Monday Night Football
When Roone Arledge made the daring move to broadcast NFL games in the evening, he chose Cosell as part of a three-man team of announcers. His presence drew a flood of hate mail from racist fans who despised his support of black athletes, but also increased the network's audience by 50 percent. The original Monday Night Football broadcasts featured play-by-play announcer Frank Gifford and color analyst Don Meredith, both former athletes, and Cosell. According to Bruce Newman in Sports Illustrated, Cosell's role was "blowhard" and that "for 14 seasons Cosell amused, amazed, outraged, annoyed and attracted audiences, building the Monday-night broadcast into something that was often bigger than the game itself." Dave Kindred explained in Sporting News how Cosell had transformed the broadcast: "Then on MNF came Cosell. With that Brooklyn nasal voice. That melodramatic delivery. All those opinions, many harsh, all made at great volume in tones brooking no argument. Cosell commanded attention." Thus a new phenomenon was born. Monday Night Football would go on to become the most successful show in prime-time history. It was also important in increasing the NFL's marketing edge over other sports, including major league baseball.
In a few years Cosell was probably the most recognizable man in America, according to Cosell's former producer Peter Bonventre. "You couldn't walk down the street anywhere with him and not have everybody know him—kids of 5 or 6 and little old ladies. They would scream, 'Howie, tell it like it is,'" Bonventre recalled in People. Cosell was all over the television and not just on sports programs. He acted as guest host on several popular programs, including The Dick Cavett Show and The Tonight Show. Among other appearances, Cosell was seen on the television series The Odd Couple, The Flip Wilson Show, and Laugh-In, and in the motion pictures Sleeper (1973) and The World's Greatest Athlete (1973). ABC even tried Cosell as the host of his own variety series in 1975; however, Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell only lasted for half a season. In the late 1970s, a TV Guide poll rated Cosell as both the favorite and most-disliked sportscaster of the day.
Bars began holding contests during Monday Night Football in which the winner had the honor of throwing a brick through a television with Cosell's face on it. Following a 1970 World Series broadcast, the broadcaster's limousine was rocked by angry Baltimore fans until he was rescued by the police.
Criticism hurt Cosell deeply, but his responses did little to win him sympathy. When others derided him, he defended himself loudly, which drew still more criticism from within the industry. "There's one thing about this business: There is no place in it for talent. That's why I don't belong. I lack sufficient mediocrity," he once said in Sports Illustrated. His long-winded, accusatory, egotistical style appalled many sports reporters. He earned the nick names "The Mouth that Bored," "The Hanging Judge," and "The Martha Mitchell of Sportscasting." Sports columnist Jimmy Cannon was outraged that Cosell sold himself as a truth-teller and writer David Halberstam called him a bully. Such criticisms increased as the years passed and Cosell's ego grew, but as early as 1967 members of the press were pointing out his tendency to grandstand. "He asks better questions than the other radio and TV interviewers," New York Daily News columnist Dick Young was quoted in Sports Illustrated; "but he hokes up his questions so that they sound better than they are. 'Now truthfully'—it's always 'truthfully,' as if it's a question the guy on the other end has been ducking." Similarly, New York Post writer Larry Merchant observed that Cosell made "the world of fun and games sound like the Nuremberg trials." Responding to such criticisms, Cosell would boastfully agree in Cosell: "Arrogant, pompous, obnoxious, vain, cruel, verbose, a showoff. I have been called all of these. Of course, I am."