SI Vault
What are they doing with the sacred game of pro football?
Edwin Shrake
October 25, 1971
By nine o'clock on Saturday night the London Chop House in Detroit already had enough people in it to start another suburb, and dozens more were waiting at the red velvet rope and lined up along the stairs to the street, and if you phoned for a reservation you were told it didn't matter if you were Henry Ford bringing Prince Charles in for a bucket of snails, it would be hours before you could have a table.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
October 25, 1971

What Are They Doing With The Sacred Game Of Pro Football?

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

"Hi, Don, old buddy, how's it going?" one of them said.

"Well, the truth is I'd rather be a bamboo than an oak," said Meredith. "A big bamboo, however."

Harley Smydlapp is a character Meredith invented as a sort of independent conscience for himself. Harley Smydlapp is chief investigator for Smydlapp, Smydlapp & Calhoun, a large fact-finding organization hired by the American public to explore the truth about pro football. When he is talking to Harley Smydlapp, Meredith always tells the truth. When he is talking to a booster in Dallas, on the other hand, Meredith might ditch Harley and bend things around a little to make them come out more comfortably.

On the sidewalk, waiting for Meredith to sign some autographs, Cosell began reflecting on the outrage he manages to provoke.

"I've never understood the flak," he said. "At least half my mail says you nigger-loving Jew bastard, what are you doing with the sacred game of pro football? Well, this is starting to be boring, and I think I may get out of this intellectual thimble and not do any more TV sports except the Olympics, which I find very exciting. I'm being offered more and more roles in movies and television. I just finished playing in Nanny and the Professor the part of a teacher who understands the melancholy nature of middle age. There's a chance I may be the regular host on a talk show, and I have my own company to develop new show ideas. I don't need sports. But I would never quit doing my 25 radio shows [all ad-libbed] every week. On the radio you don't need to worry about how old you are, or how you look.

"I don't think television has traveled the right route in hiring so many ex-jocks to broadcast sports. The jocks don't have any really specialized knowledge. They've brought to the game a redundant jargon that the public has accepted as mystic insight. For years, what have the jocks been telling us? That you try to isolate a back on a linebacker? Well, as a kid we always tried to put our fast kid against their slow kid. What's the mystery in that? Maybe the reason for the flak I get is that for 15 years the public has been fed sports-establishment Pablum. Of course, the utilization of Dandy Don Meredith was genius. He's the rare case of an athlete who's uninhibited and irreverent, a personality. Frank Gifford, Pat Summerall, Kyle Rote, they're jocks, but they've been working as announcers for 10 or 12 years and are pros by now. But many of the jock announcers are a disgrace. Perhaps I should resign right on the air—say folks, if you want Pablum you won't get it from Howard Cosell."

Once last year Cosell did in fact go off the air during a football broadcast, an incident that brought him thousands of acerbic words from the newspaper critics he denounces as "mere bread-and-butter writers without class." It was suggested that Howard had been fending off the cold that night with a nip of warming brandy and that he soon found himself unable to say " Philadelphia," which is an important word to use when announcing a game at Franklin Field, and that he retired for a nap long before the teams did. Meredith informed the public at the time that Cosell had the flu. "I was very ill. I thought I'd had a stroke and was dying. I was so worried that I took a cab from Philadelphia to New York to see my doctor, and then I read in the papers that I was drunk," Howard said indignantly.

A Cosell performance that drew almost unanimous praise was his role in the Woody Allen movie Bananas. Howard played himself interviewing a South American dictator in the act of being shot and later interviewing a honeymoon couple in bed. It was all done extemporaneously in one take, and Howard was very funny. Emi saw Bananas seven times. Cosell says his next film role will be in Woody Allen's version of All Yon Always Wanted to Know About Sex. He was speaking of his future in the movies when he and the group arrived at the London Chop House and discovered there was barely room to squeeze into the lobby, much less land an available table.

"My dear," Cosell cried to the girl who was guarding the red velvet rope, "I have journeyed on every continent, I have seen beauty of the most exotic and exquisite sort, but never never have I set eyes upon a woman quite so flawless, quite so stunning...."

"Anybody who sounds that much like Howard Cosell must be Howard Cosell," said someone from the crowd as Howard pushed immediately to the front of the line and reached for the red velvet rope.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9