The John Lennon Murder — Cosell and Gifford Revisited

by M.C. Antil on December 15, 2010

Howard Cosell

One achievement on which Howard Cosell always used to hang his hat was the fact that he  broke the story of the murder of John Lennon.  In fact, on more than one occasion he proclaimed proudly that, given his eminence and standing as a journalist, coupled with his personal relationship with the victim, he was the “perfect person” to tell the country of the tragedy of Lennon’s death in December of 1980.

Well, if there’s one thing we learned from last week’s 30th anniversary of the ex-Beatle’s murder and its historic announcement on ABC’s Monday Night Football, was that if it were up to Cosell, that historic announcement might have never been made.

For when the time came, it was not the self-aggrandized “journalist” in the ABC booth who made the call to interrupt the game and break the news, but a guy that journalist always claimed was part of something he sneeringly referred to as the “jocktocracy” — former Giant halfback and flanker, Frank Gifford.

The following retrospective of the breaking of the John Lennon story, which first appeared on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, tells a very different story that the one Cosell liked to offer up about the events of that evening.

(And while the whole piece is fascinating and extremely well done, if you want to cut to the chase, simply move your cursor to about the seven minute mark and watch from there.)

I don’t know, maybe it’s because as a professional athlete, and a great one at that, Frank Gifford had long been trained to step up when the game was on the line.  Maybe that’s why he did step up, while Howard Cosell double clutched to the extent that he did.

And maybe it was because Cosell, for all his bluster, was in the end simply an articulate observer of the achievements of others.  He was never the guy in the arena; only the guy in the glass box overlooking it.

Frank Gifford

Because while Cosell may have cozied up to greatness, seen it first hand, and waxed eloquent about it to no end, he himself had never been called upon to do something great — to carry the ball, if you will, with the game on the line.

Gifford had.  And maybe that’s why, at the defining moment of Howard Cosell’s career as a journalist — when the game was most certainly on the line — it was not the nerdy kid with the big vocabulary who stepped up, but the guy who’d spent his entire athletic career rising to one occasion after another when those around him needed him most.

Frank Gifford was ABC’s journalistic hero that night.  And I will never look at him quite the same way again.

Likewise, I will never view Howard Cosell quite the same way either.

Nor, do I suspect, will history.


On a related front, I want to share with you the following, which I pulled from the New York Times’ NFL Blog, The Fifth Down, compiled by Toni Monkovic.  It was posted December 6, 2010, at 6:37 am.  Beyond that, I’ll say nothing and merely let the words speak for themselves.

“On the day Lennon was shot I had stopped by a Holiday Inn bar in south Texas to have a beer. As the announcement came on the TV the entire bar erupted in cheers with people saying things like “he ruined the entire country” and “I wish I could have shot him myself”. You could feel the strange mixture of hate and happiness throughout the room. At that moment I felt worse about the sorry state of humanity than the death of John Lennon.”

Roger Drummer
December 6th, 2010

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