Monday, February 4, 2013

Professional football would not be what it is today without Howard Cosell

By Chuck Scholtz, Freelance NFL Researcher

        Howard Cosell (1918-1995)                              Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award

"He Could.... Go... All... the Way!"

The "Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award" is given annually by the Pro Football Hall of Fame to an iconic football broadcasting figure for "longtime exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football," yet for the 23-year history of the award, there has been one glaring oversight: Howard Cosell has never won it.  

Cosell was rated as the #1 rated network sportcaster by David J. Halberstam of Yahoo! Sports in a field of fifty top contenders.


"Every person working in sports journalism today owes a tremendous debt to Howard Cosell. His greatest contribution was elevating sports reporting out of daily play-by-play and placing it in the larger context of society."
Roone Arledge, the late former President of ABC Sports


"History will reflect that Howard Cosell was easily the dominant sportscaster of all time," wrote colleague Al Michaels in the foreword to Cosell's book "What's Wrong with Sports."

          Cosell was a true journalist with a heart for serving the public interest.  A lawyer by trade, Cosell ventured where few others in the sports media had the courage to go.  Whether it was a discussion of athletes of color in sports, free-agency, illegal drugs, anti-trust laws, player strikes, owners unjustly moving teams, and increasing fan violence.  Howard Cosell was much more than a reporter, he was a purveyor of truth, unafraid to offend those who would take offense.  For all his many quirks and faults, he was a loyal and loving husband, a family man, a crusader against racial prejudice, and an educated professional.


"His coda," author Mark Ribowsky writes, "more than anything else, is his singularity - a long lost quality in the postmodern culture that has wiped men like him off the slate." "Howard Cosell made his own mold, and then broke it when he was done."


Howard Cosell's contributions fits the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award selection criteria perfectly

"The Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award is given for recognizing outstanding contributions for longtime exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football."

          Howard Cosell broadcast on both radio and television, as well as  creating several sports documentaries.  It has been said that "Cosell was just as good at creating an audience as he was at alienating it, and THAT was exactly what sports needed."   "Monday Night Football" and Howard Cosell became a mainstream phenomenon overnight.

"ABC Sports - The House Cosell Built" 
-- from the book "Howard Cosell, The Man, the Myth, and the Transformation of American Sports"  by author Mark Ribowsky

          Howard Cosell towered among sports broadcasters.  One could easily make the case that Howard Cosell was the single most important sports journalist ever.  Cosell certainly played a pivotal role in transforming ABC Sports from the "Almost Broadcasting Company" to "The House that Cosell Built."   In the 1970's Howard Cosell was inarguably the lightening-rod and "soul" of Monday Night Football, part of a three man team assembled by Roone Arlege that brought the game of football into the cultural mainstream.  Cosell entertained his audience as part linguist, and part word-smith with a distinctive hesitating staccato delivery that demanded the audience's attention.  At the height of his popularity, Cosell may have been the most parodied and  imitated voice in America, the focus of countless conversations at the office water cooler.  Cosell's iconic style distinguished Monday Night Football from previous sports programming, that began  to usher in an era of other color commentators in broadcasting.  Huge TV contracts generated huge profits with advertisers, players salaries escalated, as did profits for the team owners as well as for the cites they hosted teams in.  The television rights to broadcast National Football League (NFL) games are now the most lucrative and expensive rights of any American sport.


"I remember him as someone who was an important journalistic figure, and I think to deny that is to let your prejudices get in the way."
-- Frank Deford, Author, Sportswriter

          Cosell quickly became a monumental figure in electronic journalism by his use of analysis and context in-arguably bringing television sports reporting very close to the kind of in-depth reporting one expected from "hard" news reporters. 

Howard Cosell believed that, "What's popular isn't always right, and whats right isn't always popular."  Admittedly, Cosell said of himself, "Arrogant, pompous, obnoxious, vain, cruel, verbose, a showoff. I have been called all of these. Of course.... I am all of these things."

Howard Cosell was a lawyer by trade, and a champion of the people.  Howard Cosell had a strong civil-rights record. Cosell was a staunch supporter of all athletes including Willie Mays, Curt Flood, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Arthur Ashe, Muhammad Ali, and John Carlos/Tommy Smith in the 1968 Olympics, among others.

Howard Cosell never played the corporate game of politics. Cosell was an advocate of the fans, and despite pressures from a powerful NFL hierarchy, Cosell maintained his social sense of purpose, and his conservative belief in basic American rights such as due process and freedom of speech.  One of his most famous and enduring catchphrases was, "I'm just telling it like it is."

"to voices what the Grand Canyon is to ditches."
-- Dave Kindred, Sports Journalist, author

          A broadcasting legend, a sports-journalist, a pop-culture icon who achieved celebrity status and brought professional football in our living rooms. We are not likely to experience this same level of color-commentary genius ever again. As Howard Cosell would say, that's "Telling it like it is."


