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Jennings made all of us want to be punters

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published July 07. 2013 4:00AM

It is through the hope and wonder of childhood that our heroes emerge, immortal and indestructible.

And nothing brings us face to face with our own mortality more profoundly than their death.

It was with earnest sadness that I learned of Dave Jennings' recent death. Dave Jennings: The man who inspired so much merriment in my backyard.

Dave was 61.

He had had battled Parkinson's disease, a chronic degenerative neurological disorder, since 1996.

Dave Jennings was the punter for the football Giants, their best player for many years, filling the abyss between Y.A. Tittle and Harry Carson. The numbers say plenty: four-time Pro Bowler, punted for more than 4,000 yards in a season three times. But maybe it's just best to leave Dave's legacy here: You never looked so forward to fourth down as when Dave Jennings was on your team.

My childhood consisted of left-handed hook shots trying to be Dave Cowens (I'm right-handed), a pigeon-toed wiffle ball stance trying to be Roy White and so many happy days pretending to be Dave Jennings. Trying for the same leg lift. Kicking the perfect spiral. Our Giants back then: The kids aspired to be the punter.

I never met him. But we have a mutual friend in Bob Picozzi, the familiar television voice of UConn basketball, ESPN football and basketball and ESPN radio. They were talk show partners a lifetime ago. Jennings, who would become a color commentator on Giants and Jets games, was interested in broadcasting even when he was a Giant. He lived in Woodbridge in the offseason because his father, Manson Van B. Jennings, was a former president of Southern Connecticut State University.

Soon, Picozzi and Jennings were doing a talk show on WNHC Radio in New Haven.

Picozzi and Jennings remained the best of friends. Bob delivered the eulogy last month.

"I can picture Dave right now sitting in a reclining chair t-shirt gym shorts flip flops Diet Coke looking down and asking 'why are all those fools all dressed up and indoors on a hot day like this?'" Picozzi said. "To tell you the truth, when I arrived today, I expected to see a bowl of Cheez-Its at the end of each pew. That's how No. 13 would have catered this party."

Jennings also proves the old "nothing lasts forever" line is faulty. Memories do. And Jennings remains a once and future member of the hearts and minds of the football Giants.

Not long after Tom Coughlin addressed the team the night before Super Bowl XLVI, when the Giants would beat the Patriots again, he called Dave Jennings. Dave was pretty well incapacitated by then. The phone call meant everything, what with the billion other details occupying Coughlin's thoughts.

Not long after the Super Bowl, I exercised one of those Tom Cruise, "sometimes, you gotta say what the (heck)" moments and tried to reach Coughlin. Pat Hanlon, the Giants' intrepid vice president of communications, wrote back and said that Coughlin wanted to keep the contents of the conversation private.

"Tom would never want the appearance to be that he called Dave so his efforts would be praised," Hanlon wrote. "I hope you understand."

Among the attendees at Jennings' memorial service: Giants owner John Mara, Hanlon, Phil Simms, Carson, Joe Morris, George Martin, Brian Kelly, Scott Brunner, Bart Oates, Sean Landeta, Billy Taylor.

Makes you proud to be a Giant, even if you are only a fan.

"We root for the team with the most class in sports," Picozzi said.

More from the eulogy:

"When the Jets decided to make a change in their radio booth following the 2001 season, the Giants called about five minutes later to offer him a job to become the third man in their booth," Picozzi said. "Dave told me that when he was about to go on the air to do his first game with the Giants in the 2002 preseason, he had his headset on, facing the field.

"Suddenly, he felt from behind a hand on his shoulder," Picozzi said. "He turned and saw Wellington Mara, who shook Dave's hand and said 'welcome home.' Dave told me that simple, meaningful gesture gave him goosebumps and brought tears to his eyes. Because Dave Jennings loved Wellington Mara and he loved being a Giant."

Next time you visit Met Life Stadium, look for Jennings in the Giants Ring of Honor. The punter. With LT and Phil Simms, Tittle and Robustelli. That's what me meant.

"When Dave left us June 19th, something occurred to me," Picozzi said. "That Mr. Mara was able to say to him one more time 'welcome home.' A home where there are no IVs, no infections, no pneumonia, no confusion. Just eternal bliss and happiness and knowing that he left behind so many who will always love him."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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