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Cavanaugh: Frozen turf no match for Robustellis shoes

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Andy Robustelli's trading card from his playing days with the New York Giants. Photo: Contributed Photo / Connecticut Post Contributed

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Andy Robustelli's trading card from his playing days with the New York Giants.

Andy Robustelli's trading card from his playing days with the New York Giants.

Photo: Contributed Photo

Cavanaugh: Frozen turf no match for Robustelli's shoes

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In the biting cold of Sunday morning, Dec. 30, 1956, Andy Robustelli and his wife, Jeanne, attended their usual early Mass at St. Benedict's Roman Catholic Church, not far from her parents' home in the Cove section of Stamford, where the Robustellis lived until they built their own house two years later. After Mass, the Robustellis returned home to have breakfast with their four young children and Jeanne's family, as they would every Sunday when Robustelli was home. After steak, toast and tea, Andy left at 10 a.m. for Yankee Stadium while Jeanne followed later with other members of the family.

As usual, Robustelli slept soundly for eight hours the night before. Nothing, it seemed, even playing in the NFL championship game that Sunday afternoon 35 miles from the Dora household, could rile or unnerve Andy Robustelli. Perhaps spending two years aboard a destroyer escort in the South Pacific during World War II and then having four children (eventually there would be nine), were more than enough to leave Robustelli relaxed even before the biggest game of the 1956 season against the Chicago Bears.

Robustelli had already played in two NFL championship games -- the equivalent of today's Super Bowl game -- during his five years with the Los Angeles Rams, but the one on Dec. 30, 1956 was special since it was his first with the New York Giants. He had been traded in August even though he had been an all-pro defensive end for the Rams. Robustelli's trade resulted from a fortuitous circumstance. When Jeanne Robustelli gave birth to their fourth child, Andra, in July of 1956, Andy, who was due to report for preseason training the following week, asked Rams' coach Sid Gillman if he could delay his arrival at training camp until after Jeanne returned home from the hospital. Gillman, in his second year as the Rams' head coach and trying to project a tough in-charge stance, denied Andy's request.

"I've got a team to worry about, not your family," Gillman said. Robustelli responded by saying, "Sid, I'll be out there as soon as my family situation is settled." At that point, Gillman hung up on his $7,000-a-year all-pro end.

Several days later, as Robustelli was preparing to leave for training camp, he received a phone call from Wellington Mara (the son of Giants' founder Tim Mara), who was in effect the team's general manager. Mara told Andy the Rams were willing to trade him to the Giants. It was, without a doubt, Gillman's way of punishing Robustelli for what he felt was his comeuppance. Robustelli was stunned since he enjoyed playing for the Rams, the only team that had shown an interest in him after he had graduated from tiny Arnold College in Milford when the Rams were one of the best teams in NFL history. "If you can do it, go ahead and make the deal," Robustelli after thinking the matter over and realizing that with the Giants he would be much closer to home and even be able to work in his sporting goods store in Cos Cob (he eventually had a store in downtown Stamford as well). He and close friend Ed Clark bought the store with Andy's $2,000 winners' share when the Rams won the 1951 NFL title during his rookie year. For the Giants, it turned out to be a deal made in heaven. Over the next nine years, Robustelli would remain an all-pro defensive end and play in six championship games.

In a remarkable coincidence, Robustelli joined the Giants at their training camp at St Michael's College in Burlington, Vt., where he had broken a leg during what turned out to be the last game of his college career. Also joining the Giants at St. Michael's, in what turned out to be a bonanza for the team, were rookies Sam Huff, end Jim Katcavage and punter Don Chandler, along with tackle Dick Modzelewski, Gene Filipski and Dick Hughes (also a former Ram) whom the Giants obtained in trades. They would join such veterans as future Hall of Famers Frank Gifford, Roosevelt Brown and Emlen Tunnell, the Giants' first black player; along with Kyle Rote, Charlie Conerly, Rosey Grier and Alex Webster. And as assistant coaches, the Giants had future Hall of Fame coaches Vince Lombardi, who led the offense, and Tom Landry, who handled the defense. As head coach Jim Lee Howell later said, "With Lombardi and Landry as my assistants, all I have to worry about on game day is whether the footballs were all blown up and if we won the coin-toss whether to kick off or receive."

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