Howard Cosell defends his friend Frank Gifford on the David Letterman Show.

"Howard was a true original. He rose like a screeching comet and left a trail that no modern broadcaster has ever dared to follow. There will never be another like him."
NFL Films, Steve Sabol

''Nothing could top Howard Cosell's Halftime Highlights. I used to look at Howard's highlights with reverence.'' -- Chris Berman, ESPN

"Howard Cosell was Monday Night Football. Without Howard Cosell, there was no Monday Night Football."
Chet Forte, former Director of ABC Monday Night Football

Howard Cosell's induction into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame

Awards and Facts:
● 1940, graduated Phi Beta Kappa, New York University School of Law

● 1953-1956, "All League Clubhouse" Radio program featuring little league baseball players meeting Major League players

● 1957-1958, Sports Focus, ABC Network Show

● 1961-1992, Speaking of Sports, WABC Radio Show Broadcast

● 1970-1983, Color Commentator for ABC Monday Night Football

● 1974 Emmy Award nomination from the National Academy of  Television Arts and Sciences for Outstanding Achievement in Sports Programming

● Howard Cosell: "Speaking of Everything" - Hour-long Radio Show Sunday nights in New York (1974-1988)

● “ABC SportsBeat” from 1981-1986, a half-hour TV show, won 3 Emmy Awards

● Cosell rated #1 on David J. Halberstam's list of Top 50 All Time Network Television Sports Announcers on Yahoo! Sports

● Voted in the "Top Ten" by American Sportscasters Association (ASA)

● 1993 American Sportscasters Hall of Fame

● 1993 National Sportscasters and Sportswriters (NSSA) Hall of Fame

● 1993 Inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame

● 1993, TV Guide named Howard Cosell The All-Time Best Sportscaster in its issue Celebrating 40 years of television.

● 1995 ESPY Awards recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award (by ESPN)

● 1995 Sports Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences

● 1996 Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame Award

● 2007 Induction to The Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame in New York

● 2010 International Boxing Hall of Fame - Canastota, N.Y.

Howard Cosell Produced Sports Documentaries: 

     ● "A Look Behind the Legend" about Babe Ruth

     ● "The Polo Grounds: Requiem for an Arena" (April 1964), about the demolition of New Yorks historic Coogans Bluff Polo Grounds. Horace McMahon narrates this special review of the history of the Polo Grounds. Bobby Thompson, Ralph Branca, Willie Mays, Joe Louis, Floyd Patterson, Ken Strong, Arthur Daly, Frankie Frisch, Leo Durocher, Jack Dempsey and Carl Hubbel review the fabulous past of the Polo Grounds, a great arena where everything but Polo was played. Produced by Howard Cosell. (52 minutes)

     ● "Grambling: One Hundred Yards to Glory" a Golden Eagle Award winner about the history of Grambling College football

     ● "Run to Daylight" Vince Lombardi and Green Bay Packers training camp, Howard Cosell and Lou Volpicelli (1964)
     (Run to Daylight "the most highly acclaimed TV sports documentary ever" - Lawrence Linderman - Playboy Mag.)

     ● "Mickey Mantle: A Self Portrait" Interview style documentary on Mantles obsession with death and dying. (August 1965, 25 minutes)

     ● "Johnny Keane: The Yankee From Texas"

     ● "Whitey Ford: A Self Portrait" (April 16, 1966)

     ● Other player self portraits on Jim Brown, Wilt Chamberlain, Pancho Gonzales, Ralph Houk

Books by Howard Cosell:
     ● Cosell (1973)
     ● Like It Is (1974)
     ● I Never Played the Game (1985)
     ● What's Wrong With Sports (1991)

Marky Billson, Sports Illustrated Magazine (2010) Read the article

Mark Ribowsky, "Howard Cosell, The Man, the Myth, and the Transformation of American Sports"  2012

Robert Lipsyte, An Accidental Sportswriter

Dave Kindred, Sound and Fury: Two Powerful Lives, One Fateful Friendship (2006)

John Bloom, There you have it : The life, legacy, and legend of Howard Cosell (2010)

Bob Knight, Knight: My Story  

Monday Night Mayhem, the movie

Roone Arledge, Roone: A Memoir (2004)

Howard Cosell, Cosell (1974)

Howard Cosell, I Never Played the Game (1985)

Howard Cosell, What’s Wrong with Sports (1991)

Mark Gunther and Bill Carter, Monday Night Mayhem: The Inside Story of ABC’s Monday Night Football (1988)

The Official Howard Cosell Website (Link)

Marky Billson Article (Link)

Pete Rozelle Award Page (Link)

ABC Monday Night Football Team (Link)

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