Monday, November 12, 2012

The Howard Cosell halftime highlights on ABC Monday Night Football

One of the staples of the original ABC Monday Night Football production was the halftime highlights segment narrated by Howard Cosell. This regular feature of the halftime show contained NFL Films footage of key plays from a subset of the Sunday games. Cosell would voice over highlights which were accompanied by canned crowd noise.

The presentation seems slow-paced and amateurish by today's standards, but this feature was quite popular at the time. Cosell's deliberate vocal style meshed well with the slow-motion video. Howard had a commanding presence and his unique delivery and voice inflection tended to make the highlights appear dramatic and important. Cosell would actually narrate the highlights without a prepared script.

After the first commercial break at the end of the half, Cosell would recap the scoring for the game in progress and then transition into the highlight package. Even if the prime time game was dull or one-sided, many viewers would stay tuned though the halftime show to see which games were selected and hear how Cosell described the action.

Here are some classic clips from 1971, 1972, and 1973 followed by a few observations:

  • Notice how Cosell starts out the first 2 clips by stating that the highlights were selected by the producers. Despite this standard proclamation, many fans would blame Cosell if their favorite team was not spotlighted on the highlights show.
  • When the highlights included footage from a Raiders home game, you could count on Howard to identify the venue as the "Oakland .. Alameda .. County .. Coliseum" (first game of 1971 clip). 
  • He seemingly always referred to the Green Bay team as "The Pack".  
  • These clips show his penchant for using "pet names" for many players ("Freddy" Dryer, "Johnny" Gilliam, "Johnny" Hadl, "Joe Willie" Namath). 
  • Cosell also had a habit of interjecting the uniform number ("Franco Harris number 32") and/or college ("Raymond Chester from Morgan State") of the ball carrier during the narration.
  • ABC was fond of showing highlights from one or both teams who were scheduled for the next Monday Night game so that Cosell could shill for that upcoming telecast (first two games of 1972 clip). Similarly, if one of those teams got blown out, ABC would likely omit that game from the highlight package.
  • On the 1971 clip just after the 7:00 mark, Cosell, while describing a kickoff return, had the pomposity to state "he broke one earlier this year that you viewers will remember from our halftime highlights show". 
  • On the 1972 clip, ABC presents the halftime score from Miami showing the Dolphins on top rather than today's standard which places the home team on the bottom.
  • As an aside, each of these videos includes a block of vintage 1970s commercials near the midway point.
The halftime highlights segment was classic Cosell and most certainly wouldn't have been anywhere near as successful with anyone else at the microphone. Cosell popularized many catch phases such as "right there", "look at him go", and "he .. could .. go .. all .. the .. way". Chris Berman of ESPN (who has frequently spoken in glowing terms about the way Cosell did these highlights) always paid tribute to Cosell by using many of the same catch phrases and incorporating a Cosell-like delivery during the ESPN Sunday night NFL Primetime show which peaked in the 1990s.

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