The Greatest Sports Broadcasting Team Ever- Howard, Dandy Don and Frank

Last week I was watching Monday Night Football and started thinking about how once upon a time Monday Night Football was the ‘must see tv’ of its time and it wasn’t because of the football game. It was because of the greatest television sports announcing team ever, the broadcasting team of Howard Cosell, Don Meredith and Frank Gifford.

The first year of Monday Night Football the broadcasters were Howard Cosell, Don Meredith and Keith Jackson. After that season Frank Gifford replaced Keith Jackson [when you think of Keith Jackson you think of college football} and the greatest sports broadcasting team was intact. Howard, Dandy Don and Frank were together from 1971-73 [that was the great days of Monday Night Football} Don left for NBC for a few years before rejoining Howard and Frank in 1977. The three would be together again from 1977 until Cosell left after the 1983 season.

Monday Night Football was an event in those years. During the 1970’s Howard Cosell was at his peak as the greatest television sports journalist in history. In the years since I think we’ve tended to forget what a giant he was. I think one of the reasons is he was not well liked by anyone. He offended people, he was arrogant, I think the powers that be haven’t given him his due since his death as a form of revenge.

Everyone was tuned in on Monday Night’s back then to hear what Howard and Dandy Don were going to say.  Frank Gifford was the perfect play-by-play man for this team. He was the Ringo Starr. Ringo Starr probably wouldn’t have been the perfect drummer for The Who or The Rolling Stones but he was the perfect drummer for The Beatles. Frank was perfect for this broadcasting team. Everyone was tuned in to hear Howard and Dandy Don go back and forth at each other. You got the sense that as soon as the broadcast was over they went their separate ways. That maybe they didn’t really like each other. Frank it seemed would usually side with Dandy Don, which would anger Howard even more. Don and Frank had played the game, Howard {as one of his books was called } never played the game. The friction in the booth provided the magic. Howard Cosell was so opinionated. Towards the end I think he got to the point where he was controversial just to be controversial but I think early on he wasn’t.

Dandy Don Meredith provided the humor, he came across as being light-hearted, easy going and fun. You liked Dandy Don. Dandy Don had charisma. I don’t think Dandy Don sat around all week studying up for the upcoming game. He had a great feel for the game and that came across.Don was always great with his one liners putting Howard in his place or just saying after one of Howard’s long rants “Come on, Howard” Howard was the intellectual with the huge vocabulary. Howard was the lightning rod. Frank stayed away from the controversy. Frank kept things grounded.

It really didn’t matter what teams were playing or if the game was good or not. Some of the great moments in Monday Night Football back then came in blow outs. I can remember a game in which Houston was shutout at home. Last in the game they put the camera on a fan sitting alone in the stands. He gave the nation ‘the finger” to which Dandy Don said ” He’s saying we’re number one, Howard.” I remember the Jets being blown out one night and late in the game the camera was on a Jets offensive lineman. For some reason the guy was smiling and Howard went on and on about how his team is getting beat by 3o points he has nothing to be smiling about”  When a game had reached the point where you knew who was going to win Dandy Don would sing the old Willie Nelson song “Turn Out The Lights The Parties Over” Dandy Don once called President Nixon “Tricky Dick” which got him into a little hot water. The Cleveland Browns had a receiver named Fair Hooker, Don said “Fair Hooker.. I haven’t met one yet”

There has never been another team like them. Monday Night Football is just another football game today. The announcer change every year but there is no magic there. No one cares what Jon Gruden or Al Michaels has to say. If you watch MNF you watch for the football game, the broadcasters don’t matter much. Over the years they have tried to ‘spice things up” but that isn’t going to happen. The ingredients are missing.

Towards the end Howard Cosell got bitter. He would denounce football and boxing the two sports that put him on the map. He would write a book in which he attacked the likeable Frank Gifford. He would fade away from the scene and die at age 77 in 1995. Dandy Don Meredith- Jeff and Hazel’s son, from Mt. Vernon, Texas died in 2010 at the age of 72. Frank Gifford is still with us, he turned 82 last month.

The only other broadcasting team that I’ve ever just tuned into for the broadcasters was the old NBC College Basketball team of Dick Enberg, Billy Packer and Al McGuire. Packer and McGuire had that magic but whereas you wondered about how Howard and Don felt about each other you knew after all the arguing during the game that Billy and Al were friends.

One response to “The Greatest Sports Broadcasting Team Ever- Howard, Dandy Don and Frank

Comments are closed.