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Posted: Wednesday August 4, 2010 11:19AM ; Updated: Wednesday August 4, 2010 1:25PM

As strange as it sounds, Howard Cosell has never won Rozelle award

Story Highlights

Pete Rozelle television-radio award is bestowed during Hall of Fame weekend

Famed sportscaster Howard Cosell has never topped the voting

The people who like Cosell can't understand why he isn't in

By Marky Billson

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Howard Cosell was the third man in the booth for Monday Night Football for 14 seasons. He also did boxing commentary for ABC.

The Pete Rozelle Television-Radio Award is given annually by the Pro Football Hall of Fame to an iconic football broadcasting figure for "longtime exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football." Yet for the 21-year history of the award, there has been one glaring oversight: Howard Cosell has not won it.

Cosell needs no explanation of why he belongs; he is simply the most famous sportscaster of all time and the lead of the classic Monday Night Football broadcast team of the 1970s and early '80s. Everyone else associated with that influential lineup; Frank Gifford, Don Meredith, even producer Roone Arledge, has won the award.

Dan Dierdorf, who indirectly took over Cosell's role on Monday Night Football as the critic in the broadcast booth from 1987 to '98, won the award in 2008. This year's winner, Chris Berman, who gets inducted Friday at the Hall of Fame dinner, regularly mimics Cosell by shouting "He! Could! Go! All! The! Way!" while commenting on football highlights.

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Even Myron Cope, whose 1967 piece on Cosell in Sports Illustrated, "Onward Through the Broadcasting Jungle," foretold Cosell's intrepid broadcast journalism style three years before the creation of MNF, won the award in 2005. (Cope was the Pittsburgh Steelers' color commentator from 1970 to 2004.)

"Howard has, since the beginning, been one of the names on the list," says Joe Horrigan, Vice President of Communications/Exhibits at the Pro Football Hall of Fame and a Rozelle award voter. "There is no debating Cosell is worthy of recognition. When he came on the national scene, many looked at sports from an entertainment standpoint rather than journalism. He connected the two. He asked questions not previously heard."

So why hasn't Cosell won the award? Are his journalistic contributions to pro football broadcasting not viewed as "exceptional" by Canton? That's the question Greg Cosell, Howard's 53-year-old nephew and creator and executive producer of "NFL Matchup," asks.

"How could he not be on the list [of winners]?" asks Cosell, a 31-year employee of NFL Films. "He was there from the inception of Monday Night Football and was arguably the most significant contributor [to it] reaching the level it did."

Said Berman, "The two names I was surprised not to see on the list were Howard Cosell and Brent Musberger."

The award is determined by a panel, including Hall of Fame staff and Board of Trustees members, NFL staff representatives and previous winners; though not all previous winners have been asked to vote. For instance, Horrigan, who declined to release the names on the panel, stating a fear of future lobbyist involvement, revealed he's often asked Gifford for input. Meanwhile, 2003 winner Don Criqui, 2004 winner Van Miller, the longtime voice of the Buffalo Bills, and 2009 winner and Irv Cross, a former panelist on CBS' NFL Today pregame show, revealed in interviews they've not yet been involved in the selection process.

There is a short list of candidates who are considered every year, thus allowing Miller and Cope to be named in the year following their retirements, and the voting panel changes periodically to provide different insights on candidates.

"Howard may very well be selected for the award in a future year," said longtime NFL Vice President of Communications Joe Browne, a voter who currently works in government affairs with the league. "However, when there is only a single annual Rozelle honoree each summer, one realizes how tough the competition is. Howard certainly was responsible in part for the popularity of Monday Night Football in its early years."

Gifford calls the Rozelle award "one of the best honors I ever could have been given," and says of Cosell: "I didn't always agree with Howard's approach, which was highly critical from an entertainment view. He was very smart and very critical. .... Much of the animosity towards him I disagreed with totally, [but] he was bombastic. He rubbed people the wrong way. A lot of them."

But if Cosell's bombastic personality is what has prevented him from being named, isn't 15 years past a person's death an extremely long time to hold a grudge?

Horrigan states this has not been an issue among Rozelle award voters. Nor, he says, has Cosell's critical commentary or even his infamous "little monkey" comment describing Washington Redskins receiver Alvin Garrett during a 1983 Monday Night Football broadcast, one that Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and others criticized.

To be fair regarding the latter incident, Cosell had used the comment in praise of Garrett's abilities and had been known to use the term to describe everyone from white athletes to his own grandchildren. Cosell's legacy concerning race relations is above reproach, and such notables as Harry Edwards, Jesse Jackson and Garrett himself stood behind Cosell in the days following the remark.

Still, none of the previous Rozelle award winners were known for unfavorable commentary. Yet Cosell cannot accurately be remembered as an assassin on Monday Night Football. He was more often complimentary than negative, and even the comments that caused so much attention back then often seem tame now.

For instance, telling the audience during ABC's first broadcast of Monday Night Football that Leroy Kelly was not a "compelling factor" as he rushed for 62 yards on 20 carries during Cleveland's 31-21 victory against the New York Jets. Today, a color commentator who didn't make such a remark would not be looked upon as doing his job. Yet 40 years ago, simply making the obvious remark that a player was less-than-productive was controversial.

And lost in the story of Cosell's first Monday Night Football broadcast was his defense of Joe Namath after he threw the game's fatal interception to Browns linebacker Billy Andrews. "You can't fault Namath for that interception. He had nowhere left to go," Cosell said.

That's telling it like it is.

Since producers can and have won the award, it should be mentioned the case for Cosell can only be enhanced by his role as a producer on acclaimed television documentaries on pro football, such as Run To Daylight, which romanticized Vince Lombardi, and $onny, Money, and Merger, a study of the competition between the American and National Football Leagues.

Cosell wrote in I Never Played the Game that "if you weren't a whore for the NFL, then you were a pariah." And despite Horrigan's comment to the contrary, that's the perception one gets when considering Cosell's omission.

"He was willing to take on the powers that be and that never plays well publicly," Greg Cosell said. "I think this award is some sort of legacy, a remembrance award. Maybe I'm wrong."

Added Gifford, "I'm not going to get in to who should be and shouldn't be in. But the people who loved [Howard Cosell] . . . can't understand why he isn't in."

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Marky Billson is a Pittsburgh-based sportswriter and sportscaster who himself was once honored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame in their now defunct fan display.

 
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