A look of incredulity, set off by a faint smile, crossed Howard Cosell's face, as if he could not believe the question he was hearing.
The former television sportscaster had spent all last Wednesday morning, at times to roars of laughter, testifying on behalf of the United States Football League in its $1.32 billion antitrust suit against the National Football League, and, for the first time since he took the stand in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, he appeared at a loss for words.
On cross-examination, the NFL co-counsel, Frank Rothman, had just asked Cosell if he knew Tex Schramm, the president of the Dallas Cowboys, and NFL owners Wellington Mara of the New York Giants, Arthur Modell of the Cleveland Browns, Alex Spanos of the San Diego Chargers and Leon Hess of the New York Jets. Cosell said he did. In fact, all except Hess were present in the courtroom.
Now Rothman asked him: "You find them each to be men of high integrity?"
After gazing disbelievingly at Rothman, Cosell finally said, "Men of high integrity?... I don't think they are villains, Sir. I do think they have been misled and their actions have not been in the public interest."
Having led once with his chin, Rothman led with it again.
"Do you find them to be truthful men, Sir?" he asked.
Now Cosell did not hesitate. "Not in recent cases involving actions of the National Football League, Sir," Cosell said.
What Rothman had done, before the jury of five women and one man, was elicit testimony that challenged the actions of five NFL leaders and raised questions about their truthfulness. A cardinal rule in trial interrogation is that you never ask a witness, particularly a hostile one, a question to which you do not already know the answer.
Not that any of Cosell's answers were foreseeable. In four hours of testimony laced with humor, sarcasm, anger and bombast and delivered with all the famous Cosellian voices, ranging from sedate storyteller to wounded bull, he transformed room 318 from a courtroom to a stage, and he needled Rothman at every turn.