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.
"Leave it to the coach," said Howard Cosell in his suite at the Ponchartrain Hotel, thrusting out both arms as if pushing away an imaginary admirer, then shooting his cuffs and slowly drawing a regular Chesterfield back toward his lips. "It becomes a very simple thing. My friends dine when they choose"
Other than his wife Emi, the friends Cosell had with him that night included Don Meredith and Frank Gifford, his colleagues on the ABC Monday prime-time pro football telecast, a show that has reached a sort of notoriety unseen in the field of sports broadcasting since the days when Red Grange and Dizzy Dean used to mangle the language on tiny black and white screens, or perhaps since the latest interview with anybody by Cosell himself. Cosell, Gifford and Meredith were in Detroit for their seasonal debut two nights hence, and psychic tension was creeping over them, though they grappled with it in different ways.
"Howard, you are beautiful. You are a trip all by yourself. You are fantastic," said Meredith, who had dressed for dinner in an ensemble that consisted of a brown suede cowboy hat, a sport coat, pink corduroy trousers and white tennis shoes with no socks.
"Some men are endowed with greatness," Cosell admitted.
Lurking a few feet away, as though wary of getting too close to his partners lest they should accidentally spray his suit with a burst of slightly damp rhetoric, Gifford waited with a scant smile, hands in pockets, elegantly turned out, his eyes watching them through tinted glasses.
"Frankly, I feel like I'm facing a firing squad," Gifford said to a visitor. "It's not what I have to do on Monday night that's so hard, it's who I have to do it with."
"With whom you have to do it," corrected Cosell.
Gifford nodded. "See what I mean?" he said to the visitor.
The Cosell-Gifford-Meredith team—to list the performers alphabetically and not necessarily by size of ego—can by sheer force of mouth absolutely overpower the football game it not only describes but also uses as a platform on which to stage tunes, gags and anecdotes. Some critics are underwhelmed by this style of reportage, and some love it. But it is certainly no accident that Cosell-Gifford-Meredith come on as they do, and, whether you like their act or not, the Monday night package apparently has established professional football as a feisty competitor in ratings against such big-league competition as Bob Hope specials and Elizabeth Taylor movies.