From the mid-1950s to the early 1960s, when basketball’s Boston Celtics were piecing together a run for the ages, when Montreal’s Canadiens were in the midst of notching a record-setting five streaight Stanley Cups, and when the New York Yankees were the once-and-future kings of the diamond, one team boosted the NFL to national prominence as none other: the New York Giants.
In Giants Among Men, Jack Cavanaugh, the acclaimed author of Tunney, transports us to the NFL’s golden age to introduce the close-knit and diverse group that won the heart of a city, helped spread the gospel of pro football across the nation, and recast the NFL as a media colossus.
Central to Cavanaugh’s narrative, and emblematic of the Giants’ bond with their followers, was a hard-nosed future Hall of Fame defensive end named Andy Robustelli, who anchored a Giants defense unit so ferocious that they were the first team to inspire crowds to chant “Dee-fense!” But while Robustelli and the Giants were a hit on the gridiron, playing in six NFL Championship Games in eight seasons between 1956 and 1963, the most remarkable aspect of this team was perhaps its relationship with the fans, who were equally at east hobnobbing with Jackie Gleason and Frank Sinatra as they were rubbing elbows with working-class rooters on the IRT en route to Sunday games in the Bronx. But the Giants of this era didn’t merely affect the fans’ relationship to the game; they changed the game itself. The team launched the NFL careers of future head-coaching geniuses Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi, as well as those of future Hall of Famers including Frank Gifford, Sam Huff, Emlen Tunnell, Roosevelt Brown, and Y. A. Tittle, along with stars like Charlie Conerly, Rosey Grier, and Pat Summerall.
Filled with historical and cultural insight and vivid portraits of large-than-life characters and indispensable everymen, Giants Among Men transcends nostalgia and sports trivia to faithfully depict a watershed era for both football and the American nation.
The latest from sports writer Cavanaugh (Tunney) looks at a time when professional baseball and college football ruled the sports scene, just before the New York Giants of the late 1950s and early '60s made the National Football League a nationwide phenomenon and became the hottest ticket in the country's media capital. Cavanaugh's play-by-play offers a wealth of information regarding the lives of players and coaches, both on and off the field. The depth of Cavanaugh's detail may be lost on all but the biggest football fans, but the author recaps often, careful to make the large cast and multiple stories easy to follow. Readers get in on the team's camaraderie in scenes from quarterback Charlie Conerly's parties, post-game subway rides to downtown Manhattan, and celebrations at Toots Shor's or P.J. Clarke's. Through the tales of assistant coaches Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi, and players like Sam Huff, Frank Gifford, Andy Robustelli and Rosey Grier, Cavanaugh chronicles engagingly a definitive era in professional football with surprising ease.