The Man in the Yellow Blazer
New York Times
By ROBERT McG. THOMAS Jr.
April 25,1995 NEW YORK-Howard Cosell, who delighted and infuriated listeners during a 30-year career as the nation's best-known and most outspoken sports broadcaster, died today at the Hospital for Joint Diseases in Manhattan. He was 77. Mr. Cosell, who had been in failing health, died of a heart embolism, said his grandson, Justin Cohane. He had undergone surgery in June 1991 for the removal of a cancerous chest tumor.
From his first days on radio in the 1950's to the peak of his fame during his 14 years on "Monday Night Football," Cosell-once simultaneously voted the most popular and the most disliked sportscaster in America-tended to be loved and loathed for the same undisputed characteristics: his cocksure manner and his ebullient, unqualified immodesty. "Arrogant, pompous, obnoxious, vain, cruel, verbose, a showoff," Cosell once said. "I have been called all of these. Of course, I am."
Partly because he entered sports broadcasting in the mid-1950's, when the predominant style was unabashed adulation, Mr. Cosell offered a brassy counterpoint that was first ridiculed, then copied until it became the dominant note of sports broadcasting. "I tell it like it is," was the way he put it in a signature remark that was often challenged but never to the point where Cosell would back down. When the tape of a football game established that Cosell had referred to a black player as "that little monkey," Cosell, whose civil rights credentials were secure in any event, simply denied it. And if there were those who were shocked when he likened the autocratic International Olympic Committee chairman Avery Brundage to "William of Orange" or offended when he suggested that most baseball players were "afflicted with tobacco-chewing mind," their com-plaints were music to Mr. Cosell's ears.
Mr. Cosell owed his position on "Monday Night Football" to his outspoken ways. Roone Arledge, the ABC executive who hired him in 1969, had made it a point that his broadcasters on his new program would be independent of the National Football League. Hiring Mr. Cosell drove the point home. To Mr. Cosell, criticism was another form of homage. If the criticism came from other broadcasters, he always considered the source: "There's one thing about this business," he once said, "there is no place for talent. That's why I don't belong. I lack mediocrity."
He spoke in a clutched-throat, high-pitched Brooklyn twang with a stately staccato that tended to put equal stress on each syllable of every word, infusing even the most mundane event with high drama.
Howard William Cohen was born on March 25, 1918, in Winston-Salem, N.C., to Isadore and Nellie Cohen. His father, an accountant for a chain of clothing stores, eventually moved the family to Brooklyn, where Mr. Cosell played varsity basketball at Alexander Hamilton High School before attending New York University. During his college years he changed his name to Cosell, which gave rise to a famous putdown later: "Howard Cosell, a man who changed his name, wears a toupee and tells it like it is."
Mr. Cosell had so little vanity that he used to hang his toupee on a hatrack when he was off camera. But he was stung by the implication he changed his name from Cohen to disguise his Jewish heritage. He chose Cosell, he said, because it was close to the original spelling of his family's Polish name.