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Howard Cosell: The Man, the Myth, and the Transformation of American Sports Hardcover – November 14, 2011

4.3 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Starred review. The definitive word on a loved, loathed, maddeningly complex broadcasting legend.” (Kirkus)

“Ribowsky, who previously wrote a fine book on Satchel Paige, gives Cosell the treatment this controversial giant in sports journalism deserves.” (New York Post)

“A powerful biography… well researched and well written.” (Jewish Journal)

“...[T]he first thoroughly researched and effectively framed biography of Cosell and his times...

Beyond its poignant depiction of a flawed, paranoid and narcissistic character with the uncanny talent to immerse himself entirely, almost supernaturally, into emerging events, Ribowsky's Howard Cosell makes crystal clear the entwined path of Cosell's epic career within the world of Big Time sports and its broadcasting partners, as they quite literally created the monstrosities they are today.” (James Campion - Huffington Post)

“A sportscasting giant is interpreted for a generation that never knew him…Mark Ribowsky's clear-eyed take on the broadcaster who built his career on "telling it like it is" reveals the insecurities that fueled Cosell's bravado, charting his ascension from growing up in a middle-class home in Brooklyn to a short-lived career as a lawyer before elbowing his way into radio and TV and becoming the most influential―and controversial―sports commentator in America.” (Sports Illustrated)

“In Howard Cosell, author Mark Ribowsky reveals the obnoxious broadcaster who transformed sports reporting.” (Sherryl Connelly - New York Daily News)

“Ribowsky has deftly captured this complicated figure, and anyone who cares about sports and how we talk about sports will find this book well worth the time, no matter how off-putting its subject was to many.” (Steve Kettman - San Francisco Chronicle)

“Ribowsky, who seems to have read just about everything on Cosell, is a deft narrator of the life of Humble Howard, taking his readers from the skinny kid in Brooklyn who yearned to spend more time with an absent father to the sportscaster who helped make an event out of “Monday Night Football” by being so very different from anyone else who had ever called a game.” (New York Times Book Review)

“Mr. Ribowsky's book is an entertaining read and a thought-provoking portrayal of the multi-faceted Howard Cosell in all his glory and enmity. It is based on voluminous, well-sourced research into print and electronic material, coupled with numerous interviews with Cosell's contemporaries.

...the book vividly depicts Cosell as a brilliant meteor that soared through the electronic sky before ultimately fading, dimmed by controversy, age, exhaustion and perhaps his own obstreperous personality. Warts and all, there has never been, and may never be again, anyone quite like Howard Cosell.” (Don Ohlmeyer, former president of NBC West Coast and produced of "Monday Night Football" from 1972 to 1976 - Wall Street Journal "Bookshelf")

About the Author

Mark Ribowsky is the author of fifteen books, including Ain't Too Proud to Beg: The Troubled Lives and Enduring Soul of the Temptations, the New York Times Notable Book Don’t Look Back: Satchel Paige in the Shadows of Baseball, and, most recently, Dreams to Remember: Otis Redding, Stax Records, and the Transformation of Southern Soul. He lives in Florida.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (November 14, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039308017X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393080179
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.7 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #858,084 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Author Mark Ribowsky has treated the readers of this book with an in-depth biography of the much-maligned sportscaster Howard Cosell. To those of us old enough to remember Howard he was involved in a number of noteworthy events during his four decades of being a public figure. I remember his Speaking of Sports program on WABC radio in New York City. When Milwaukee Judge Elmer Roller briefly suspended the Braves' move to Atlanta Howard came on like gangbusters with, "Hello again, everyone. Howard Cosell Speaking of Sports. In the headlines this morning the National League meets in New York with feelings raging from chagrin to chaos. Details after this meassage." The things that stick in my mind.

Howard Cosell is primarily remembered for his role in boxing and Monday Night Football. His relationship with Muhammad Ali was something very special, and author Ribowsky does a very commendable job in bringing that to the forefront. Howard's call on George Foreman's decking of Joe Frazier with, "Down goes Frazier, down goes Frazier, down goes Frazier" is often imitated, and his final three words spoken on the death of John Lennon, "Dead on arrival" during a Monday Night Football game is equally memorable. Howard took the advice of fellow announcer Frank Gifford to make the announcement. The Monday night trio of Howard, Frank Gifford, and Don Meredith turned Monday night into a special event that often upstaged the game itself. The travails that involved this trio are also included in the book.

In addition to boxing and football Cosell was involved in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics along with the Olympics of 1972 in which eleven Israeli athletes were murdered by a faction of the PLO in Munich, Germany. ABC announcer Jim McKay spoke the legendary words, "They're all gone.
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Format: Hardcover
It's rather surprising that we haven't gotten a definitive biography of Cosell until now. Sports books trumpeting "The Best X Ever," "The Last Real Y," and "The Game that Changed Z Forever" seem to be a dime a dozen, and the titles of the vast majority of them punch far above their actual weight (to use a boxing metaphor that I think is fitting in this case). But Cosell really was a transformational figure. As author Ribowsky notes in this even-handed, frequently compelling book, the world of sports journalism could probably use someone with Cosell's outspokenness (as opposed to "mere" loudmouthedness) right about now. That someone, however, would best be advised to ditch the comically oversized ego as an optional accessory.

Cosell clearly had many positive attributes, such as a willingness to fight for the underdog and a strong loyalty to his family, but he is a classic example of someone who ultimately became a parody of himself. I remember watching the last fight broadcast he did, the 1982 heavyweight mismatch between Larry Holmes and Randall "Tex" Cobb, which would be mercifully forgotten today were it not for Cosell's steady hectoring of the referee and "the boxing world" in general for letting the fight drag on to the finish. In this instance, Cosell ceased to be a truth-teller and became simply an irritating scold. The "comical" bickering in the booth of Monday Night Football (which, as is now well known, papered over some extremely hard feelings and jealousies among the principals) followed a similar downward trajectory.
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Format: Paperback
Unquestionably well-researched -- impressive amounts of hunting and gathering. And yet, in some ways, shows the peculiar strengths and limits of a certain kind of journalism. By so immersing us in the singularity of Cosell, the author neglects a broader -- bigger? smaller? -- picture of what really makes him such an iconic American figure. Like many breakthroughs, Cosell's arc follows a similar path: at first unfamiliar, then significant, then so familiar as to become non-relevant and forgotten (another example: Ernest Hemingway's writing style).

So yes, Cosell was a human being -- deeply flawed, rude, insecure. But again, the broader picture is how Cosell was at the head of the line when it came to turning sports into something more than the toy department. Society was in flux in the '60s. Outsiders such as Harry Edwards and Jack Scott were probing how sports was hardly pure. Ditto for athletes such as Jim Bouton, Dave Meggyesy and of course, Ali. Cosell's presence and voice on a major forum such as ABC brought that front and center, at once amplifying and legitimizing for a far broader approach to exploring sports than had ever existed before. He's the catalyst for programs such as HBO's Real Sports, ESPN's Outside the Lines, PTI and so many forms of vocalized sports talk.
- Yet none of that is addressed with any significant depth.

It's as if the author has been blinded by all those sources, all those anecdotes from journalists, producers, commentators. For they too can't see out from their periscopes.
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