This Day In Sports: The beginning of Cosell’s unceremonious end

September 5, 1983, 40 years ago today: On ABC’s Monday Night Football, Redskin’ wide receiver Alvin Garrett uses a herky-jerky maneuver to get a first down against the Cowboys. On the replay, Howard Cosell remarks, “That little monkey gets loose, doesn’t he?” The apparent comparison of Garrett, an African American, to a primate got Cosell in a heap of trouble. However video evidence surfaced of Cosell using “little monkey” to describe white players as well. The incident wore on Cosell as the season progressed. By the end of the year, Cosell was so bitter with football and all sports that he resigned from the MNF booth.

Cosell became familiar with fans around the country, including Boise, through his “Speaking of Sports” updates on ABC radio affiliates in the 1960s—and through his up-close-and-personal coverage of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali (beginning when he was known as Cassius Clay). Numerous Cosell phrases became part of American lore, including one from the George Foreman-Joe Frazier world heavyweight championship bout in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1973. When Foreman sent Frazier to the canvas midway through the first round, Cosell bellowed, “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down Goes Frazier!” You can still hear it now.

You could say that Cosell made toupees fashionable. That was his signature. Ali often made fun of it in one-on-one interviews, calling it everything from squirrel to a rabbit. Ali sometimes threatened to knock it off, but it never happened. The toupee did indeed fly off, however, during a post-fight melee after an otherwise nondescript bout in 1978. Cosell retrieved it and placed it back on the top of his head. But Cosell was best known for his work on the first 14 seasons of ABC Monday Night Football. The play-by-play man the first season in 1970 was Washington State grad and college football announcing legend Keith Jackson.

When Frank Gifford took over in season No. 2, it established one of the most iconic broadcast booths in sports history: Gifford, Cosell and “Dandy Don” Meredith. They made MNF a sports staple—appointment television every week of the NFL season. The public had a love-hate relationship with Cosell, but NFL telecasts have never been quite the same after his 1983 departure from MNF. Cosell’s most famous and enduring quote: “I’ve been called arrogant, pompous, obnoxious, vain, cruel, verbose, a showoff. And, of course, I am.”

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)

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