Busch stayed in the show.
Although every crisis plunges Cosell into a chasm of gloom, he requires only a reminder of his own genius to rebound strongly. The morning after Green Bay walloped Kansas City in the Super Bowl, Cosell sailed into his office at 10 a.m. crowing, "Just what I predicted! Just what I predicted on the air, right down to naming Willie Wood!" Cosell had known all along, he said, that Green Bay's pass coverage would be to the outside but that sooner or later Safety Man Wood would slip inside to intercept and turn the tide. "I said, 'The hero, the guy who will break the game open, will be Willie Wood.' " Cosell let his words fly into the corridor and fill every office on the sixth floor of the ABC Building, where he is called Coach, a title he revels in. "Of course," he added, "I've been wrong a million times in my predictions."
Cosell arose from behind his desk, launching into an explanation of why he knows so much. He demanded to know if any reporter in the world can match his connections with sports figures. Famous names—men who are, as he put it, his very, very dear friends—rolled from his tongue. He surged into his Big Story voice, biting off his phrases dramatically, as he often does in off-duty monologues.
"I'm the guy...who gets to Lombardi I'm the guy...who gets letters from Pancho Gonzalez! I'm the guy...Champagne Tony Lema visited the very day he got back from the British Open, one week before his tragic death." Cosell's voice fell to a hush. "We sat on the veranda...and I said, 'Tony, when it's all over and done, how do you want to be remembered?' And he said, 'I guess I just want to be remembered as Tony Lema—nice guy.' I said, 'How about Tony Lema, glamour guy?' And he said, 'Yeah, I'd like that, if it doesn't carry the wrong implication.' " Cosell paused to let five seconds of silence grip the scene. He resumed in a whisper. "And then I got out a bottle of bubbly...and said, 'Shall we?' Tony Lema said, 'Why not? I'll open it.' He popped it open and said, 'Cheers.' And I said, 'Cheers.' Later I got a letter from him...the morning after he died. I read it...and I cried."
Now Cosell ticked off more famous names, pacing the floor of his office, although unable to take more than two steps in any direction. The room is little more than a cubicle—exactly like hundreds of other white-walled cubicles that line the stark-white corridors of the ABC skyscraper, a building that in Cosell's words has "a public-toilet whiteness about it that's frightening." He is the network's national sports director for radio and its New York sports director for television, but one wonders if his cramped quarters are the means by which the corporation's upper echelon reminds him he is still a sports reporter. When Wide World has a tough interview to cope with, Cosell is called in to handle it, but rumors persist that he gives the brass indigestion.
At 3:05 Cosell shoveled his ungainly frame into a cab and set off for ABC's West 66th Street studios to tape a two-minute essay for the 11 o'clock news on WABC-TV, the network's New York station. In a pocket of his camel's hair overcoat he carried a hairpiece (which he keeps stored in a shoebox in his desk) that lengthens his receding hairline, though not to the extent of lying about his age. In his head, as the cab weaved through traffic, he created his essay. Cosell never works from a script and rarely knows exactly what he is going to say until he is on the air.
"You're wasting your love on me," he cried to a receptionist as he loped through the lobby of the 66th Street building. In another minute he was tearing past a second-floor newsroom, shouting at the staff, " Willie Wood! Willie Wood! You know where you first heard it!" He paused in a dressing room to have his face powdered, then emerged at the head of an iron staircase that descended into a huge studio cluttered with equipment and crew. "The coach is here!" Cosell announced. He planted himself at a lectern, awaiting his cue, and then rattled off an editorial censuring Lamar Hunt for putting bush-league football on the same field with the Green Bay Packers. His show completed, Cosell then censured his director for having put Lamar Hunt's picture on a screen that stood behind him and to his left. The cameras had had to divert from Cosell in order to film Hunt.
Cosell raced back to ABC headquarters and entered a glass-enclosed room on the eighth floor to do a 4�-minute radio show. "I can break the story now," he barked into a microphone. Charlie Finley, he said, was at it again, stealthily laying plans to move his Kansas City Athletics to Oakland. Having exposed Finley, Cosell turned from the mike and cried, "That, you see, is a sports show! Not an ounce of day-old wire copy about Max McGee retiring. I broke a story." The Times probably would have given the scoop two inches, but there was no holding Cosell. "Now, that show was a contribution journalistically." Cosell cantered to an elevator, calling over his shoulder to a secretary, "Oh, Shirley, if only I could have you one more time."
"One more time!" Shirley shrieked, careful to let the office know there hadn't been a first time. But Cosell was gone.
Arriving home that night, Cosell flung off his jacket, his tie, his shoes, his socks, and sprawled barefoot in a living-room chair. He accepted a martini from his wife, Emi, a pleasant woman with light-brown hair, and gazed happily into a roaring fire. The Cosells, with two attractive young daughters and an Irish setter named Kelly, live on 11 acres of woodland in a lodge-style house made of cedar and fieldstone and adjoined by a pool. Away from the radio-TV jungle, a curious change comes over Cosell. He speaks softly, with an occasional dash of humor that is missing in his broadcasts. "If you don't know Cosell well," says Sportswriter Maury Allen of the
New York Post
, "the only side of him that comes out is this business of being on all the time. I've found him to be a man of great depth, honesty and knowledge."