Gary Jeter, a former defensive lineman and a highly touted draft pick by the Giants whose best playing years came after he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams in 1983, died on Wednesday at his home in Plainsboro, N.J. He was 61.
The cause appeared to be a heart attack, his daughter Kayla Jeter said.
A former all-American for the University of Southern California, Jeter showed great promise as a first-round draft pick for the Giants in 1977. Impressing team officials, and sports reporters, with his chiseled physique, he stood 6 feet 4 inches tall, weighed about 260 pounds and was clocked by the team running 40 yards in 4.8 seconds, extremely fast for such a big player.
But on the field, Jeter did not immediately live up to expectations. He grew discouraged when the Giants benched him for much of his first season in favor of their proven front four, George Martin, John Mendenhall, Troy Archer and Jack Gregory — a unit that was one of the team’s few bright spots. The Giants went 5-9 in 1977 under John McVay.
But in 1979, Jeter became a starter, usually playing defensive end, and during the next two seasons he was credited with 200 tackles, 14 sacks, four fumble recoveries and two blocked kicks.
In 1981, the Giants made the playoffs for the first time in nearly two decades, with the help of Jeter and Lawrence Taylor, a standout rookie linebacker at the time. They lost in the divisional round, 38-24, to Joe Montana’s San Francisco 49ers after Jeter swung at 49ers tackle Dan Audick and was called for unnecessary roughness, a penalty that led to a critical 49ers first down and an ensuing touchdown when the Giants were losing, 24-17, in the fourth quarter.
The Giants traded Jeter to the Rams in 1983, and he played that season, becoming a rushing specialist on passing downs instead of a starter.
But on the first day of training camp in 1984, he sustained a herniated disk and was lost to the team for most of the season.
The next season was a dramatic comeback for Jeter. He totaled 11 sacks, including three against the Cowboys’ Danny White in the National Football Conference divisional playoff game, which the Rams won, 20-0.
His best season was in 1988, when he totaled 11½ sacks, including five in one game against the Los Angeles Raiders. (The Raiders later moved to Oakland.) The Rams won, 22-17.
Jeter became a free agent after the 1988 season and spent a year with the New England Patriots before he retired. He totaled 52 sacks in his 13 seasons in the N.F.L.
Gary Michael Jeter was born in Wierton, W.Va., on Jan. 24, 1955. His family later moved to Cleveland, where he attended Cathedral Latin high school (now called Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin School).
He was named a consensus all-American in 1976 and graduated with a degree in business marketing from Southern California in 1977. He married Leslie Williams in the early 1980s.
After Jeter retired, he opened a bakery in Independence, Ohio. More recently he was the manager of business development for Motivated Security Services in Somerville, N.J.
In addition to his daughter Kayla and his wife, he is survived by three other daughters, Breana, Denyse and Ayisha Jeter, and a brother, Alvin.