Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The myth about the Fair Hooker comment attributed to Don Meredith

In 1970, ABC introduced Monday Night Football and placed the colorful Don Meredith in the booth alongside Keith Jackson and Howard Cosell. Meredith became known for his irreverent style and classic one-liners. Perhaps the most famous quote attributed to Meredith took place in the debut regular season edition of this prime time series. Late in the second quarter of that telecast, Meredith commented about the intriguing name of Browns wide receiver Fair Hooker. According to a frequently cited legend, Dandy Don uttered a follow-up remark along the lines of "I haven't met one yet."

I've long wondered how this commentary sounded on-air (more on that later). First, let's take a look at several versions of this tale which have appeared in print.

Meredith died in 2010 and his obituary in the New York Times contained this statement:

Mr. Meredith offered a taste of his breezy, even risqué, humor in that first broadcast. In talking about the Cleveland Browns receiver Fair Hooker, Mr. Meredith said, “Fair Hooker — I haven’t met one yet.”

Upon Meredith's passing, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recounted the story this way:

Perhaps the greatest line of them all came in the first Monday night game between the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns.
Cleveland receiver Fair Hooker had just caught a pass, which really got Meredith going.
"Isn't Fair Hooker a great name?" he asked.
Keith Jackson said nothing and for once Cosell was speechless.
Meredith then added, "Fair Hooker . . . I haven't met one yet."

Another variation appeared in this 1978 Washington Post article:

Or the time he said of Fair Hooker (the Cleveland wide receiver), "Now there's a name. Fair Hooker. I ain't never met one yet."

The 1988 book Monday Night Mayhem, a detailed history of ABC's Monday Night Football, offered this version:

"Isn't Fair Hooker a great name?" Meredith asked, with the implications hanging.
"I pass," Jackson said.
Cosell, perhaps reluctant to hear what might come next, said nothing.
Meredith went on anyway. "Fair Hooker", he mused. "I haven't met one yet."

Obviously some of the details on the exact wording and the reactions of Jackson and Cosell are inconsistent in these renditions. But the essence of the story is that during this Jets-Browns telecast, Meredith commented about the name Fair Hooker and then followed up with a classic line about never having met one. And numerous other newspapers, magazines, and books over the years have described the incident along those lines. However, there is one major problem with this tale. The famous alleged on-air follow-up statement never happened!

A full copy of this 9/21/70 telecast recently surfaced on YouTube. I located the exchange in question starting around the 1:23:21 mark as Meredith analyzes the previous play:

Meredith: Isn't Fair Hooker a great name?
Cosell: <after a slight pause> I pass.
Jackson: 3rd down and about 42 yards to go

And that was the extent of it. No follow-up remark of "I haven't met one yet" or anything resembling it. I wondered whether Meredith may have made that kind of statement later in the telecast. But I listened to the remainder of the video and found no such comment.

So where did this famous story come from? I have no idea. I suppose that once it appeared in print, other publications assumed it was true without attempting to verify it and simply ran with it. But that doesn't explain how it got printed that way in the first place. Perhaps Meredith was later interviewed about his "great name" comment and added the "haven't met one yet" quip at that time.

It seems that this often quoted Meredith line was really too good to be true.