The 2020 NFL Draft is tonight. Even with the big C pandemic, hope is still high. Sure, it's going to be different, but the draft represents so much; it's like football's version of Opening Day. The draft is a fresh start, new opportunity, and of course full of fear. Fear that despite months of preparation and scouting your selection becomes the next Ryan Leaf or JaMarcus Russell. This year withstanding, the NFL draft has become one of the biggest spectator events in sports. In around half a century the NFL draft went from this:
There's a multitude of factors why the NFL has grown so much during the Super Bowl era and in no way am I giving all the credit to one man, but today's focus is on that of Howard William Cosell; born Howard William Cohen. Love him or hate him, Cosell is undoubtedly responsible for the growth of the NFL. As a 28 year old man-child, I never got to listen to Cosell call a game live. That doesn't mean I haven't read 1.8 of his books or spent hours researching him and watching old footage of the man who told it like is!
My favorite gifts this last Christmas
Howard is my sports media hero for his bravery, humor, wit, grasp on the English language, intellect and truth telling abilities. In a time where going against the status-quo was unacceptable he stood for what he thought was right. Cosell didn't give half a fuck about what anybody had to say about it, even though he was incredibly sensitive towards criticism.
I think I'm safe in my assumptions that most people under 35 have no idea who Howard Cosell is. As a lover of history and people that stood up for what's right; I find that quite upsetting. When you consider the lasting impact he's had on how sports are perceived in America and society as a whole it's a shame Howard Cosell isn't nationally revered. He's a true trailblazer. If you've ever said "Down goes Frazier!" you've quoted Cosell. He's even partly responsible for Nachos becoming a popular gameday treat.
Howard Cohen was born in Winston-Salem, NC on March 25th, 1918 before settling in Brooklyn, NY not long after with his family as a baby. Before getting into the broadcasting field, Cosell worked as a lawyer and served in the Army during World War II. He changed his name long before getting into broadcasting to pay respect to his Polish roots. In the 50's Cosell worked for free in NY Little League calling games. In addition to his work as a forefather of prime-time football, Cosell also called Major League Baseball (perhaps most notably the 1977 World Series), the Olympics, and Professional Boxing. It was Cosell's relationship with Muhammad Ali and work on ABC's Wide World of Sports that brought him the spotlight prior to Monday Night Football. Cosell was notably one of first (and for some time only) people to refer to Cassius Clay as Muhammad Ali after he converted to Islam in 1961.
I personally believe their relationship; a black Muslim and a Jew from Brooklyn...two people with seemingly nothing in common, with their fantastic chemistry and rapport helped the progression of race relations in the 1960's and 70's. The idealist in me has to believe seeing these two clown on each other made at least a few racists have their doubts.
Before Cosell and Monday Night Football, funerals had more life than NFL broadcasts. Did you know you couldn't even watch your team play its home games in its own market until 1973? Even the Super Bowl! Yep, even the fucking Super Bowl would be blacked out in the market it was played! Crazy to believe, but it's 100% true. You can thank Tricky Dick Nixon for helping change that.
You have to remember how lame life in America was before like 1965. If you weren't an opinion-less, clone of your father; society didn't have much for you. White people were still racist against other white people that's how you know it was bad. You got your crew-cut and didn't tell anybody you loved them until your last dying breath. That's how it had been since the Depression. When the counter-culture began in the 60's and people began to express their differing opinions on... for the sake of broadness.... life and society; who was the biggest advocate for the voiceless?
That's right, baby. Howard Cosell! History may be unfair to Howard because of his ego and what he wrote in I Never Played The Game, but at his peak Howard Cosell was one of the most polarizing figures in the entire country. He always stood up for what he believed was right; even if it went against the feelings of people he admired.
His broadcast style, partnered first with Don Meredith and Keith Jackson, but more notably Frank Gifford revolutionized football and sports as a whole. Howard Cosell was the first broadcaster to be real and "call it like it is". When you sucked; he told you. When someone was stupid; he laughed at them. When someone was wrong; he corrected them.
It may be hard for people to grasp considering how huge football is now; especially prime-time football with Sunday, Monday and Thursday Night Football....but when the idea of Monday Night Football was pitched NBC and CBS both turned it down! They thought football couldn't pull that type of viewers Bonanza or the Glenn Campbell Comedy hour did.
