The words hit instantly, landing in the darkest, most hidden
parts of my soul. There are secrets that no one wishes to
divulge, wants and desires, perverted thoughts that surely no
other person on the planet could share. To hear someone put them
into words, the exact same words, is to have a beast released,
allowed at last to walk free.
"I've been thinking about Howard Cosell...," a friend said
"I always hated Howard Cosell...."
"But you know what? Lately I've been thinking that I really miss
I reel in recognition. I cannot count how many times this exact
dialogue has been played out in my head over the past year or
two, so often that I questioned my own sanity. (Me? Miss Howard
Cosell? What am I, nuts?) I hated Cosell as much as any man ever
did, his nasal voice a scratch across the blackboard, his
arrogant manner repulsive beyond belief, his condescension
disgusting, his toupee a hoot. I grieved not at all when he died
four years ago, his passing no more than an incidental headline
on the obituary page.
I find now that I think about him all the time. What would
Howard say about this? What would he say about SportsCenter and
those round-the-clock comedians, highlights and lowlights of the
sports day packaged together as fodder for ain't-I-cute
exhibitionism? What would he say about color commentary based on
shouts and cliches, the breathless words "He's got to call a
timeout here" serving as insight and opinion? What would he say
about...Monday Night Football?
I don't have the actual numbers in front of me, but I don't
believe there has been one five-syllable word spoken on any
sports broadcast since Howard left. I don't think there has been
mention made of any book that's been read, movie that's been
seen, song that's been heard or anything else--unless, of
course, "it's coming up next, on Must-See TV." Current events? I
can hear the words "William Jefferson Clinton, a troubled man,
his presidency in peril" coming out of Howard's mouth. I can't
think of one sports broadcaster today who would say anything
like that. Kosovo. Columbine High School. Abner Louima. What
would Howard say?
I would love to hear him tackle the Lords of the Rings, those
Olympic aristocrats, about their kickback shenanigans. I wonder
what his take would have been on the NBA lockout. (I say he
would have been with the players.) Latrell Sprewell. Mike Tyson.
Mark McGwire and andro. The tutor who says she wrote the term
papers for those basketball players at the University of
Minnesota. The lack of leadership in major league baseball.
Tiger Woods. Professional wrestling and the death of Owen Hart,
the Blue Blazer. The X Games. Wouldn't that be a sight--Howard
Cosell at the X Games? Talking with some skateboard champion
with blue hair and pierced body parts? Tell me, young man, does
your mother know you look like this?
There is no Cosell today, no tell-it-like-it-is counterpart, no
replacement. In his place is a layer of predictability, the
shrink-wrap of blandness that covers all of televised sports. He
would not fit next to Jim Nantz or Brad Nessler. There is no
room for a weird accent, a smoker, a weird face, a nonathlete
with a quick mind, a big mouth, a limitless vocabulary and an
ego the size of the solar system. That is the state of the
sports television business today. There is nobody to really
love, nobody to really hate, just video vanilla.
Come back, Howard. All is forgiven.
Well, some of it, anyway.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO