We join Howard Cosell in mid-narrative. "Being brought up the way I was, there was a time I lived for baseball, for the Booklyn Dodgers. After the delivery of our first born, Emmy the first night out sat on the hard seats of Ebbets Field."
Emmy Cosell, across the room, reading a book, graceful in a black evening gown, smiled. "My treat," she said. She said it sweetly, as if sitting on a hard seat wasn't really what she wanted to be doing straight out of a maternity ward. But what's a girl to do when her man is a maniac Bum worshiper and she wants to be with him?
Cosell puffed on a little cigar. This was early evening in his 27th-floor suite. Soon he and his wife, Emmy, would go to dinner with Barron Hilton, the hotel guy. For now, at ease on a soft couch, comfortable in a rich tan suit, Cosell enjoyed the memory called up from the early 1940s.
It can be fun to be in Cosell's presence. You need not stand at a distance, guarding against sudden bombast or a hurricane of hyperbole. Too many sportcasters are zombies with open mikes. Cosell is passionate, and if, like Muhammad Ali in the second decase of his ascendancy, he sometimes limitates himself, we forgive that, for a Cosellian impression of Cosell is still -- alive . And on this evening with Emmy near, he is a gentle man, his voice turned down, never, ever, interrupting his wife.
"Emmy, on the first night out, watched Luis Olmo hit two home runs," Cosell said.
"The baby was Jill," said Emmy, a handsome woman with hair the color of butterscoth and strong cheekbones rising against powder blue eyes. "Now we have three grandchildren."
She paused, looking at Cosell, and said, "Now, maybe four."
"Jill many be pregnant again," Cosell said.
And with the practiced rhythm of people married 34 years, married even when someone named Luis Olmo was a Bum, Emmy picked up her husband's unspoken thought.
"Jill is afraid to tell her daddy," Emmy said. "She thinks that he thinks it's too many children."
Grandfather Cosell Puffed on his little cigar and, in a historic moment, said nothing. He is a worrier about his family. The recent automobile accident involving the son of Frank Gifford, his ABC-TV colleague, has shaken Cosell. Gifford's son spent nearly two weeks unconscious, only now able to nod acknowledgement of visitors. When the telephone rang, Cosell couldn't sit still.
"Who is it?" he demanded of Emmy, who had answered the phone. "What is happening? My God, what is it?" He paces, impatient for information.
It was an ABC hired hand calling about a production meeting.
They threw bricks at Cosell's image on a television screen in a Denver bar. A delicatessen owner in Connecticut started a petition to have ABC-TV fire Cosell. A brainless punk threw pliers at Cosell during a World Series. His appearance for Monday Night Football games draws such a crowd -- and who knows what a crowd will do? -- that ABC hires security men to lead him and Emmy in and out of the stadium.
But this year Cosell began work on a four-year contract worth, by one report, $6 million: The $6 million mouth. Bricks and petitions, pliers and punks have not changed this: If sometimes obnoxious, hyperbolic and maddeningly melodramatic, Cosell yet is the best at what he does, a 30-year veteran of sports broadcasting who seeks the truth in a memorable way. Without him, TV sports would be all hair spray and gee-whiz.
"Frank Gifford's lawyer went into tht delicatessen in Connecticut to get some lox," Cosell said. "The man was cutting the lox when Frank's lawyer saw the sign: 'Cosell Must Go.' So he told the man, 'Stop. No lox. If you put up a sign like that, I'll buy the lox somewhere else.'"
Emmy Cosell, now on a couch across from her husband, said, "I've always wanted to go see that place." Another nice smile. "But I'd probably get in a fight."
Emmy Cosell keeps a scrapbook of stories written about her husband.
"Just the good ones," she said.
And she added, "It's not that thin a scrapbook, either."
She cast a quick glance at Cosell, who in another rare moment, sat silent. "You're always saying it's only the bad they write," she said to him. "There have been a lot of good ones.
"We have had fun," Cosell said. "It must be remembered" -- and he now reminded himself -- "that I am a large target easily shot at. They want me to call by last book, 'East Target.'"
He sounded proud of it. No one takes shots at anonymities.
Though he first said he might not finish out the current four-year contract, a minute later he said he probably would. He owes it to the company, he said.
"Howard is very loyal." Emmy said. "I call him a company man."
In his seven-figure deal, Johnny Carson works maybe 100 nights a year for NBC. Cosell does twice that, maybe more. His contract calls for him to do certain things. "They want me on everything," he said. "The Kentucky Derby, Preakness, all our tenis, all championship fights, the baseball and, of course, the fulcrum which is Monday Night Football."
From the couch where Emmy Cosell sat came a little sound.
"Booooo," she said softly.
A boo for Monday Night Football?
"Booooooo," she said again, louder.
"I don't like it. The hassles. The crowds. I go with Howard to every one of them. I can't stand it. The crowds, the people clawing at Howard."
Cosell, for the third year, will teach a sports-in-society course at Yale University. He helps raise money for multiple sclerosis research, Special Olympics (cLet's face it, I am one of Ethel Kennedy's tools") and the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
Alone among sports journalists, Cosell makes his voice heard outside arenas and ballparks.He can not abide the ideas tha sports is holy, athletes are paragons, winning is all-important and fans hsve license to be brainless punks. Such is the text of his sermon delivered to lawyers, corporate executives, politicians. They listen.
"I am satisfied with my conscience," he said when asked if taking $6 million to talk about games made him a participant in the hypocirsy he damns. "I tell the truth of an event, as I see it. Nobody ever excoriated their boss more than I did at the Ali-Evangelista fight (when he said it was). I will use any forum at my disposal to tell the truth."
One thing more. Sunday is Cosell's 59th birthday. Send no pliers.