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Columnist: Bob Costas, the prodigy years at CBS, doing NFL games at 25

NBC didn't tryout Madden and CBS never re-signed Costas after 3 seasons. At 66, Costas has more productive chapters ahead

 

When CBS’ NFL announcers met for their pre-season meetings in August of 1977, and ’78 the group shot looked like a future hall-of-fame photo. Stars like Johnny Unitas, Paul Hornung, Sonny Jurgensen, Jim Brown, Bob Lilly, Nick Buoniconti, Coach Hank Stram, stood alongside broadcasting greats like Pat Summerall, Tom Brookshier, Lindsay Nelson, Vin Scully and Don Criqui.

Somewhere lost in this group was 25-year-old Syracuse grad Bob Costas. At 5-7 with a very young appearance, Costas was often mistaken for a ball boy or a go-fer by the old pros. But somehow Costas survived and thrived the next few years at CBS.

I was one of the lucky ones working at CBS Sports in those days, and with the ability to watch and listen to all of the network’s regional games, I came to realize that Costas was a very talented play-by-play broadcaster. No matter with whom he was matched, Costas excelled. But his teenage, boyish looks and the fact that he was always assigned the games listed way down on the CBS depth chart, led certain executives to ignore him.

One of those execs was Neal Pilson, who would become president of CBS Sports in 1981. When Costas’ contract came up for renewal after the 1979 season, Pilson, who was the head of Business Affairs and had authority to negotiate all contracts, was the man who put his thumb down. It’s possible that Pilson’s decision could have been reversed by then president Van Gordon Sauter, but Sauter was an idea man and not a sports guy who knew the game or the talent. And besides, Pilson’s power and authority had become so strong, few had the courage to take him on—especially on a somewhat unimportant rehiring.

Don Ohlmeyer, who was running NBC Sports at the time, was a sports nut and certainly did know talent. When he had a chance to add Costas to NBC’s lineup he jumped at it, telling Costas that he’s hiring him despite looking like a 14-year-old at the time.

Though Ohlmeyer had a keen eye for talent, he later admitted his biggest mistake was not giving John Madden a tryout. Madden joined CBS Sports in 1978, hired by Barry Frank at the suggestion of stat man Frank Ross. Within two years Madden became a sensation.

But in Costas’ case, the rest, of course, was history. Starting at NBC in 1980, Costas went on to a Hall of Fame career, doing just about everything the network had; from the World Series to the Olympics. He won award after award, and although he had eased back on his workload it came as a surprise the other day when Costas and NBC quietly announced they were parting ways—on Costas’ terms.

He had turned down hosting NBC’s previous Olympics and wanted to focus his free time on doing 20 games a year for the MLB Network. Hopefully those games will continue to feature Jim Kaat as Costas’ sidekick. Kaat, by the way, has been unjustly denied the Hall of Fame, after winning 283 games and 15 Gold Gloves. When will we ever see numbers like that again?

One of the great things Costas did at NBC was host one of its first late, late night shows, appropriately called, “Later.” From 1988 to ’93 Costas hosted his interview show and was every bit as good or better than the legendary Tom Snyder at the job. Now in semi-retirement, Bob says he’d like to do something like “Later” again. We would like that very much.

Bob Costas wows Cooperstown accepting Frick Award: ‘Broadcasters are inseparable from the game itself’


Yesterday, Marty Brennaman announced that next season, his 46th, will be his last one as the radio voice of the Cincinnati Reds. Brennnaman succeeded Al Michaels in 1974 as the Reds’ announcer. Michaels had left to San Francisco to be the Giants announcer. Brennaman is an absolute institution in Cincinnati and throughout the large landscape covered by the widespread Reds’ network.

This past summer, Andy Furman sat down with the legendary Reds announcer.

In his 45th Season, the Reds’ Marty Brennaman is Taking it One Year at a Time

 

 

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Rich Podolsky

Rich Podolsky, an established writer and reporter since the 70s, has been a staff writer for CBS Sports and won the prestigious Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers' Keystone Award for writing excellence. He has written about the business of sports on television many times. His passion for music of the 60s and 70s fueled his desire to write about it. In “Don Kirshner: The Man with the Golden Ear,” and “Neil Sedaka, Rock ‘n’ Roll Survivor,” he tells the inside story of their success.

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Michael Green

Thanks for this. As a worshiper of Vin Scully and a wannabe broadcaster, I started following CBS Sports closely when he went with them in 1975. I recall that CBS also had Al Michaels and let him get away, though I doubt they could have kept either of them at the time without baseball and with Pat Summerall atop NFL play-by-play and Brent Musburger having the NBA.