The Giants played in the National Football League, a professional loop of twelveteams divided into an Eastern Conference and a Western Conference. In 1954professional football was hardly removed from the days when the NFL was termed
―postgraduate football.‖ Indeed, even today—
but much less than in former years
television announcer often follows a player’s name with the name of the college the
player attended. It was almost as if the athlete had played his
football in college, as if he still needed that collegiate identity to make his profession legitimate.
There remained a touch of, well … country, in pro football even into the 1950s. TheGiants’ coach since 1931 was Steve Owen, a product of the Chero
kee Strip in Oklahoma,
who enjoyed ―rasslin’ ‖ as a test of man
-to-man skills. When Owen was asked hisopinion of the coaching techniques of the innovative Paul Brown or what ho thought of the new T-
formation, he would smile and drawl, ―The game is played in the dirt.‖ He had
been thrust from the trench warfare of World War I into a new world he had never made,where there were new rules, new machines, and new armaments. And there were alsonew people, differently motivated and better educated.
year with the club was 1953. Everyone hoped that the men who controlledthe Giants had fired him gently. They realized that a new era was starting in professionalfootball. It needed new coaches, new coaching techniques, and new players who couldadapt to the more fluid style that the second half of the twentieth century demanded.Few people could have envisioned the impact on New York life that the Giants wouldmake over the next ten years, when Vince Lombardi was only an
coach, alongwith the cerebral Tom Landry. It was a time when the head of the Parke-Bernet Galleries(who also hired Emlen Tunnell as a guard in the rare books section) would show up at thegames, as well as Toots Shor, network executives, priests and nuns, and generals. Beforesidewalk cafes became fashionable in Manhattan, there was al fresco dining under theshadow of the Bronx elevated at Yankee Stadium, tailgate parties before the big game.
The shouts, the demands, really, of ―Dee
fense!‖ started with the footballGiants’ fans. More than 60,000 of them, the largest season’s ticket
-holding group in theworld, would bellow for the most famous defensive unit in sports
probably in thehistory of sports in this country. Even today, the names have a magical connotation,t
aking in a time, a place, and a definite part of one’s mind: Rosey Grier, Andy Robustelli,
Sam Huff, Dick Modzelewski, Harland Svare, Em Tunnell.People had never before come to sports events to root for a defense. Had baseball fansgone to Yankee Stadium to see Babe Ruth make great catches in the outfield? Did they
want to see George Mikan grab a rebound? Did they want to see Maurice ―Rocket‖
Richard poke the puck away from an opponent? No, they had wanted to see Ruth smash ahome run; Mikan bank in a hook shot; or Richard sail down the ice with his eyes flaminglike torches from a cave, zero in on a goalie, and score.The offense had stars of its own, more names that are a part of nostalgia: Frank Gifford, Kyle Rote, Y. A. Tittle, Charlie Conerly, Rosey Brown, Del Shofner, Alex