Howard Cosell and the Birth of Monday Night Football

Imagine a world of only three television networks, where NFL fans typically only watch one game each Sunday afternoon. This was the television landscape in the late 1960’s. In 1970, ABC, the last place network at the time, reluctantly agreed to become part of an experiment called Monday Night Football.  Truth be told, the NFL and AFL did play a few games on Monday nights in the 1960’s, but Monday Night Football would be different. The focus would be more on entertainment. There would be better graphics, extra cameras, and slow-motion replay.  There would also be three announcers, instead of the traditional two. In this format, the announcers needed to be just as important as the game.  Long before NBC’s Thursday night line-up, Monday Night Football would become must-see TV.  A big part of that successful formula was Howard Cosell, whether you loved him or hated him.

Howard Cosell was arrogant and obnoxious.  He was inebriated during a few telecasts. While he was frequently critical of his broadcasting colleagues, the chemistry amongst them was undeniable.  Frank Gifford was the ideal straight man, while Cosell and Don Meredith were the perfect philosophical foils.  Cosell’s nasal “tell it like it is” legal approach was perfectly balanced with Dandy Don’s light-hearted folksiness. Cosell’s half-time highlights of the previous day’s games were a staple of the broadcast.  Touchdown runs would be replayed with his signature: “Right there...look at him go.”  A long kick-off or punt-return would be punctuated with his famous: “He...could...go...all...the...way”. The nasality, accent, and cadence somehow harmonized together.

Now, the NFL regularly plays games Sunday night and Thursday night in addition to Mondays. There are infinitely more options on the television dial.  Announcers have come and gone, but there has never been a more imitated broadcaster than Howard Cosell. There has never been an announcer that instilled as much passion in the viewer as Howard Cosell. How many announcers would make you want to throw a brick at the television? Are there any announcers that bring out those emotions today? Next time you’re watching football, and the return man or running back breaks one, make sure you use that perfect nasal voice and cadence… “He...could...go...all….the… way!”