Drafted By Giants
After learning that his girlfriend, Maxine Avis Ewart, had become pregnant, Gifford eloped with her to Las Vegas, Nevada on January 13, 1952. In deference to the morals of the day, the Giffords stated publicly that they had secretly married a year earlier. Gifford then signed a contract to play for the NFL's New York Giants and dropped out of college. He later completed his degree at USC in 1956 during his off-seasons from the Giants.
Although he was unhappy playing for the Giants at first, the arrival of Vince Lombardi as the team's defensive coach in 1954 transformed Gifford's NFL career. Under Lombardi's guidance, Gifford became one of the best running backs of the era. Named the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 1956 by United Press International, Gifford set Giants team records for average yards per carry (4.3) and total touchdowns (ninety-two) that still stood in 2002. In 1956 the Giants won the NFL Championship over the Philadelphia Eagles; it was the only championship title the team took during Gifford's football career, which lasted until 1964.
A photogenic presence on and off the field, Gifford was instrumental in popularizing football as a televised sport in the 1950s. One of the first nationally televised NFL championship games, a December 28, 1958 match between the Giants and the Baltimore Colts, came to be known as the "Greatest Game Ever Played." Gifford had fumbled twice in the early stages of the game but recovered to rush for a touchdown and bring the team close to another scoring opportunity. After a referee marked one play just short of a first down, however, the Giants were forced to punt. The Colts went on to win the game by a 23-17 margin, but many viewers were furious over the referee's call.