As one of America’s three major networks in the 1970s, ABC featured a robust line up of sports programs, including “Monday Night Football” and “ABC’s Wide World of Sports.” A number of sportscasters and commentators called games for ABC during this time, many of whom are now recognized as the most famous in their field. While the list contains many dozens of names, several stand out as the most recognizable.
Howard Cosell, who started in radio in 1953, was the best known commentator for ABC Sports for many years. His staccato delivery and unvarnished opinions gave him a distinctive onscreen identity, as well as engendering his fair share of controversy. Cosell often called boxing matches for ABC, and developed a relationship with boxing great Muhammad Ali. Cosell also helmed the early years of ABC’s “Monday Night Football,” from 1970 until early 1984.
Frank Gifford was himself a former athlete, having played 12 years of pro football for the New York Giants and earned himself a berth in the NFL’s Hall of Fame. After retiring from football, he served as a commentator for NFL games on CBS. In 1971 he joined Howard Cosell and Don Meredith as the host of ABC’s “Monday Night Football,” a position he held until 1997. He also acted as commentator for ABC’s coverage of Olympic events, skiing competitions and golf.
Like Gifford, Don Meredith was a former NFL star, serving nine seasons as quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. He became the color commentator for ABC’s “Monday Night Football” at the show’s inception in 1970. He left for several years in the middle of the decade to call games for NBC, but returned to ABC in 1976. His humorous take helped balance Cosell’s intellectual analysis and Gifford's factual play-by-play commentary. Meredith retired from broadcasting following Super Bowl XIX, which he called with Gifford and Joe Theismann.
McKay worked on “ABC’s Wide World of Sports” from the start in the 1960s and continued to host that program throughout the 1970s. In addition, he covered multiple Summer Olympics for ABC, notably the 1972 Munich Olympics in which he reported on the abduction and assassination of the Israeli team. He was known for his kindly demeanor and just-the-facts reporting, as well as his opening voice-over for “Wide World of Sports.” His line, “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” during that introduction has since become a cultural icon.
As the young buck, Al Michaels worked mainly play-by-play duties in the 1970s. He officially signed with ABC sports in early 1977, covering Major League Baseball and college football for the network. His most famous on-air moment came at the very end of the decade -- February, 1980 -- when he pronounced “do you believe in miracles” following the U.S. Olympic hockey team’s surprise upset of the Soviet Union. Michaels left ABC in 2006 to call NFL football games for NBC.
- The First 25 Years of ABC Sports; ABC Sports (editor)
- American Sportscasters Online: Top 10 Sportscasters of the 20th Century
- Photo Credit Brad Barket/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
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