Exclusive Interview with Author Bernard Corbett

Friday, October 15, 2010 |

I recently devoured, over the course of a few nights, the nearly 400 pages that make up The Most Memorable Games in Giants History, a new book by Jim Baker and Bernard Corbett. Employing an oral history format, the authors allow the players, coaches, executives, writers and broadcasters who helped make these games memorable to tell the stories in their own words. It's an informative and entertaining look at Giants history that belongs on the bookshelf of any dedicated Giants fan.

Corbett, perhaps best-known as the radio play-by-play voice of Harvard University football and Boston University hockey, recently took some time out to answer a few questions about the creation of the book and the manner in which he and his co-author arrived at their selections.

Here's the interview below, edited slightly for clarity and length:

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MW:  Let's get the obvious question out of the way first. How does a died-in-the-wool Boston guy like you become a lifelong, die hard New York Giants fan? The book's dedication indicates that it has a lot to do with your father.

BC: Once upon a timein the late fifties when the NFL first became a Sunday afternoon American cultural staple—the Giants (pre AFL) were featured every week throughout New England, the Canadian maritimes, etc. My father and really everyone else that was a pro football fan in a place like Boston at the time was a Giants fan. The team maintained a strong following in New England /Massachusetts/Boston throughout the 1960’s through the AFL’s early days. The Patriots were very slow developing a following of their own. When I first started watching the NFL (circa 1967/Fran Tarkenton) I sat down on Sundays and watched the Giants religiously every week with my father, who stayed loyal to the Big Blue ‘til his passing in 1998. I’m 49 by the way.

MW: Two things impressed me most about this book. First and foremost is its breadth. The book covers games spread across 82 seasons and includes interviews with Giants players whose years of service span seven decades. That obviously took a great deal of research and a significant investment of your time. How did you go about gathering the necessary information on the memorable games that took place well before your time? What were the books that you found yourself continually referring to?

BC: I personally have a very deep collection of Giants-related books. I’m not saying I’ve got all of ‘em, but it’s close. Richard Whittingham’s very colorful history, which includes many entertaining sidebars and anecdotes about the team, was a primary source. For the 1946 story, Sports Illustrated's The Football Book was invaluable. Also, as has been the case through my entire career, there was no substitute for the microfilm department of the Boston Public Library, where I had access to countless newspaper accounts.

MW:  The second thing that really impressed me is how you got so many of the old players to talk to you. As someone who has attempted to secure interviews with some of the men featured in this book, I can personally attest to how difficult that can be. That in itself deserves kudos, but they also gave you such great material. Which were the interviews that really stood out for you as the most enjoyable and/or informative? And what was it like, as a fan, to interview some of your heroes?

BC: I have to say that reflecting back on some 125 interviews, 75 of which were with former Giants, there wasn’t one that I said, “oh my, what a waste of time.” Every interview had value. I credit that to the players, to the subjects in general and to my dedication to “doing the homework” and being prepared. The players know right away if they’re talking to somebody that has the knowledge, frame of reference, and passion for the subject. I take pride in developing all of the above before I set up the tape recorder.

There were so many that I enjoyed, but a couple standout by era: George Franck (1946 game, what a memory!); Pat Summerall (a broadcast idol, not just a football Giant); Doug Van Horn (What a great storyteller); Jim Burt (same as previous); Jeff Hostetler ( a real gentleman); Michael Strahan (he’s “Michael Strahan” 24/7) and Justin Tuck (incredible maturity for the youngest Giant, at 26 years old, interviewed for the book). That’s just off the top. I don’t want to slight anyone, as thankfully they all had their moments.

As a fan it was a dream come true, I won’t lie to you. I must admit the Summerall one really gave me goosebumps. I have been a play-by-play broadcaster for some 25 years (hockey/football/a little baseball) at the college level and truly idolize Pat. He was the “voice of the NFL” and so classy, succinct, understated–a true professional. While I interviewed him, I half expected him to do the disclaimer for “60 Minutes” being seen at its regular time except on the West Coast.


 MW: I applaud you for not including the so-called "Greatest Game Ever Played" and for including four losses in the book. It was astute of you to recognize that this franchise is defined just as much by its historic defeats as it is by its great victories, and all true Giants fans know that heartbreaking losses can linger in the memory just as long, if not longer, than exhilarating wins. We've covered that here before. I am also well aware that you couldn't include everything, or else run the risk of an 800-page book. That said, there appear to me to be some rather glaring omissions in the book that, if you don't mind, I feel compelled to ask you about.

While some are mentioned in passing, the book doesn't include significant coverage of any games from the 1986 or 2007 championship seasons other than the Super Bowls. That means no 4th & 17 in the Metrodome, no Mark Bavaro dragging Ronnie Lott 20 yards on Monday Night Football, no 1986 conference championship (17-0), no 2007 conference championship at frigid Lambeau. Those games are all, without question, among the most memorable of the past 25 years. Inexplicably, the book also includes zero games from the 1956 championship season and zero games played in the 10-year period between Jan. 1991 and Jan 2001.

That's not even to mention the following 3 epic losses, all occurring in the postseason:

1) The Trey Junkin Game
2) The Flipper Anderson Game
3) The Chris Calloway/Jake Reed Game

So, my question is, how can you devote 18 pages to a 1970 regular-season win over Washington and a 1966 blowout loss to that same Washington team in lieu of these games? What determined your criteria for inclusion?

BC: Time and space were serious constraints. There’s certainly enough material for a volume II. We felt it was impossible to not include the Super Bowls that ended 1986/2007. That also allowed us to reference the games that you list in the course of our interviews in order to provide the back story regarding how the Giants got to the promised land in those memorable seasons.

As far as 1956, the Giants overwhelmingly dominant performance in the title game (47-7) made it tough to include when faced with other choices from that era for that iconic group of players. Not including anything from 1991-2001 was once again a “numbers game”. It doesn’t mean that, say, the Dallas game from 1993 or the Chris Calloway/Jake Reed game (two more heartbreakers) weren’t memorable or deserving. We only had so much space to work with!

As far as including the 1970 game, that was a watershed year for the Giants, the “almost year" during the “wilderness years” (1967-81). The 6th straight win tied a team record. It also gave us an opportunity to reference the Tarkenton Era. The 1966 game? It still stands as the record of the most points scored by one team in an NFL regular season game (72) and established the scoring mark for the two teams combined (113). unbelievable stuff. It defined the ineptitude of the “wilderness years” in an epic fashion.

MW: What, in your opinion, is the #1 most memorable game in Giants history?

BC: I think you can make a strong case for several, but here’s two about a half a century apart:

The 1958 Summerall field goal game had it all. A “do-or die” scenario for the Giants, a legendary band of Big Blue brothers and Paul Brown’s Cleveland club with arguably the NFL’s greatest player. Throw in the snow covered field and blizzard-like conditions and you’ve got “frozen tundra” before “Frozen Tundra”.

And of course it’s tough to argue with Super Bowl 42. The New York Times headline said it all, “A Perfect Ending…For The Giants”.

MW: Do you think the 2010 Giants can compete for a division title? How about a Super Bowl?

BC: I felt at the beginning of the season that the Giants were a solid playoff/division contender—a team that should win 10 games, which should be enough to make the playoffs. Now about a third of the way along in 2010, the whole conference is up for grabs. If the Giants can continue to progress/find their identity/keep their health, who knows? This could be a special year. More material for volume II. 

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Note: I recently began writing a biweekly column about the Giants for MSG.com. Check out my latest piece, a preview of Sunday's Giants/Lions game, here.

1 comments:

Andy F. said...

Great stuff, Mr. Weinstein. Enjoy it as always.