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 is a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. writing about the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The storyteller and historian has written six books, worn bow ties since the 80s, and is the News Director at WECK Radio. A 25 year Buffalo media veteran, Steve's contributed more than 1400 Buffalo History stories to The Buffalo News, worked at WIVB-TV, Empire Sports Network, and spent ten years as a newsman and News Director at WBEN Radio. He's also put his communication skills to work as an adjunct professor, a producer of PBS documentaries, and even run for Erie County Clerk. Steve's Buffalo roots run deep: all eight of his great-grandparents called Buffalo home, with his first ancestors arriving here in 1827.