The Rev. Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier has enjoyed as varied a life as one can expect from an actor, singer, ordained minister, political activist, author and NFL Pro Bowler.
He was on hand — and physically subdued Sirhan Sirhan — the night Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in the Ambassador Hotel’s kitchen in 1968; was part of the Los Angeles Rams’ famed Fearsome Foursome defensive line; wrote a best-selling book in the early ’70s on the pleasures and challenges of needlepoint; and is a cousin to the blaxploitation movie star, Pam Grier.
During Grier’s years in New York in the Fifties and Sixties, when he played with Big Blue Hall of Famers like Frank Gifford, Andy Robustelli, and Sam Huff, the Giants won four Eastern Conference championships and, in 1956, the NFL title.
Here — his memories stirred by looking at the previously unpublished photographs of the 1960 New York Giants featured in this gallery — Grier talks with LIFE about his views on football and sportsmanship; his experience as a young man from small-town Georgia playing in the Big Apple; and the men he shared the road and the field with during a transformational period in his long, full life.
Grier was 6′ 5″ and played at close to 300 pounds — but moved like a smaller man. “When I played in high school,” he told LIFE, “I patterned my movements on the little guys. They were so fast, and I learned to watch how they moved, how they worked their feet. So after a while, the instant the ball moved at the line of scrimmage, I would just explode off the line. My quickness came from watching little guys. I penetrated so quickly because I beat everyone off the line, always.”
“It was an exciting time for me,” Grier recalled of his early days with the Giants. “Here we were, out of college — most of the guys, anyway, had all graduated from college — and to be with these players from all over the country was fun, a thrill … and, at first, a little nervous-making. I mean, when I first came to the Giants, a lot of the guys were from the South — the head coach, Jim Lee Howell, was from Arkansas — and I assumed that there was no way we’d get along. With me being black, and knowing that there were only going to be so many black ball players on a team — well, long story short, I could not have been more wrong. The camaraderie I found there was unbelievable.
“It was an an incredible thing,” Grier said, “coming from the South, playing college ball at Penn State, to end up in New York playing for a franchise with a history like the Giants. I enjoyed it so much, and became good friends with guys like Charlie Conerly, [halfback and receiver] Kyle Rote … oh, so many of them. The team felt like a family then. It really did.”