Howard Cosell (Wikimedia Commons/ABC Television)
In the annals of sports broadcasting, there have been plenty of characters, quite a few hams, and loads of big personalities – but none were quite as big as Howard Cosell. The legendary commentator used his tell-it-like-it-is style to bring boxing to the masses, to make Monday Night Football the No. 1 program on TV, even to break the news of tragic deaths.
TV Guide named Cosell the all-time greatest sportscaster. Yet he notably never won the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award, the highest honor in sports broadcasting. The omission may be in part because as much as his fans loved his frank style, colleagues were sometimes put off by his unashamed arrogance. Cosell didn't need TV Guide to tell him he was the best – he already knew it.
But while he may not have always been popular with his fellow broadcasters, few sportscasters have approached his iconic status. And fans still think of him as the greatest. On what would have been Cosell’s 95th birthday, we're remembering a few of his best-known broadcasting moments.
We'll start with an iconic boxing phrase – remember "Down goes Frazier"?
Many of Cosell's greatest moments were connected with Muhammad Ali. Cosell was one of the first to acknowledge the boxer's name change (from Cassius Clay to Ali), and he supported Ali's refusal to serve in the Vietnam War. It was clear that the fighter and the commentator liked and respected one another.
When Cosell became disillusioned with boxing, he didn't hide his feelings. His last match had him barely providing any commentary other than his disgust at the one-sidedness of the bout. Shortly afterward, Cosell announced that he would no longer cover the sport.
Cosell worked several Olympics, including Munich in 1972. He helped bring us the coverage of the tragic murder of eleven Israeli athletes.
Eight years later, Cosell once again told us of a tragedy when he announced John Lennon's death during a Dolphins/Patriots game. Cosell was the second to bring the breaking news to the world – he was scooped by NBC, which broke into Johnny Carson's monologue with the announcement.
And then, of course, there were the catchphrases. Cosell never exactly said "The Bronx is burning," and the famous "He… could… go… all… the… way" turned out to become Chris Berman's line, but one thing is for sure – "I'm telling it like it is" was Howard Cosell's through and through. Hear him say it, with classic intonation, at 1:44 of this clip.
Written by Linnea Crowther