New York Giants: Brad Van Pelt
By Michael Stewart
Growing up in New York in the late 60’s to early 70’s was a great time. The Jets and Mets won a championship in their respective sport. The Knicks had 6 Hall of Fame players on their roster (7 if you count Phil Jackson as a coach) two championships and were an elite team in the NBA. The Rangers were one of the top teams in the NHL with such stars as Rod Gilbert.
Then you had the Giants, somewhere in the middle of the pack. During this time I was wavering between the Jets and Giants as the Jets had Broadway Joe (Joe Namath) and the Giants had, well nothing!
This all changed in 1973 when the New York Giants drafted a Strong Safety out of Michigan State by the name of Brad Van Pelt. I had known of Brad Van Pelt prior to the draft from watching college football on Saturday. It seemed that most of the times I watched a game, the Michigan State Spartans were playing. It didn’t take long for me to gravitate to the way Van Pelt played the game. In those days, it was very rare to see a SS as big and mobile as Van Pelt was and he hit like a linebacker. Van Pelt was a 2-time All American in college playing the safety position and also was honored with the Maxwell Award as the nation’s best defensive player; which was the 1st time a defensive back won that honor.
Brad Van Pelt was drafted in the 2nd round by the Giants (40th overall) only because many teams were convinced he would play baseball as he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals. The Giants did not have a 1st round pick in 1973 as they traded it to the Cleveland Browns a season earlier. I couldn’t find any information in my research on who made the decision on Van Pelt switching from Safety to Linebacker. Perhaps it was defensive coordinator at the time Jim Garrett or HC Alex Webster. Regardless; whoever it was it was a very wise move as Van Pelt excelled as the SLB for the Giants from 1975-83, receiving Pro Bowl honors from 1976-80.
Aside from his personal achievements, Van Pelt will always be best remembered as a member of the Giants Crunch Bunch. A quartet of linebackers (Brian Kelly, Harry Carson and Lawrence Taylor) in 1981 that were the backbone of the Giants defense. They were also arguably the best set of linebackers in the history of football on one team.
During his 11-year career with the franchise, the Giants posted a winning record only once (1981), when New York reached the playoffs for the first time since 1964. Van Pelt also has the unusual distinction of playing for the franchise in four different home stadiums: (Yankee Stadium, the Yale Bowl, Shea Stadium and Giant Stadium).
No. 10 also played under five Giants head coaches during his career with the Giants (Alex Webster, Bill Arnsparger, John McVay, Ray Perkins, Bill Parcells).
Van Pelt would finish up his career with the Oakland Raiders and finally the Cleveland Browns before retiring. On February 17, 2009, Van Pelt was found by his longtime fiancée, slumped in a chair, dead from an apparent heart attack. He was 57 and had no known heart condition; but his father had died at an early age from heart problems.
In 2011, Van Pelt was inducted into the Giants ring of honor and will forever be remembered as one of the best Linebackers in Giants history and a member of the Crunch Bunch.