Brad Van Pelt Passes Away (1951-2009)
By Michael Eisen, Giants.com
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - Brad Van Pelt, a five-time Pro Bowler and member of the Giants’ famed “Crunch Bunch” linebackers, passed away yesterday. Van Pelt, 57, suffered an apparent heart attack in Michigan, where he lived most of his life.
Former great Giants LB Brad Van Pelt passed away Tuesday from an apparent heart attack
Van Pelt, Hall of Famers Harry Carson and Lawrence Taylor and Brian Kelley formed the Crunch Bunch, arguably the NFL’s finest groups of linebackers in their era.
In 1973, Van Pelt and Kelley were drafted by the Giants. Three years later, Carson joined the team. In the five seasons from 1976-80, Van Pelt made five Pro Bowls and Carson two as the linebackers were the best unit on teams that won a total of 24 games.
In 1981, the Giants selected Taylor with the second pick in the NFL draft. With Taylor on board, the excellence and the fame of the linebackers soared. They became known as the Crunch Bunch, a punishing, cohesive and extraordinary unit. A Crunch Bunch poster, with the four hardworking defenders wearing hardhats on a construction site, was a must-have item for Giants fans.
Carson played in nine Pro Bowls and Taylor 10 on their way to the Hall of Fame. Van Pelt and Kelley departed after the 1983 season, but Carson and Taylor played on the 1986 Super Bowl champions, and L.T. was still around when the Giants won again in 1990.
The staggered separations did nothing to loosen the bonds between the four men, who remained as close as brothers. They spoke to each other regularly on the phone. There were frequent golf outings, numerous autograph shows and road trips. They went to Bermuda together and made annual trips to Hawaii at Pro Bowl time to play some golf, enjoy some beach time and re-tell the old stories.
In 2004, the four men spent a day in Puebla, a city in central Mexico, where they were among 3,000 or so volunteers – including former President Jimmy Carter - helping to build houses for Habitat for Humanity, the international nonprofit housing ministry.
“I feel as comfortable with them as I do with my brothers,” Van Pelt said in a 2004 interview. “Obviously, your brothers are your brothers. But these three are probably the closest thing to them. Brian and I played 11 years together. I played nine with Harry. Lawrence being the guy, it didn’t take long for him to fit right in and become one of the guys. I can’t really explain why but they’re the only three I stay close with.”
“It is sort of like a brotherhood,” Carson said. “We, as a group, were considered during our time, probably the best group of linebackers in the league. We didn’t win as we did in ’86. We did that with Carl (Banks), Gary Reasons, Lawrence and I. With that group we have a different kind of relationship. At some point, perhaps we can do something as a group. I would love to include Carl, because he is one of those guys that is very civic minded and he is very much about giving back. But I thought this first time, I wanted to do it with the old guys. The old guys who I knew I could twist their arms and get them to come.”
Van Pelt played 14 seasons in the NFL. After leaving the Giants, he was with the Los Angeles Raiders from 1984 to 1985 and the Cleveland Browns in 1986. He played in 184 regular season games and had 20 interceptions and – unofficially – 24.5 sacks.
Van Pelt joined the Giants as a second-round draft choice in 1973 after an outstanding career at Michigan State. He was their first selection that year, because the team had traded its first-round pick. Kelley was a 14th-round choice in the same draft.
“I grew up in Midwest, so the Vikings, Bears and Lions were my teams,” Van Pelt said. “New York, I felt like I was going to the other side of the world. It wasn’t until my senior year in high school that I left the state of Michigan.”
During his 11-year career with the franchise, the Giants posted a winning record only once, in 1981, when they ended an 18-year postseason drought. Van Pelt had the unusual distinction of playing for the franchise in four different home stadiums: Yankee Stadium, Yale Bowl, Shea Stadium, and Giants Stadium. He also played for five Giants head coaches: Alex Webster, Bill Arnsparger, John McVay, Ray Perkins and Bill Parcells.
Van Pelt left the Giants after they selected another Michigan State standout, Banks, in the first round of the 1984 NFL Draft to play the outside linebacker slot opposite Taylor.
Van Pelt wore number 10 with the Giants, even though the NFL instituted a numbering system for the 1973 NFL season, which limited linebackers entering the league to numbers 50 through 59. Van Pelt wore number 91 with the Raiders and Browns.
“I was very fortunate to also be drafted in baseball coming out of college,” Van Pelt said. “When I was negotiating with the Giants I had worn No. 10 all through high school. I played three sports in high school and I wore 10 in all three. Everything in my athletic career was going very well. I’m very superstitious, so I was hoping 10 would be available. Fran Tarkenton (who wore No. 10) had been traded the year before. They were supposed to give me a number in the 50s or 90s. But I was also a backup kicker in college, which I also was my rookie year with the Giants. They said, ‘The league might give us a problem, but we’ll give it (No. 10) to you as a kicker that happens to play linebacker.’ I got to play that number. It helped my career. I started to get to be a better linebacker and I started getting noticed a little more – that number, they couldn’t forget it. Ten just doesn’t belong out there on defense. It was a lucky number for me. I was very forturnate the Giants allowed me to have it.”
Van Pelt was born on April 5, 1951. He was an All-State quarterback, as well as an outstanding basketball and baseball player, at Owosso High School in Michigan. At Michigan State, he was an All-America safety in 1971 and 72 and he received the Maxwell Award as the nation's best player. Van Pelt was the first defensive back to win the award. For the Spartans, he intercepted 14 passes, returning two of them for touchdowns, and following his senior season he played in the East-West Shrine Game, the Hula Bowl, and the College All-Star Game.
The Giants converted Van Pelt to linebacker, where he soon became one of the NFL’s very best players at his position.
“I owe a lot of my success to (former tight end) Bob Tucker,” Van Pelt said. “I came as a safety and they made me into a linebacker and that’s a world of difference. I’ll never forget the first practice where I lined up against him and he pushed me back about 10 yards and pinned my shoulders to the ground and I was so embarrassed. He told me what I did wrong and what I could do to help my development.”
Van Pelt was inducted into the Michigan State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2000 and the College Football Hall of Fame, in a class with Steve Young, the following year. In 2005, he was nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Van Pelt is the father of former Denver Broncos and Houston Texans quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt.
Too bad. An all-time Giants great and class act.
But the worst part? Now TCBvP will only be... TCB.