Van Pelt, Hall of Famers Harry Carson and Lawrence Taylor and Brian Kelley formed the Crunch Bunch, arguably the NFL's finest group 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 puni shing, 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 bond 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.
"Brad was a very good friend," Carson said today. E2Obviously he was a great teammate, but I consider him more of a very good friend and very much like a brother. Having played together for a number of years, but then the relationship after football and the things that we did as a group of linebackers after football, those things really bonded us together. Myself and Lawrence and Brian Kelley and Brad we would go to Hawaii every year, we would play golf, and just sort of hang out. We went down to Mexico to build homes with Habitat for Humanity and went down to Walter Reed to visit the wounded warriors coming back from Iraq. Those things are special to me and that is how the bond sort of evolves and really does continue."
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. 0Obviously, 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."
Kelley, today, spoke of missing Van Pelt and the bond the famed Crunch Bunch shared.
"He is just a guy that you are going to miss," Kelley said. "He is just a sweetheart of a guy and you are just going to miss a guy like that. You are going to miss seeing him around at some of the games during the season and stuff like that. He is a great guy; I am just going to miss him. I think that is the thing. The four of us, as you know, we have been very, very close for a long time. We vacation together and do everything together; it is sort of like missing one of your limbs when he is not there now. I don't think it has reall y set in with us yet and once it does I think it is going to be tough, tougher."
According to Carson, Van Pelt was a proud member of the Giants 70s-80s linebacking corp.
"He just took pride in being a part of a group of guys who had a tremendous amount of pride," Carson said. "If you look at his autograph you could see how Brad was very meticulous in signing autographs. We would be signing as a group and he would have to be the last one in line because he would hold everybody up because he wrote his autograph in such a way that everybody could understand it and he didn't rush through it. He also took time to communicate with people who were before him because he was a football player, he is a great person, and I think people will reflect on him as a football player and things that he did on the football field, but very few people are going to reflect on the person that he was that not a lot of people got to know personally. I am just so glad that I got to know the man more so than the athlete."
Giants President and CEO, John Mara was saddened by the news of Van Pelt's passing.
"This is a very sad day for our organization and for my family," Mara said. "Brad was one of the best players in our history and was a good person with a huge heart. He was a great athlete coming out of college and had a chance to play major league baseball. He was a particular favorite of my father, who signed him to his first contract (outbidding the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team). Brad was a kind and generous person and a true Giant."
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 the 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 lineba ckers 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 – in that number, they couldn't forget it. 10 just doesn't belong out there on defense. It was a lucky number for me. I was very fort 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 outsta nding 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.
Funeral arrangements are yet to be determined.
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