adding these things up, I decided I didn't really want to go there.
At the University of Florida, they wanted me to play both basketball and football. At that time it was relatively easy to do that because the seasons were shorter and the quality of both games was not nearly what it is today. Anyway, I didn't want to do that.
At the same time, my high school football coach, a gentleman named Hobart Hooser, had been hired by the University of Arkansas as their line coach. Well, he had been kind of like a father to me. He came back down to Florida and talked to me about going to Arkansas, and I went.
It was at Arkansas where I really got started as a kicker. When I was a sophomore — that must have been 1949 — the coaching staff was not happy with the guy who was kicking off, no field goals or extra points. They said anyone who'd like to try kicking should come on out thirty minutes early this one day. Well, I said, what the heck — I'll give it a try. So I did. And it seemed to be something that was very natural to me. From then on, I kicked off for Arkansas.
At the same time I was playing offensive and defensive end, the kind of thing you did in those days. The squads were just so much smaller. When I was with the Chicago Cardinals we were limited to thirty-three players on the roster, and with the Giants it was thirty-five. A team could not afford to have a specialist on its roster who did nothing other than kick or punt.
I had no thoughts of being a specialist back then. If you aspired to play professional football, the ultimate was to play the game, offense and defense. Kicking was just an additional element.
One of the highlights at Arkansas, I remember, was beating Texas my senior year , and I got to kick the game-winning field goal that day. Beating Texas was the biggest thrill you could have down there in those days. Actually, field goals around that time were relatively unheard of. I kicked the most in college that year — just barely beat out Vic Janowicz of Ohio State, who won the Heisman Trophy — I kicked four.
HEIN at Washington State
I had an older brother over at Washington State who was on the football team, and he told the coach, Babe Hollingberry, about me and that I was a pretty good football player. Well, they looked up my records, and the coach made some long-distance calls to us in Bellingham. I told him I didn't want to go toWashington State. But finally he talked my father into it, and my father talked me into going there.
We had a championship freshman team, and most of the freshmen went on the next year to start on the varsity. We had a good season as juniors — only lost two games. And as seniors we went to the Rose Bowl. That was the last time Washington State played in a Rose Bowl game — 1931 — and we played Alabama. In those days, they selected teams from different parts of the country, not just the Pac Ten and Big Ten like they do today.
There's one thing I'll always remember from that game. Our coach, Babe Hollingberry, was somewhat of a showman, and he was superstitious. In the showman role he brought a lot of new bright crimson red uniforms for our appearance in the Rose Bowl — the headgear was red, the shoes were red, the stockings were red, everything was red. I think it scared us more than Alabama because we didn't play too good a ball game — they walloped us 24–0. They simply had a better team than we had.
The superstitious part of Babe Hollingberry came out when we got back to Pullman, the city where Washington State's campus is located, after the game.
No one ever saw those uniforms again, and the story is that Babe had a big bonfire and burned them all. He didn't want any of his teams ever to wear those uniforms again.
ROBUSTELLI at Arnold College
After the service I went to a little college in Milford, Connecticut, named Arnold, which no longer exists. I got out of the service about six or seven months after the war ended, early 1946. Most colleges around were crowded with veterans who had already returned from the war. I think I could have gotten into Fordham, but they wanted me to go to a prep school to pick up a couple of credits. I'd gone from high school before graduating to LaSalle Military Academy for three months before going into the service. I had to wait until I was eighteen before enlisting, so by doing that I missed a few high school credits, and that's what Fordham wanted me to make up.
A couple of my buddies were going up to Arnold College because they were having difficulty getting into the better-known colleges too. I went along with them. I was on the GI Bill of Rights, and so at Arnold they said come on in. It was primarily a phys ed school, but before there were about two hundred girls and only about forty boys. With the veterans now coming in, it ended up with more boys and less girls — about 350 students in all.
I decided to enroll, and once there it gave me the opportunity to play any sport I wanted to. So I played football and baseball. We played football against schools like the Coast Guard Academy, St. Michael's in Vermont, Adelphi on Long Island, and a lot of teachers' colleges. It wasn't the greatest competition in the world, but still it was tough football.
HUFF at West Virginia
The University of West Virginia recruited me when I was a senior. Art Lewis was the head coach there then, and he came and talked to me about coming to West Virginia.
He came to our house and to the high school; he was very professional about recruiting.
However, the first to talk to me was an assistant coach, Harold "Toad" Lahr, who left shortly thereafter to take the head coaching job at Colgate.
