Paved Paradise

I think it was Joni Mitchell who said (sang, actually), “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone?”

At his pop culture peak, I was not a Howard Cosell aficionado. In my late teens and early 20s, the full appreciation for life’s big picture had yet to fully develop.

And not just in network television sportscasters.

I went to discos to meet girls. Worked at Mr. D’s to earn money. To pay for gas for the LeMans, the disco cover charges and the pitchers of Coors Light.

I watched Monday Night Football to see the Dolphins and the Oilers.

Silly, shortsighted, platform-heeled young man.

Deep Throat to Bob Woodward: “You’re missing the overall.”

As the precipice draws nearer, I gaze over my shoulder and begin now to recognize how much value Cosell added to the product.

Whether it’s a football game or a blockbuster movie, entertainment should do more than just chew up two or three hours of my life. Maybe entertainment, should… I donno, entertain?

That’s exactly what Cosell did.  

Most precipice approachers have a favorite Cosell memory. Here’s mine:

Monday Night Baseball. Early ‘80s. 

The director punched up a medium close-up (waist to ballcap) of then-White Sox skipper Tony LaRussa, ostensibly intently studying the game, wheels turning.

At the time LaRussa had just passed the bar (or the Bar, for my attorney friends) and astute sports fans were expecting a Cosell (also a lawyer) pearl about eloquent arguments with the umpire. 

No sooner than LaRussa appeared on screen, he maneuvered an index finger up a nostril and quickly hit paydirt.

Cosell lets this sink in, waits a beat and offers: 

Not a pretty sight.”

Thirty years later, anytime I see LaRussa, it’s what I remember.


Cosell fancied himself just a little bit smarter than the rest of us. The fact that he probably was, only fed the shtick. Early on, he connected himself at the hip with Muhammad Ali. The man knew an icon when he saw one. 

A cursory scan of today’s sportscasting landscape reveals an eclectic collection (say that real fast three times) of solid professionals, subject matter experts, blowhards, under-informed analysts and perfunctory glamour girl/boy sideline reporters.

During an era when we need it more than ever, no one in television sports tells it like it is.

Imagine Cosell waxing philosophical on 21st century D-1 college sports, Lance Armstrong, the NBA lockout, the joke that is professional boxing, Tiger Woods, 350-pound NFL linemen. 

With a worldview that comes from remaining upright on the planet long enough to better grasp the overall, I have come to more fully appreciate that which I once disdained.    

Cosell brought an erudite, even arrogant je ne sais quoi that helped define his era. Tonight, I can surf all 800 channels (that’s about 775 too many, btw... another blog) on my television and not find anything remotely close. 

The technology’s more advanced. Sports look better on television than in Cosell’s era.

But we lack the entire package – the overall.

They paved paradise.

And put up a high-definition, perfectly-manicured parking lot.