“Great? Are you kidding me? You think that blowhard is great?” I can hear my father’s voice reacting to this selection. He couldn’t stand Cosell. So why would I disagree with him this fundamentally?
Not because he was born in my new hometown of Winston-Salem, NC, because I didn’t even know that until I started researching this post. No, Cosell rose to the top of his profession because he was first and foremost a journalist who didn’t settle for typical “coachspeak” and “jockspeak.” Cosell asked the tough questions, wasn’t afraid to “tell it like it is.” He was among the first to ask the questions the audience wanted to ask, regardless of how uncomfortable it made the interviewee.
Some of that no doubt came from Cosell’s background as an attorney. He specialized in union law, and some of his clients were athletes, including Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays. Cosell enjoyed being around stars, and unquestionably had the ability to express himself. It wasn’t long before he had a radio program called “Speaking of Sports.”
The two vehicles which carried Cosell to stardom were first, Muhammad Ali (Great American Things, October 18, 2009), and second, Monday Night Football. Cosell broadcast a number of the greatest fights of Ali’s career, and seemed the perfect foil for the charismatic boxer. But it was another fight during which Cosell made probably his most famous call. George Foreman and Joe Frazier were fighting for the heavyweight championship in Kingston, Jamaica, when Foreman knocked Frazier to the canvas just two minutes into the fight. Cosell exclaimed, “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!”
Cosell worked the Monday Night Football booth in the memorable pairing with Frank Gifford and “Dandy” Don Meredith. Cosell looked down on ex-jocks as broadcasters, and he and Meredith couldn’t have been more different. But, as they say, that’s what makes good television, and the group teamed with occasional changes from 1970 to 1983.
Cosell’s attitude is what we remember most, but we can’t forget that voice. The accent, the vocabulary, the staccato delivery are etched into the memory of all who heard this legendary sports journalist…