Why Howard Cosell Was Reluctant to Announce John Lennon’s Death 40 Years Ago

It was 40 years ago when the legendary John Lennon was shot and killed by a crazed fan. Much of America wasn’t aware of Lennon’s death until another legend in the sports media world gave the stunning announcement during a football game. Howard Cosell was calling a Monday Night Football game and broke the news. He wasn’t sure it was the right move.

Is Howard Cosell the greatest broadcaster of all time?

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Howard Cosell broke into the world of sports broadcasting during the mid-1950 and was an instant hit. He rose to fame in 1970 when he popularized Monday Night Football. When Cosell teamed with Frank Gifford and Don Meredith in the booth, it was the first time in 15 years that football was broadcast during the week in prime time.

Cosell was much more than football. He was a jack of all trades. He’s known for his phrases “The Bronx is burning” which was announced during Game 2 of the 1977 World Series at Yankee Stadium. His “Down goes Frazier” line is another classic. That evolved when George Foreman knocked down Joe Frazier in 1973 in a fight for the heavyweight title.

Cosell was named The All-Time Best Sportscaster in 1993 by TV Guide, which was celebrating 40 years of television. In January of 2009, Yahoo Sports ranked Cosell No. 1 on its list of Top 50 All-Time Network Television Sports Announcers.

Howard Cosell became close with John Lennon

Could we say Howard Cosell was the John Lennon of sports broadcasters? They were both rock stars in their own way, but they also hit it off with each other. Cosell first interviewed the legendary Beatles star in 1974 on Cosell’s radio show.

The interview with Lennon on the radio show, Speaking of Everything, lasted 30 minutes. The two seemed to develop a bond. They spoke about a variety of topics, including music, culture, and Lennon’s immigration issues at the time, according to UltimateClassicRock.com.

Cosell and Lennon then hooked up once again. Lennon appeared on Monday Night Football for a brief interview. This one took place six years before Lennon was killed. During the interview, Cosell asked Lennon what he thought of American football. Lennon said he was impressed and that it made rock shows look like ‘tea parties.”

Cosell reluctant to announce Lennon’s death

On Dec. 8, 1980, much of American was shocked when they tuned in to Monday Night Football. It wasn’t where one would expect to hear the news they heard that night. The New England Patriots were playing at the Miami Dolphins. Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford, and Don Meredith were calling the game when they got word of breaking news. John Lennon was shot and killed.

Gifford, according to UltimateClassicRock.com, was the one who persuaded a reluctant Cosell to make the announcement. “You’ve got to. If you know it, we’ve got to do it,” Gifford said. “Don’t hang on it. It’s a tragic moment, and this is going to shake up the whole world.” With time winding down, Patriots kicker John Smith was ready to kick a field goal. “Three seconds remaining. John Smith is on the line. And I don’t care what’s on the line, Howard, you have got to say what we know in the booth,” Gifford said.

Cosell then made the announcement that Lennon had been shot and killed. Cosell didn’t know if it should’ve been announced during a football game. In an ESPN video on the 30-year anniversary of Lennon’s death, Cosell can be heard saying, “He was shot outside his apartment, the Dakota apartment building,” Cosell can be heard saying in an off-air conversation with broadcast partner Frank Gifford. “Fellas, I just don’t know. I’d like your opinion. I can’t see this game situation allowing for that news flash.”