Van Pelt was found dead Tuesday by his fiancée at his home, the Giants said Wednesday. He died from an apparent heart attack, the team said.
A second-round draft pick 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 to 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 the Cleveland Browns in 1986. He played in 184 regular-season games and had 20 interceptions and 24.5 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."
Van Pelt also played baseball at Michigan State and was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals as a pitcher. He lasted into the second round of the NFL draft because many teams believed he wouldn't play football. 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.
Van Pelt wore No. 10 in college and then with the Giants, although that wasn't a number that 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."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press