As Howard Cosell himself noted, he never played the game. Yet, Cosell remains one of the most beloved and iconic sports broadcasters of all time. During his long broadcasting career, Cosell became renowned for his sports journalism, his many interviews with Muhammad Ali, and his commentary during Monday Night Football broadcasts. TV Guide, in 1993, ranked Cosell as the all-time best sportscaster and in 1996 ranked him 47th among the 50 greatest TV stars of all time.
Like many stars of his era, Howard Cosell was not born with the last name for which he is famous. He was born as Howard William Cohen, the son of Polish immigrants in Winston-Salem North Carolina on March 25, 1918. His father owned a chain of clothing stores and Howard entered New York University and changed his last name to Cosell.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in English, Cosell entered law school at New York University and became editor of its law review. Cosell completed his law degree and, in 1941, earned admittance to the New York State Bar, but he interrupted his budding law career by entering the U.S. Army, where he became a Major and a member of the Army Transportation Corps during World War II. He married Mary Edith Abrams in 1944 and practiced law in Manhattan after the war ended.
While an attorney, Cosell represented Willie Mays and other athletes, became a fan of Jackie Robinson and represented the New York Little League. A manager for ABC Radio in 1953 asked him to host a local radio program focused on the Little League on WABC New York. Howard Cosell continued doing it for three years with no pay before he quit his law practice and became a full-time broadcaster in 1956 for ABC and remained with the network throughout his storied career.
Cosell found a sponsor for his weekly radio program, Speaking Of Sports, developed his trademark “tell it like it is” style, and became a co-host of the New York Mets pre-game and post-game radio broadcasts. Howard Cosell’s radio career became a television career when he was named the sports anchor for WABC-TV, where he developed close ties with Muhammad Ali and eventually rose to fame as a boxing announcer and, later, a football broadcaster.
Unlike his predecessors, Howard Cosell brought an intellectual element to sports broadcasting with a hard-news approach. Although known for boxing ties to Ali, among Cosell’s career highlights was calling the Joe Frazier-George Foreman fight in 1973, when his famous “Down goes Frazier! Down Goes Frazier! Down Goes Frazier!” call became an instant classic and one of the most quoted lines in sports history.
In 1970, Howard Cosell joined Frank Gifford and Don Meredith to host ABC’s new Monday Night Football broadcast, for which he is most fondly remembered. Cosell passed away in 1995.