For Pete's Sake

By: Pete Fierle

Pete Fierle, Manager - Digital Media/Communications
Pete's familiarity with the game's history is a result of spending two decades surrounded by the world's largest collection of pro football information. His many duties include overseeing the Hall's website as well as the day-to-day operation of the Ralph Wilson, Jr. Pro Football Research and Preservation Center.

A loaf of bread and a dream

Jun 02, 2011
A new "For Pete's Sake" blog appears each Thursday.

Those enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame are family. And so, I write this week’s blog in memory of one of our family members who passed away earlier this week in a Stamford, CT hospital. Andy Robustelli died on Tuesday at the age of 85.

If you’re a Giants fan you need no introduction to who he was. That’s because he had iconic stature in New York for decades. Today’s Giants fans surely still know the name Andy Robustelli. He was the right defensive end of a Giants team that shared the limelight with baseball’s Yankees during a time where football was on the verge of exploding across the country. If you’re an ardent football fan, you too know that Robustelli was one of the finest defensive ends ever to step on a NFL field.

Andy’s life was filled with great success that included raising a large family. After his playing days, Robustelli worked in the Giants’ front office before he embarked on a successful career in the business world. But, is about football. So, I’d like to share the memory of Robustelli’s contribution to this game.

If you’ve ever heard his enshrinement speech from our front steps in Canton, Ohio, you’d remember his moving intro as he talked about going to the store for his mother. Like so many other boys around the country, it didn’t take much imagination to dream of running to the end zone. 

This is a long way from that little kid that used to love to go to the store for his mother because when she needed Italian bread it looked like a football. And he could take it and toss it up in the air and then run from the store to his home yelling, ‘Robustelli’s on the 50, he’s on the 40, he’s on the 30, and when he got to down to the goal line he’d be home.

Listen to his entire 1971 enshrinement speech>>> 

Andy “found the end zone” when he received the sport’s most significant honor with his election to the Hall of Fame. It was a long, long way from his childhood in Stamford, Connecticut where he raced down the sidewalk with a loaf of bread.

He played his college football at tiny Arnold College (which is now part of the University of Bridgeport). Robustelli was a two-way player but fairly noted as an offensive end (i.e. receiver). He was elected as Little All-American. That led him down the path to the NFL through the 1951 draft when the Los Angeles Rams selected him as a 19th round draft pick.

There was just one problem, well really two.  His hopes of making the squad at receiver were slim at best as a pair of revolutionary, big-play future Hall of Famers Tom Fears and Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch were firmly entrenched on the team’s depth chart.

Rams coach Joe Stydahar labeled Robustelli as a long shot at best. Stydahar figured Andy’s only chance at making the team was on defense. A disappointed Robustelli realized then that his hopes of carrying the loaf of bread to the end zone wasn’t going to happen.

He could have walked away. In fact, he and his wife Jeanne, who passed away in April, actually contemplated having Andy pursue a career in coaching at the high school level back in Connecticut. 

Fortunately for all of us, he decided to take his new assignment and do the best he could. He made an impression from his very first scrimmage and for the remainder of his outstanding career he exemplified the very type of character and perseverance it takes to earn a bronze bust in Canton. His dedication to playing the sport of football became his trademark. It not only helped him reach great heights but guided his teams to the top. In 14 seasons in the NFL, Andy played on 13 winners. It wasn’t until his final year as a player-coach with the Giants that he suffered a losing record. Along the way, he appeared in eight NFL championship games. He and the Rams won the NFL title during his rookie season. Not surprisingly, Andy’s finest season resulted in the Giants best record during the Robustelli-era. In 1962, the Giants finished 12-2-0 and Andy became the first defensive player to be recognized as the NFL’s Player of the Year by the prestigious Maxwell Club.

Although his dream of carrying that loaf of bread to the end zone never came to fruition like he thought it would in the NFL (he did have one TD catch and returned two interceptions for scores), he was able to enjoy much of his spectacular career near home. Despite his and the Rams success, L.A. was a long way from Stamford. Just as training camp began in 1956, the Rams traded Andy to his “hometown” team, the New York Giants.

That season, he earned his second NFL championship as the Giants secured their first world title since 1938. It also marked the franchise’s last NFL championship until New York won Super Bowl XXI.

Over nine years in New York, Robustelli was “living the dream” in one of the country’s biggest markets just as the NFL was entering the TV era and exposure to the game was growing exponentially across the nation. He and teammates like Frank Gifford, Sam Huff, and Y.A. Tittle were the toast of the town on level that pro football players hadn’t previously experienced.

Robustelli was one of the Kings of New York for sure. So, in a way, things turned out not much differently than how that young boy imagined as he sprinted down the sidewalk with a loaf of bread tucked under his arm.