Thursday, February 19, 2009

Former Giants Linebacker Brad Van Pelt Dies at 57

I remember him so well as a player. He was a real bright spot for our team.

February 19, 2009
Former Giants Linebacker Brad Van Pelt Dies at 57

Brad Van Pelt, a stalwart linebacker for the Giants who was perhaps the best player on their woeful teams in the 1970s, died Tuesday in Harrison, Mich. He was 57 and lived in Harrison.

The cause has not been confirmed, his brother Kim said, but the suspected cause is a heart attack.

A fleet, athletically gifted player who was a safety in college and was converted to linebacker as a pro, Van Pelt excelled in pass coverage, intercepting 20 passes in his career. He was especially recognizable on the field for two reasons: his rangy physique, unusual for a linebacker, and his uniform number, 10.

League rules usually reserved such low numbers for kickers and members of the backfield, but because Van Pelt was listed as the Giants’ backup kicker when he was a rookie, the league allowed him to wear it for his entire tenure with the team.

He played 11 seasons with the Giants, from 1973 to 1983, and for five consecutive seasons, from 1976 through 1980, he was named to the Pro Bowl. The Giants named him their player of the decade for the 1970s.

Only once in Van Pelt’s career, however, did the team have a winning record, in 1981. By then he and another hard-working but little-rewarded player, Brian Kelley, had been joined in the linebacking corps by Harry Carson and Lawrence Taylor, and together they were the strength of the team. In a sense, Van Pelt was born just a few years too soon; as his career waned, Carson and Taylor became stars, and they, along with Carl Banks, who was drafted as Van Pelt’s replacement, provided the backbone of the defense that helped the Giants win their first Super Bowl after the 1986 season.

Van Pelt finished his career playing two seasons with the Los Angeles Raiders and one with the Cleveland Browns, retiring just as the Giants were becoming champions.

Brad Alan Van Pelt was born in Owosso, Mich., near Flint, in the central part of the state. He was a high school hero, making the all-league team in basketball, baseball and in football on both defense and offense; he was an all-state quarterback for Owosso High School. At Michigan State University, where he was twice an all-American safety, he played basketball and baseball as well. The Giants made him their second-round choice in the 1973 draft. He was not chosen in the first round because he was also considering a career in baseball; the St. Louis Cardinals had drafted him as a pitcher.

Van Pelt always felt the tug of home, even as a Giant. After a few years on the miserable Giant teams of the 1970s, he asked the team several times to trade him to the Detroit Lions. He went back to Michigan State in the 1990s and earned a degree in kinesiology, the branch of physiology that deals with human movement.

His two marriages ended in divorce. In addition to Kim Van Pelt, who lives in Owosso, he is survived by his fiancée, Deanna Ireland of Harrison; his mother, Bette Van Pelt of Harrison; a brother, Robin, of Owosso; and three sons: Brian, of Boulder, Colo., Bret, of Santa Barbara, Calif., and Bradlee, also of Santa Barbara, who has played quarterback for the Denver Broncos and the Houston Texans.

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