Fan loyalty surveys in Connecticut for the NFL usually show about a 50-50 split between the Giants and the Patriots — roughly comparable for baseball loyalties between the Yankees and the Red Sox in the Nutmeg State. The dividing line tends to be the New Haven area. From the Elm City down through Fairfield County there tend to be more Giants fans.
Though the Patriots had once planned to play in Hartford, the N.Y. Giants actually did play in Connecticut for two seasons — 1973 and 1974 — in New Haven at the Yale Bowl, compiling a dismal 1-11 record at the venerable Yale gridiron. Their presence in Connecticut in the 1970s, however, is just one of many Connecticut connections to the Giants since their beginning in 1925.
New York bookie Tim Mara purchased the NFL franchise known as the New York Giants in 1925 for $500. To this day the Mara family still has a controlling interest in the Giants, whose worth has skyrocketed to over $573 million — not a bad return on an initial investment of $500!
Right from the beginning of the franchise and continuing throughout its history, players born in Connecticut have been a part of "Big Blue." Two Connecticut natives who played for the Giants — Andy Robustelli from Stamford and Ken Strong from West Haven — are members of pro football’s Hall of Fame.
Of the 161 Connecticut natives who have played in the NFL, 16 have played with the Giants. Here is a summary of those players in alphabetical order:
Matthew William Brennan, born Oct. 3, 1897, was a fullback and halfback from Stamford who played just one year for the Giants — 1925, the first year for the franchise.
John Carney, born April 20, 1964, in Hartford, played in the NFL longer than any other Nutmegger — an amazing 23 years! Carney was a Pro-Bowl player twice — in 1994 and in 2008 — the latter being his only year with the Giants. He played with seven different NFL teams as a kicker and is a probable future member of the Hall of Fame.
Stu Clancy, born June 6, 1906, in Branford, had an NFL career spanning six seasons and 48 games from 1930-35 — three-and-a-half of them with the Giants. Stu was a running back who was a graduate of Holy Cross College in Worcester.
Vin Clements, born on Jan. 4, 1949, is a Southington native who starred as a running back at UConn. He played two seasons in the NFL — 1972 and ’73 — both with the Giants. He ran the ball 103 times for 435 yards — over four yards per carry!
John Contoulis, born Oct. 9, 1940, was a native of New London who attended UConn. Contoulis was a defensive tackle who played one season in the NFL — 1964 — with the Giants.
James F. Crocicchia, born Feb. 19, 1964, was a native of Waterbury who attended Holy Cross High. A quarterback, Crocicchia went to Penn. He played one season for the Giants — 1987 — and threw 15 passes with six completions, one for a touchdown.
Louis “Ace” Philip DeFillipo, born Aug. 28, 1916, was an East Haven native who attended Hillhouse High School in New Haven. A graduate of Fordham University, where he was an All-American center, DeFillipo was the 47th overall draft pick in 1941 and played four seasons with the Giants. He had an extensive and distinguished coaching career at the high school, college, and professional football levels.
Robert Edward Dobelstein, born Oct. 17, 1922, in Bridgeport, played guard at the University of Tennessee and then played in the NFL for three seasons with the Giants—1946, ’47, and ’48.
Maurice “Mush” Dubofsky, born in 1909, attended Weaver High School in Hartford. He graduated from Georgetown University and played guard with the Giants for one season — 1932.
Eulice “Deuce” H. Keahey, born July 20, 1917, in Meriden, was a tackle who attended George Washington University. He played in two games with the Giants in 1942.
Thomas Edward Myers, born Feb. 9, 1901, in New Britain, was a halfback and quarterback for Fordham. He played for the Giants in their first year of existence in 1925.
Louis J. Palazzi, born June 25, 1921, in Groton, was a center who attended Penn State. He played two seasons — 1946 and ’47 — for the Giants.
William A. Petrilas, born Sept. 28, 1915, in New Haven, was an end and halfback for Hillhouse. Interestingly, he did not attend college but did play for the Giants in 1944 and ’45.
*Andy Robustelli, born in Stamford on Dec. 6, 1925, had a very distinguished 14-year career in the NFL mostly as a defensive end — nine of those seasons with the Giants. Robustelli is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Ken Strong, born Aug. 6, 1906, in West Haven, was a graduate of NYU. He played halfback, fullback, and quarterback in 12 NFL seasons, eight of which were with the Giants. Strong played from 1929-1947 with part of that time interrupted by World War II. Ken Strong is also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH, and is definitely one of the most under-recognized great athletes in Connecticut sports history. West Haven High School's sports stadium bears his name. Among Strong’s achievements was the first-ever fair catch kick performed in the NFL.**
Frank J. Turbert, born Sept. 7, 1918, in New Haven, attended both Duke and the College of Charleston. He was a running back who spent part of one season — 1944 — with the Giants.
Finally, another key Connecticut connection to the New York Giants is their current offensive coordinator, Kevin Gilbride. Born in New Haven on Aug. 27, 1951, Gilbride attended Southern Connecticut State University, where he played both quarterback and tight end. Starting in 1980, Gilbride coached the SCSU Owls for five seasons. Since 1990, he has been an assistant coach in some capacity with five different NFL franchises and one professional Canadian team — the Ottawa Rough Riders. Gilbride has worked with Giants head coach Tom Coughlin before. He was Coughlin’s offensive coordinator with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1995-96. Incidentally, Coach Gilbride's son — also named Kevin — is currently the Giants' offensive quality control coach.
Notes, Sources, and Links:
1.* denotes a member of pro football’s Hall of Fame
2. ** a fair catch kick occurs after a player fair catches an opponent’s free kick and opts to kick the ball in a field goal attempt from the spot of the fair catch. The ball can be held in the usual fashion from the spot of the catch or drop-kicked. If it goes between the uprights, it is worth 3 points. Opponents must line-up at least 10 yards from the spot of the fair catch. Strong’s fair catch kick occurred on Nov. 20, 1933, against the Packers and was 33 yards long. The kick has been executed 4 more times in the NFL; the last successful fair catch kick was performed on Nov. 21, 1976, by Ray Wersching of the Chargers vs. the Buffalo Bills. It was 45 yards long.
5. In the early years of the NFL, teams often adopted the names of their major league baseball counterparts. The New York Football Giants took the name of the National League baseball team from New York — the New York Baseball Giants — now the San Francisco Giants.
6. Hartford once had an NFL team known as the Hartford Blues. The Blues played only in 1926 in the NFL, compiling a 3-7 record. Their home field was the old East Hartford Velodrome.
About this column: This Week In Connecticut History retraces the notable people, places, and events that happened in our area. This column appears on a regular basis.