He was the man you loved to hate.
He had little affection for Philadelphia sports fans, and the fans certainly strove to return that sentiment.
He had a nasal, staccato delivery; smug self-assuredness; a love for controversy - in short, he was a legend in his own mind.
We are talking, of course, about Howard Cosell.
It's hard to believe he's been gone nearly 14 years.
We all have our most embarrassing moments, and I'm sure that Cosell, being who he was, had more than one of them. But his worst moment had to be the night of Nov. 23, 1970.
It was the first year of
Monday Night Football
, and the first Monday night game for the Eagles. The opponent was the New York Giants. The setting was Franklin Field, nearing the end of its final season as the Eagles' home turf; the team would move to brand-new Veterans Stadium the following year.
This was the game where Cosell got, um, sick and did a Technicolor yawn on broadcast partner Don Meredith's cowboy boots toward the end of the first half. He then vanished in the second half, and some days later was found wandering the streets of New York, according to his own account in his book
Meredith and Keith Jackson were left to handle the remainder of the game. Dandy Don more than once asked coyly, "I wonder what happened to Howard?"
I was at that game, taking captions and caddying film for Inquirer photographers on the sidelines. It was one of the coldest nights I can ever recall, with a wind-chill
Eagles fans were toting in jugs of what was referred to as "Kensington Coffee" - a concoction heavy on the antifreeze and with just a hint of java.
A crowd had gathered in a section of the lower stands before the game to watch Humble Howard tape a TV interview with a Giants player whose name escapes me. I was standing 20 yards away to one side, trying not to take my hands out of my pockets for fear they would freeze solid and fall off.
As Cosell conducted his interview, the stadium lights reflected off his hideous hairpiece, which shone a verdant hue. (Yes, it actually looked green . . . not Eagles green, either.) It was as ratty a roadkill rug as had ever been seen atop any man's noggin.
Cosell finished his interview, and as the Giants player turned to leave, he playfully reached back and attempted to snatch Cosell's toupee.
Evidently this was not the first time such a thing had been attempted, because Cosell had one hand atop his head and was ducking out of the way almost before the player's hand reached over.
This attempt at faux follicle filching went over very well with the fans, who, fortified with adult beverages against the cold, began hooting and jeering. Cosell (who from all indications was carrying a full reservoir of antifreeze himself) took exception to this, and, outnumbered by several hundred to one, did what only Cosell would have done: He walked right up to the brick wall at the front of the stands and began berating the crowd.
"That's right. Line up, all of you!" he bellowed. "City of Brotherly Love, hah! You're all a disgrace!"
Needless to say, this riled the crowd even more, if such a thing were possible. Wanting to share their love with this man, the fans began climbing over the front railing on the wall.
Cosell, unfazed, continued to lambaste the fans. A team of security guards alertly hustled the still-blustering broadcaster off the field. And his night was just beginning.
Oh, the game. The Eagles won, 23-20, one of just three wins that season to go with a tie and 10 losses. It was quarterback Norm Snead's last season with the team. It was Jerry Williams' second season as coach; he had replaced the beleaguered Joe Kuharich the year before when Leonard Tose bought the team. Williams would be fired three games (all losses) into the 1971 season. He departed Philadelphia with a 7-22-2 coaching record.
The Eagles did not post a winning record until 1978.
years later, in 1984, calling it a "stagnant bore." He died of a heart embolism at the age of 77 on April 23, 1995.
At that same game in 1970, standing on a sideline, I learned something you'll never experience watching TV or possibly even from the closer seats in the stands. NFL guys really
The Eagles had punted the ball, and a Giants player made the catch and started upfield. Then there was this sickening crunch. The Giants player went flying about 15 feet and landed in a crumpled heap. It sounded like someone had dropped a tractor-trailer off the PSFS building.
The punt returner had been struck amidships by none other than the Eagles' Tim Rossovich, who also gained fame as a recycler of glassware (he would eat the glass after downing a beverage) and sometime movie actor.
To my utter amazement, after about 30 seconds on the ground, the stricken player hopped up and jogged off the field as if nothing had happened.
Quick hits and headlines
NFL fan ejected for her attire
Sondra Fortunato was tossed out of the Giants-Eagles game at the Meadowlands Dec. 7 for wearing a skimpy outfit. She insists nothing was showing even though she is "well-endowed." As she puts it, "You couldn't even see my underwear." Security escorted her out, saying signs and baggage weren't allowed. Well, not well-endowed baggage, anyway.
Lions routed by Saints, making history as 0-15 team
One more time, fellas: Sunday, 1 p.m., at Green Bay. More history is waiting to be made. Will Motown become No-town?