Nobody who ever saw Cosell had anything other than a visceral reaction. He was a galvanizing figure. He seemed all wrong for television—overeducated, odd in appearance, a nasal voice—yet with that staccato delivery, he demanded the audience's attention. In a business full of forgettable cardigan sweaters, Cosell was a Day-Glo leather sport coat.
But of late, Cosell, 73, has been more memory than contemporary. He did his last professional boxing telecast in 1982, his last Monday Night Football in '83, his last Olympics in '84 and his last Sports Beat, a television magazine show, in '85. The weekly syndicated TV talk show that marked his return, Howard Cosell: Speaking of Everything, went off the air in 1988 after only three months. In semiretirement, he had taken to bitter, sometimes nonsensical attacks on the sports establishment in his writings and interviews, and in turn, his detractors and even some supporters have taken to chipping away at his reputation.
Though he disappeared from the TV screen, he continued his daily Speaking of Sports and weekly Speaking of Everything, long-running programs on the ABC Radio Network. Forty years ago he started his broadcasting career on radio, and on Jan. 31 he'll finish it on radio, in a relative whisper. In between, TV made him larger than life, while he gave TV a life it had never known before.
Howard Cosell, roaring no more. That type of news should make a big bang. But it's no less of a sonic boom if nobody bothers to hear it.