For his third and latest self-glorifying book, Howard Cosell selected the title, "I Never Played the Game." Oh yes he did, and he played it spitefully and with self-promotion always in mind as he horned into the big story, this poseur of the public's right to know, who for years played his own game of How Great I Am and Don't You Forget It.
For the record, he was meaning to say with his book title that he wouldn't go along with the bad schemes of the power wielders in professional sports (as so many dreadful sportwriters did), and how he always raised his voice in the name of decency and honesty and challenge. Bully for him.
So far, so good, and he does disclose among other revelations much of the play-by-play workings of the Oakland Raiders franchise shift, the owners' sneaky plot to fire Bowie Kuhn, the slick maneuverings of Pete Rozelle, and his own disenchantment with "Monday Night Football" and professional boxing. Plus his serialized account of the in-house quarreling over the verified importance of Cosell to the network.
All of this the product of the intimacy he assiduously cultivated over the years with the reigning big shots of the sports industry. He lets it be known he was privy to almost everything, even indicating there was a clear-it-with-Howard mentality among important sports people ("Before resigning, Kuhn attempted twice to reach me at my office in New York to tell me about it.")
The disclosures by Cosell are fascinating, but he also has managed to spoil everything with his nasty cracks about his one-time colleagues in the "Monday Night Football" booth, and about rival commentators on other networks.
He trashes the whole bundle of them in a record display of wounded vanity. When has an old comrade sunk so low? Even his boss, Roone Arledge, the man who gave him his start, does not escape Cosell's venom: "He's jealous of my celebrity . . . obsessed with power." After that, guess who Howard dedicated his book to: Roone Arledge.
Some of his worst bitterness he reserved for the surviving Monday Nighters, Frank Gifford and O.J. Simpson; also Don Meredith.
On Gifford: "Teflon man, whose mistakes don't stick to him . . . stumbles over words . . . loses train of thought . . . an apologist making excuses for players who fumble or drop passes . . . not in the same league with Dick Enberg (NBC) or Pat Summerall (CBS) . . . "
About Meredith: "Rarely prepared for telecast . . . tried to compensate for lack of knowledge by singing a song . . . there's a mean streak in him . . . subservient to Frank. I could really never trust any of them." Howard also indicated Meredith was two-faced.
Nevertheless, Cosell could write, "Right here and now let me say Gifford is a friend of mine." On that basis, the preferred title of Cosell's book should have been "Chutzpah!", consistent with his odd definition of friendship.
Few escaped Cosell's compulsion to tell it like it is according to Cosell's mean streak. On CBS commentator John Madden: "Has allowed self to become overblown parody of self . . . a caricature in danger of becoming a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing . . . screams, bellows, waves his arms." But wait. Cosell's chutzpah pops up again: "On a personal level, he's an outstanding man."
Cosell's description of Tom Landry's postseason appearance as a commentator: "As a TV personality, a cure for insomnia." On Brent Musburger: "Has limited appeal."
Of his own contributions to football: "I was the key ingredient to 'Monday Night Football.' " This despite the vivid impressions here that Cosell's more cogent observations in the booth were limited to "poor field position," or "good field position," or "time left on the clock," services that any average third-grader could perform. And with Howard in the booth, woe to the rookie who made a mistake; he was Cosell's target the rest of the night.
Neither did he spare O.J. Simpson in his diatribe against jocks in the booth with him. One of O.J.'s offenses apparently was his lack of respect for Cosell's expertise. "What he did in essence is question my knowledge of football," Cosell complained to Arledge. In those circles it would be classified as an excellent question, but O.J. paid for it with these comments by Howard in the book: "his deplorable diction . . . his insecurity . . . never once did he knock Gifford or Meredith . . . these ex-jocks stick together."
His boundless modesty was also evident when he decided to quit "Monday Night Football" with the statement, "There was really nothing left for me to accomplish in broadcasting."
Back in 1983 he at first denied calling the Redskins' diminutive receiver Alvin Garrett "that little monkey" in a Monday Night broadcast. The man who could recall exactly what he told Pete Rozelle and Al Davis and Bowie Kuhn and Muhammad Ali and Roone Arledge years ago said he couldn't remember what he said about Alvin Garrett the night before.
For reporting the story, and having Garrett's unflattering opinion of Cosell, Washington Post writer Leonard Shapiro got the "cheap shot" accusation from Howard, who later admitted he did use the "little monkey" crack but pleaded it was an affectionate term. He apologized to Garrett for any harm done, but not to Shapiro.
Cosell admits he may not be popular with everybody, writing, "Certifiably I am the most liked and disliked man in my field," thereby inviting the knee-jerk response that he is at least half right.
It was the late Red Smith, a most perceptive and also tolerant person, who once made a memorable statement on Cosell. "I have tried hard to like that man, and I have failed miserably," he said.
With all his flights into controversy, Cosell has been a rare bird, with his fame unquestioned. But with his brutish trashing of all his former colleagues in the Monday Night booth, he is indeed that rara avis, who has defied the laws of space, fouling his own nest after leaving it.