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SLU alumnus, Giants punting great Jennings dies at 61

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Former New York Giants punter and radio analyst Dave Jennings, who started his football career as a walk-on at St. Lawrence University in 1970, has died. He was 61.

The Giants announced that Jennings died at his home in Upper Saddle River on Wednesday morning. The team was informed of his death by his sister Susan Jennings and several close friends. Jennings was a 1974 graduate of St. Lawrence.

The most prolific punter in Giants history, Jennings had battled Parkinson’s disease, a chronic degenerative neurological disorder, since 1996.

Jennings, who averaged 40 yards a punt in four years with St. Lawrence, played for the Giants from 1974-84. He holds the franchise records for punts (931 — 405 more than second-place Sean Landeta) and yards (38,792). Jennings was selected to play in the Pro Bowl in 1978, ‘79, ‘80 and ‘82. He punted a career-high 104 times in 1979, which was the Giants record until Brad Maynard had 111 punts in 1997.

Jennings punted for more than 4,000 yards in a season three times (1979-81) and had a career-best 44.8-yard average in 1980.

“Dave Jennings was one of the all-time great Giants,” team president John Mara said. “He was a valued member of the Giants family for more than 30 years as a player and a broadcaster, and we were thrilled to include him in our Ring of Honor. More importantly, he was an outstanding person who battled his illness with rare courage and dignity. We will miss him dearly.”

Giants chairman Steve Tisch said Jennings lived his life with class and dignity, and he was the ultimate professional as a player and commentator.

“Dave is and always will be a Giants’ Giant,” Tisch said.

Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson said Jennings — the first player he met when he joined the team in 1976 — was a great guy who was loved by everyone.

“The Giants were not very good when Dave and I were teammates in the 1970s,” Carson said. “Dave was one of the few bright lights on those teams as a punter.”

Jennings came to St. Lawrence in 1970 to play for the basketball team. He never played high school football at Garden City on Long Island and took the punting job for the Saints after walking on to the team. After his professional career, St. Lawrence elected him to the school’s athletic hall of fame in 1988.

“The guy was so personable,” said Hank Ford, who owns Henri’s Hair Handlers barber shop in Canton and features an autographed photo of Jennings in his shop. “He could make a friend no matter where he went. He had a great love for the university and the community itself. He was very instrumental in working with people in the community, different social organizations, church dinners, suppers, stuff like that. He was one outstanding individual.”

After leaving the Giants, Jennings punted for the Jets from 1985-87. He worked as a radio commentator for Jets games from 1988-2001.

But Jennings never forgot St. Lawrence.

He spoke out after St. Lawrence eliminated its wrestling program in 1994. There was concern that the university president at the time, Patti McGill Peterson, was looking to eliminate football and baseball from the athletic program. Jennings said then that there needed to be change in the administration and was one of several alumni threatening to withhold donations to the university.

The football and baseball programs remained but the wrestling program never returned.

“He was very instrumental in trying to maintain and bring back the wrestling program. The two go together, football and wrestling,” Ford said. “He was just an unbelievable guy. Every time he’d come up to Canton, he’d always stop in (the shop) and say, ‘hello’.”

Jennings returned to the north country many times and was the keynote speaker for a Section 10 workshop on sportsmanship in 1999 at Clarkson University.

He made two appearances as the special guest at the Ogdensburg Boys and Girl Club Expo, beginning in 1978, and was instrumental in arranging appearances in Ogdensburg by other Giants players.

“Dave Jennings was great to the club,” said Tom Luckie Sr., the retired Ogdensburg Boys and Girls Club executive director. “He was very generous with his time and helped us bring other Giant players up as Expo special guests. He also brought a group of Giant players to Ogdensburg for a benefit basketball game.”

In 2002, Jennings moved into the Giants radio booth with Bob Papa and the late Dick Lynch. He was also a part of the Giants pregame and postgame shows. Jennings was replaced in the booth by Carl Banks after the 2007 season and left broadcasting the following year.

“Dave was always a guy that I admired from afar, and when we had an opportunity to add him to the Giants’ broadcast team — when John Mara brought him back to the Giants family — it was a treat to work with Dave,” Papa said. “He was meticulous in his preparation, and Dave was a leader in rules interpretations. Dave knew all the rules.”

Jennings was part of the Giants’ second Ring of Honor class in 2011.

Times staff Cap Carey and Gregory Gay and Johnson Newspapers’ Dave Shea contributed to this report.

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