Former Giant Van Pelt dies

February 18, 2009 9:15:19 PM PST
Brad Van Pelt, a five-time Pro Bowl player with the New York Giants who helped form one of the NFL's best linebacking corps in the early 1980s, has died. He was 57. Van Pelt was found dead Tuesday by his fiancee at his home, the Giants said Wednesday. He died from an apparent heart attack, the team said.

A second-round draft choice out of Michigan State in 1973, Van Pelt played 14 seasons in the NFL, 11 with the Giants. Although he played on only one winning team in New York, he made the Pro Bowl five consecutive seasons from 1976-1980.

Van Pelt's only winning season with the Giants came in 1981, when Lawrence Taylor was drafted and the team made the playoffs for the first time in 18 seasons. Van Pelt played strong side linebacker with Taylor on the weak side and Harry Carson and Brian Kelley in the middle of a group called the "Crunch Bunch."

Van Pelt left the Giants in 1983 and spent two seasons with the Los Angeles Raiders before finishing his career with Cleveland in 1986. He played in 184 regular season games and had 20 interceptions and 24½ sacks.

"Brad was a very good friend," said Carson, who like Taylor is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"Obviously 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."

At Michigan State, Van Pelt also played baseball and was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals as a pitcher, lasting into the second round of the NFL draft because many teams thought he would play baseball. He was an All-American safety in 1972, and became the first defensive player to win the Maxwell Award as the nation's top player.

"Brad Van Pelt was Duffy Daugherty's favorite player," said former Michigan State football coach George Perles, who was an assistant coach under Daugherty from 1967-71. "Duffy thought so much of Brad as a high school player that he began a golf outing in Owosso just so Brad could be his caddie. Duffy loved him like a son."

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.

"He really was like a movie star: talented and good looking," Perles said. "Brad had a big heart and was a real giver. He carried a lot of people (on his back) when he was on top."

Former Michigan State basketball coach Gus Ganakas said Van Pelt "was a pleasure to coach because despite all the publicity he received as a football player, he came to practice with a great attitude and worked extremely hard every day."

Ganakas said Van Pelt was "one of the most versatile athletes in Spartan history ... but he was an even more remarkable young man. We're all saddened by his loss."

Van Pelt wore No. 10 in college and then with the Giants, although that was not a number linebackers were supposed to wear.

"They were supposed to give me a number in the 50s or 90s," he said. 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 to you as a kicker that happens to play linebacker.' It helped my career. I started to get to be a better linebacker and I started getting noticed a little more with that number. They couldn't forget it. 'Ten' just doesn't belong out there on defense. It was a lucky number for me."

Van Pelt's son Bradlee spent three seasons as a quarterback in the NFL with Denver and Houston.