It's crazy now considering Super Bowl Sunday is probably the biggest non-religious day of the American calendar.
After the AFL-NFL merger, I believe that Monday Night Football in the 1970's is the most important factor in the NFL becoming the most popular sports league in America. It could've easily failed with the wrong men in the booth. The unknown of what you were going to get from Gifford, Meredith and Cosell every Monday at 9 PM had America hooked. The three man booth was unlike anything else in sports; all bringing something else to the table. Gifford and Meredith were both ex star football players, but had different personalities. Dandy Don was the funny man, Gifford was the cool guy and Howard was that textbook straight shooting, Jewish, World War II Vet from Brooklyn that could match wits with anybody. With ABC's budget dedicated to one game a week, as opposed to multiple broadcasts like NBC or CBS, MNF was able to have groundbreaking technology (on field graphics, instant replay) and multiple camera angles that separated it from its Sunday competition.
For seemingly the first time football was being marketed to everybody. For Monday Night Football to last they needed one of the most overlooked demographics at the time; women. Cosell knew this was entertainment and had to broadcast the game in an intelligent way that appealed to non-traditional fans.
In a time period where there was no red zone, internet, or even ESPN at the time there was only one way fans could see highlights of the games across the country on Sunday; Howard Cosell's Halftime Highlights. Howard famously (apart from a stat-sheet giving him accurate numbers) would come up with these drops on the spot.
Monday Night Football laid the foundation for sports as we know it today. MNF was the first time where pop culture and professional football were intertwined.
Sadly, MNF also broke the news of John Lennon's death. In the days of no 24/7 news networks (if they did exist they were in their absolute infancy) American's and really the world found out John Lennon was killed outside The Dakota while the Patriots' John Smith (actual name) was attempting a game winning field goal against the Dolphins in Miami on December 8th, 1980.
By the early-mid 80's Cosell had grown tired of the Monday Night Football lifestyle and politics that come with job. He had already quit calling professional boxing after a Larry Holmes fight was not stopped after it was clear Tex Cobb should not be fighting; less than two weeks after Duk Koo Kim died from injuries sustained in the ring. Sadly, Cosell was before his time in another way; cancellation.
One of Howard Cosell's final memorable moment's in the MNF booth came in September of 1983 when he said "look at that little monkey run" referring to Redskins WR Alvin Garrett. When Cosell used that term to describe a black football player naturally there was outrage even back then; with terms like colored in the not too distant past. Alvin Garrett is also 5 foot 7 and monkeys are known for being small and quick. Cosell claimed he used the term lovely to describe his own grandchildren. Howard's past record of positive relations with the African American community should've been enough to dispel any sort of notion he's a racist. Even back then (1983) all it took was one flub to erase decades of a reputation in the eyes of many. Those who truly knew Cosell supported him, but between tensions before this innocent and his growing boredom with MNF this was the writing on the wall. Howard Cosell stopped calling Monday Night Football before the final broadcast of the 1983 season. The clip that I just linked that you probably didn't click on from the late, great Dick Enberg still holds serious weight today. PLEASE watch this.
In his later years Cosell was less in the public eye. After his beloved wife Emmy passed away in 1990 many say Howard died too. One of the most beautiful and touching moments of his life came towards the end of it in a message he left for Muhammad Ali's 50th birthday celebration.
No intro-just Howard's message version.
Howard Cosell died on April 23rd, 1995 from a cardiac embolism at the age of 77.
In the years that have since passed the people he pissed off during his life that are still alive have done a pretty good job at tarnishing his legacy. Howard Cosell was an incredibly complicated man with flaws like us all, but when you look at what he accomplished during his life (and more importantly what he stood for) it is without question he is one of the most important people in the history of the NFL. The NFL that many of us love today would not be where it is without him. Plain and simple. I think it's an absolute disgrace he's not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his contributions and you best believe when I'm working for Barstool bringing that glaring omission from Canton to the forefront of America's psyche is part of my first 100 day plan. R.I.P. Howard Cosell. You are my hero. Thank you for laying the foundation.