In no more than 24 hours, two Hall of Famers and great sport commentators, passed away. Last Sunday morning, August 9th, Pro Football Hall of Famer and New York Giant’s hero Frank Gifford died at age 84 and the following Monday August 10th Nascar’s legend Buddy Baker died after fighting lung cancer. He was 74.
Even though Frank Gifford scored touchdowns all over the US and Buddy Baker burned rubber on Nascar’s race tracks, both have a great deal in common not only as successful athletes but also for their distinguished broadcasting career.
Today, Booking Per Head joins in mourning and farewells to sport legends: Buddy Baker and Frank Gifford.
Born Aug. 16, 1930, in Santa Monica, Calif., Frank Newton Gifford was the son of an itinerant oil worker. He played one season for Bakersfield Junior College before attending USC on a football scholarship. He was an All-American at USC, playing offense and defense.
Gifford was a first-round pick by the Giants in 1952 where he played his entire NFL career, from 1952 to 1964, with 8 visits to the Pro Bowl. He was the UPI’s choice for NFL Most Valuable Player in 1956. Four times he was named first-team All-Pro.
The Giants used Gifford at running back, defensive back and wide receiver and on special teams. His 5,434 yards receiving were a Giants record for 39 years, until Amani Toomer surpassed him in 2003. His jersey number, 16, was retired by the team in 2000.
Gifford retired from the NFL in 1964 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.
As for NASCAR Hall of Famer Buck Baker’s son, Elzie Wylie Baker Jr., -better known as Buddy Baker or “the Gentle Giant”– was born in Florence, South Carolina.
The 6-foot-6 driver, started racing mainly for his family team and then for several car owners, including Ray Fox, Cotton Owens, Richard Petty, Nord Krauskopf, Bud Moore, Harry Ranier, the Wood Brothers and Danny Schiff.
He is one of eight drivers to have won a Career Grand Slam, by winning the sport’s four majors – the Daytona 500, Aaron’s 499, Coca-Cola 600, and the Southern 500.
On March 24, 1970 Baker became the first driver to exceed the 200 mph mark on a closed course test run. His speed was clocked at 200.447 miles per hour (322.588 km/h); a record that stood for 13 years.
In 1997, Baker joined his father as an inductee in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Alabama. He was inducted into the Charlotte Motor Speedway Court of Legends in 1995, and into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame inductee in 1997. He was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.
Behind the Mic
Buddy Baker remained involved in the sport working race telecasts for The Nashville Network and then co-hosting a radio show two nights a week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
His unique broadcasting style allowed him to be known as one of the greatest storytellers in the sport’s history, a singular skill that endeared him to millions.
Baker announced he had lung cancer on July 7 and would be immediately leaving the network. “Do not shed a tear. Give a smile when you say my name. I’m not saying goodbye. Just talk to you later,” Baker said in his final radio appearance.
Frank Gifford as well, had a successful broadcasting career after retiring as a professional athlete. In fact, Gifford was part of one of the most famous broadcasting teams in sports history as a co-host of “Monday Night Football” from 1971 to 1985.
Spotlights seemed to like Gifford a lot as he appeared in about a dozen films, most notably the 1959 submarine movie “Up Periscope.” He married TODAY show host Kathie Lee Gifford on Oct. 18, 1986 and won an Emmy Award in 1976-77 as television’s “outstanding sports personality.”
Booking Per Head’s Condolences
With great sadness and admiration, Booking Per Head thanks Buddy Baker and Frank Gifford for everything they shared and contributed to the US Sports History. We send all our love, support, sympathy and best wishes to the grieving families.