Buffalo in the ’80s: Bills fans loved to hate Howard Cosell

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

As a community, Buffalo Bills fans have been largely and vocally disappointed in the network analysts and play-by-play announcers and their treatment of our team and our city. At the end of a game, there is quite often a lengthy list of mostly perceived, rather than outward slights against us.

OJ Simpson, Howard Cosell, and Frank Gifford in the Rich Stadium press box, 1983. (Buffalo Stories archives)

With Howard Cosell, there was no need to read between the lines. Like the time he called Buffalo a “lesser clone of Cleveland.”

Bills Fans display a Howard Cosell puppet at a Monday Night game in 1983. Buffalo News archives

Bills Fans display a Howard Cosell puppet at a Monday Night game in 1983. (Buffalo News archives)

While he’d say things on the air that would earn him rebuking letters from folks like Mayor Jimmy Griffin, Buffalonians and even Griffin himself, were often charmed by the intelligent and thoughtful Cosell outside the play-by-play booth.

Howard Cosell, wearing a "Talking Proud" pin, speaks with Buffalo Mayor James D. Griffin. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Howard Cosell, wearing a “Talking Proud” pin, speaks with Buffalo Mayor James D. Griffin. (Buffalo News archives)

Eventually, it wasn’t just Buffalo that had had enough of Cosell. Early in the 1983 season, he made reference to an African-American player running like a “little monkey.” Cosell said he was referring to the player’s tiny stature, not his race. Videotape showed him using the same term about a diminutive white player, and Cosell’s grandchildren remember the TV big mouth calling them “little monkeys” as small children.

Howard Cosell speaks to the Buffalo Quarterback Club Luncheon, 1981.

Howard Cosell speaks to the Buffalo Quarterback Club Luncheon, 1981.

The furor was the last chink in Cosell’s armor, and he’d leave Monday Night Football at the end of the season – but not before one more appearance at Rich Stadium. It was Oct. 3, 1983, when the Bills lost to the Jets, 34-10 on Monday Night Football. Howard Cosell called the Bills action for the final time.

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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo’s pop culture history. His stories of Buffalo's past have appeared more than 1600 times in The Buffalo News. He's a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. Since the earliest days of the internet, Cichon's been creating content celebrating the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The 25-year veteran of Buffalo radio and television has written five books and curates The Buffalo Stories Archives-- hundreds of thousands of books, images, and audio/visual media which tell the stories of who we are in Western New York.