Michaels on Cosell: ‘If you made him king, he’d want to be God’

I am really looking forward to Al Michaels’ new autobiography, “You Can’t Make This Up,” co-written by L. Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated. The book will be out Nov. 18.

Michaels has seen it all and then some during his 50-plus years in the booth. And that includes spending some of those years with  Howard Cosell.

The current edition of Sports Illustrated features an excerpt of the book in which Michaels recalls the-one-and-only legend. He gets asked about his days with Cosell almost as much as the “Do you believe in miracles” call.

Some highlights:

Michaels on Cosell’s demeanor: We’d had a lot of fun, especially at the beginning. But something was always eating at Cosell. If you elected him senator, he’d want to be president. If you made him president, he’d want to be king. If you made him king, he’d want to be God. He ascended to an extraordinary position but never felt the sports broadcasting industry was exalted or revered enough. Howard Cosell may have known who he was. But he could never be at peace with where he was.

On Cosell’s signature yellow blazer: When Cosell was on the road, he usually took only one jacket: the Tweety Bird–yellow blazer that ABC Sports inexplicably decided would be the signature piece of our on-air wardrobe. He wore it everywhere. Here was one of the most recognizable men in America, going around with a blazer you could see from the next state. He’d complain that he couldn’t go anywhere without being recognized, but really, that was the way he wanted it.

Cosell on longtime Monday Night Football partner Frank Gifford: “The human mannequin,” Cosell called him. He resented everything about Gifford, especially his close relationship with ABC Sports President Roone Arledge. ‘Roone’s bobo,’ he’d call Gifford.

Cosell after giving an on-air eulogy for late Cardinals third baseman Kenny Boyer: Cosell leaned back. He had the cigar going. He said, “Just understand one thing. Kenny Boyer was a pr—!” There was nothing Cosell loved more than delivering a eulogy. He would affect a “half-mast” voice. Didn’t matter who it was. Cosell wanted to show you how much he knew about the deceased and how well he could put their lives in context.

Michaels on confronting Cosell’s drinking on-air during a game: “We’re protecting your ass. You’re sitting here drinking all night, and you’ve ruined the damn telecast. I’ll take a stand right now, Howard: The next time you’re in this shape when we’re doing a game, either you’re not going to be there or I’m not going to be there. Is that a good enough stand for you?” He said nothing and walked away.

Michaels on Cosell’s last broadcast at an little-seen late regular-season game in 1985: I didn’t know it then, but I would never see or even speak with him again. It was the last time he appeared on network television. So think about this: Howard Cosell—this seminal, larger-than-life figure in sports television, this man who made Just tell it like it is a catchphrase and who, two decades after his death, is still being imitated—ended his career with a meaningless game that got a rating you could see only with a microscope.




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