Both the University of Florida and Army were also interested, and I visited both campuses. Florida, in Gainesville, was really nice. You had to like it there with the weather, the palm trees — especially coming from West Virginia. But I really wanted to go to West Virginia, which is in Morgantown — that was always my dream. I played both ways in college — offensive and defensive tackle. I didn't switch to linebacker until I got with the Giants. They thought I was too small to play tackle in the pros, and rightly so.
MODZELEWSKI at Maryland
My brother Ed and I went to Maryland. I had a number of offers because I'd been all-state my senior year. Notre Dame was interested in me; so were Tennessee, Pittsburgh, and South Carolina. I'll never forget South Carolina. My dad was home one day — my dad was an immigrant, and all he could write was his name — and a coach from South Carolina pulled up in front of our house in a brand-new 1949 green Oldsmobile convertible. And I was told if I went to school down there, there was a good chance I'd get me a car like that. Well, my old man about flipped. He said he couldn't believe it, him working in the coal mines all those years and here is his son, a senior in high school and they're offering him a car like that. It was hard to turn down, but I did.
Coach Jim Tatum came over from Maryland and talked to my parents, and I think he did a good job selling them. Part of it, of course, was how good it would be with Ed already there. So that's where I went, and I'm glad I did. I had the benefit of a great coach [Tatum] there.
Coach Tatum always said my father was Maryland's good-luck charm. When Ed and I were playing there, a friend of mine, Dom Corso, used to bring my father to all the home games. He would wait for my dad to come from the coal mine on Friday, drive him to College Park, and then after mass on Sunday drive him back.
After a while, Coach Tatum had my dad sit on the bench each time he came. Tatum loved my dad.
My dad said his proudest moment was when my brother Ed and I were invited to a big sports lunch at the White House. This was at the end of my senior year, 1953, and my brother was in the air force at the time. Ed got his invitation out at Hamilton Air Force Base in California and told his commanding officer he had to go to Washington for this lunch at the White House with Dwight D. Eisenhower. His CO just laughed at him, but when he showed him the invitation they got a jet ready and flew his butt to Washington for the lunch. It was a big affair, with people like Rocky Marciano and Joe DiMaggio and Florence Chadwick there. It was a big thrill for Ed and me, and I think maybe even bigger for my dad getting to tell everyone around town where his two boys were having lunch.
CONERLY at Ole Miss
I was born and raised in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Went to Clarksdale BoboHigh School there — I don't know what the Bobo stands for; somebody, I guess, just named it that.
In 1941 I went to Ole Miss — the University of Mississippi. Then in 1943 I went into the Marines. I was overseas for a little more than two years and got out early in 1946.
I was supposed to have graduated from college in 1945, and that year the Washington Redskins drafted me. Only problem was that I was over in Guam. They sent me a telegram down in Mississippi, which my mother got. She wrote me about it, and I said to myself, "Well, I'd be happy to come back right away." But, of course, I couldn't.
After I got out of the Marines, I went back to Ole Miss and finished up there after the 1947 season. I played football in the fall of 1946 and then again in 1947.
My senior year  we won the Southeastern Conference. I happily remember we beat Tennessee that year. Ole Miss had never beaten them before. [General Bob] Neyland was their coach. We played them up in Memphis and beat them pretty good [43–13]. Because we won the conference we should have gone to the Sugar Bowl, but earlier that year they announced a new bowl, the Delta Bowl, and Ole Miss accepted an invitation to it midway through our season. So we couldn't go to New Orleans — Alabama went instead to play Texas. We beat Texas Christian at the Delta Bowl [13–9], although we would've preferred beating Texas at the Sugar Bowl. But, all told, it was a real good year.
ROTE at SMU
It was in San Antonio, Texas, where I grew up, that I started playing football. I attended Thomas Jefferson High School and played football and basketball; we went to the state championships in both my senior year.
Then I went to Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, where I thought I might play football. They had a summer program there, which enabled freshmen to become eligible for the varsity. And I thought that was a pretty good idea. We had to be enrolled before September, however. Well, I got up there in Nashville and my first thoughts were that I didn't see myself living in that part of the country after college.
Red Sanders was the head coach at Vanderbilt then, and he was a great recruiter.
Excerpted from We are the Giants! by Richard Whittingham, Dave Buscema. Copyright © 2014 Richard Whittingham. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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Table of Contents
Foreword Wellington Mara v
Chapter 1 College Days 1
Chapter 2 Joining the Giants 31
Chapter 3 Game Time 61
Chapter 4 Giants They Were 99
Chapter 5 Memories 127
Chapter 6 Coaches 149
Chapter 7 Enemies Remembered 177
Chapter 8 More Memories 189
Chapter 9 Off the Field 203
Chapter 10 After the Game Is Over 217