Updated, 7:37 p.m. ET
A former Jets and Giants punter and broadcaster has left us. Dave Jennings, who was also one of the nicest guys on the field and in the radio booth, died early this morning after his decade-and-a-half-long battle with Parkinson’s disease. Dave was 61.
Jennings was a New Yorker and a New Jerseyan all the way. He was born in New York City, didn’t play football at Garden City High on Long Island, but he punted at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York just a short drive from Canada. And he lived in Upper Saddle River, N.J., until his passing.
He divided his time equally between the market’s two football teams. He began his playing career with the Giants in 1974 and went on to a Pro Bowl, All-Pro career with them through 1984. He went across the Hudson after the Giants released him and finished his playing career with three seasons as the Jets’ punter.
For his first 13 seasons he wore uniform No. 13, changing up only for his last season with the Jets when he wore No. 4.
Then when Jennings retired as a player, he didn’t go far. He became the Jets’ radio analyst in 1988 and held that position through 2001, working alongside regular play-by-play voices Marty Glickman, Paul Olden, Ian Eagle and Howard David. When he left the employ of the Green & White after ’01, he went back to Big Blue to work in the Giants’ radio booth from ’02-07.
All told, that’s 17 years with the Jets and 17 with the Giants.
Bob Wischusen and Marty Lyons replaced David and Jennings as the Jets’ radio team in 2002, but Bob reminded me that he actually did get to work some Jets games with the former punter, including his first game as a Jets fill-in “PXP” man.
“In fact, I owe Dave to a certain extent for me eventually landing the job,” Wischusen recalled. “When Howard David was the Jets play-by-play announcer, I was the host of the pregame and postgame shows. But I convinced WFAN program director Mark Chernoff to allow me to sit in for Howard when he had conflicts. Howard also called Celtics games and Monday Night Football for CBS Radio at the time, so he would miss a few Jets games each season.
“The first Jets game I ever called was a Monday night game versus the Dolphins. I was barely 26 years old. Omar Stoutmire intercepted Dan Marino and returned it for a TD, the Jets won a very exciting game, and overall the broadcast went really well.
“The part Dave Jennings played in all this was the encouragement he gave to a very inexperienced and nervous broadcaster who knew well a lot of people would be listening to see how I performed. Dave couldn’t have been more encouraging or made me feel more comfortable. He was beyond tremendous. Had it not been for that broadcast going as well as it did, who knows how many future opportunities I may have gotten to substitute for Howard? And had I not become the clear No. 2 guy under Howard, who’s to say I would have become the No. 1 guy after Howard moved on?
“I was devastated to hear Dave passed,” Bobby said, “because he’s one of those people I was lucky enough to come across in my life who did something for me that I’d never be able to repay.”
As a player, Dave was credited with “inventing” or at least popularizing the concept of net punting average. I remember him talking about it in the Giants locker room one day.
“Nobody kept net average in those days, but it just made so much sense to me,” I remember Jennings’ conversation going. “It really wasn’t as important how far you kicked it as much as how close the other team was after returning it. I started doing some calculations, taking the gross average and subtracting the return yardage plus 20 yards for each touchback, and I sent my research to Seymour Siwoff at Elias Sports Bureau.”
Elias saw the wisdom of the Jennings approach and began charting punters’ net averages in 1976. It is now one of the key measures of punting excellence.
Then when he went to the booth, anyone who remembers him calling Jets or Giants games can recall his forté: complete knowledge of the NFL rules. So many times he sorted out confusing officiating decisions by citing chapter and verse of the rulebook. His training could be used by a number of analysts working the game today.
Jennings kept mum about his battle with Parkinson’s for a long time, but revealed in 2005 that he’d been diagnosed with a mild form of the disease in ’98. At that time, Ralph Vacchiano of the Daily News recalled today, Jennings said then that “Something’s taken hold of me and I’m going to beat it. … You don’t die from Parkinson’s, you die with it.”
Dave Jennings died with the disease today, but he left behind memories of footballs well kicked, plays well described, and some outstanding master-of-ceremonies charity work as well. We offer our condolences to his family and close friends, no matter whether they wear green or blue.
Jennings is survived by his sister, Susan Jennings. The family has asked that donations can be made in Dave’s memory to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
Tags: Dave Jennings, Giants, Jets, Marty Glickman, Parkinson's disease, Paul Olden, punter
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