Thursday, December 3, 2009

Howard Cosell

For over twenty years, Howard Cosell was one of America’s most famous sportscasters. He initially achieved great fame by fervently championing Muhammad Ali’s right to fight. Toward the end of Ali’s career, he and Cosell developed a routine that went as follows:

Cosell: Let’s face facts. The spring has gone from your step. The sting has gone from your jab.
Ali: Well, I tell you what, Howard Cosell. I see your wife over there, and I’m going to go over there and ask her if you were the man you were ten years ago.

Cosell was noted for his braggadocio and his egomania. Once, while taking questions after a dinner, a young man said, “Mr. Cosell, I just want to say that you’re a great man and I agree with everything you say.” A second later, Cosell replied, “Young man, you are possessed of extraordinary intelligence.” It was quite some time until anything else could be heard above the laughter.

When I was in law school, one of my professors, Terry Phelps, was married to Notre Dame basketball coach, Digger Phelps. At a school function, she once mentioned she had met Howard Cosell. I asked her if, upon meeting her, Cosell had proclaimed, “What a world-class beauty, what an extraordinary intellect, what an amazing woman…truly, your parents must be absolutely devastated that you married so far beneath yourself.” Professor Phelps complimented me on my Cosell impersonation and told me that had been pretty close to word-for-word what Cosell had said.

In the past year of Cosell’s tenure broadcasting Monday Night Football, his partner was Al Michaels, who has related that Cosell’s bombast and egomania made him extremely difficult to work with. However, he also mentioned one occasion when Cosell managed to really impress him. Michaels and Cosell were in a limo, on their way to broadcast a game. Their driver that evening was a young woman named Peggy. On the way, while driving through a very tough neighborhood, they stopped at a light. On the corner beside them were two young men who were having a serious fistfight, much to the delight of a throng of cheering onlookers. To Michaels’ amazement, Cosell opened the door and got out of the car. (Howard was in his seventies at the time.) Michaels and Peggy did not even have time to scream at Cosell when he shoved his way through the cheering throng. In his loudest voice, he was proclaiming, “It is immediately apparent to this reporter that neither of these opponents has the skill to compete at the highest level of pugilism. This young southpaw’s jab is weak and ineffectual, whereas the other combatant’s skills are obviously in steep decline.”

At this point, the crowd was staring at Cosell. The man then bellowed, “I order this contest stopped forthwith!” A few seconds later, one of the dumbfounded onlookers said, “Howard Cosell!” The fighters and audience alike then took turns asking Cosell for his autograph. When Cosell got back into the limo, having restored peace to that street corner, Peggy said, “Howard, I don’t believe you. You could have gotten killed. “ Cosell sat back and proclaimed, “Pegaroo, I know who I am.”

He certainly did. Howard Cosell was one-of-a-kind.

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