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July 23, 2001|Larry Stewart

What: "SportsCentury: Frank Gifford"

Where: ESPN Classic, tonight, 5 and 8

This is one of the best shows in the "SportsCentury" series, but it could have been even better. The problem is, you can't profile Frank Gifford in one show. Three would have been more like it.

There is Frank Gifford the football star. There is the broadcaster. And there is the celebrity, the person who grew up dirt poor in the oil fields of the San Joaquin Valley and went on to become the Golden Boy, marry a famous television star and achieve fame and wealth while also enduring scandals and embarrassments.

Of Gifford, Jack Kemp says, "He was my hero, my idol." Walter Cronkite says, "He was bright and well-spoken and that is what made him a football hero in New York." Andy Rooney says, "He was the single most graceful football player I ever saw." Joe Namath says, "Frank was always the star to me. Hey, he's a legend."

The profile doesn't begin in the beginning, but rather with Gifford's 28-year career with ABC's "Monday Night Football." Producer Don Ohlmeyer says, "We were called 'Mother Love's Traveling Freaks.' Frank was the only one squared away. The rest of us were pretty nuts."

Gifford explains Howard Cosell's boorish behavior by saying he was insecure.

Gifford's youth in Bakersfield and the small town around it are what get short shrift. Overlooked entirely is how football and the coach at Bakersfield High, Homer Beatty, straightened out a kid going nowhere.

But everything else is covered pretty well, including the painful scandal involving flight attendant Susan Johnson, paid by a tabloid newspaper to lure him into a tryst at a New York hotel.

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