By TEDDY ALLEN/Designated Writers
There are lots and lots of people who are part of your life–especially part of your childhood–that you never get to meet and thank, much less know. But you wish you had.
Mary Tyler Moore and Jim Nabors (“Shazaam!”) and Clint Eastwood and all those people on Hee Haw!
(Still got a fightin’ man’s chance at meeting Clint, but it’s not looking all that good.)
And then there’s Irv Cross. It wasn’t until I heard of his passing Monday at age 81 that I really considered how much a part he was of my growing up.
As part of The NFL Today, the original pregame show that was must-see TV if you were coming into teenagerhood and a pro football nut, Cross teamed with Brent Musburger and Phyllis George to set the pregame show standard.
On all those autumn Sundays, first you hustled home from church, not hard for me since my house was right across the street, just a Stabler-to-Biletnikoff fly pattern. Fired up the black-and-white TV set. The NFL emblem would show up and then the NFL Theme Song came on and yes, there was such a thing and it was and is beautiful and if only they would resurrect it I would give them money from my wallet.
Then Musburger would come on and Irv would be smiling and Phyllis George would have some feature in the can that they’d air and it was just beautiful. The scoreboard was one step removed from a chalkboard. Very archaic compared to today’s graphics. I mean, at this time, instant replay had just come on the scene. Ponder that for a second…
In the middle of it, updating you with analysis at halftime and cool as a cucumber all afternoon long, was Irv Cross, the non-flustered, smiling, kind and obviously athletic guy in the blazer who knew stuff that you wanted and yes even NEEDED to know, like how healthy was the Bears offensive line and what about that ankle that had slowed the Cowboy corner and when in the world were the Chargers going to learn how to tackle.
Irv was the forerunner to today’s three or four analysts on every pregame show. Takes four of them. We were good with just one Irv. Unassuming. Always smiling.
In his playing days he was a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback. Six of his nine NFL seasons he played for the Philadelphia Eagles. Career numbers include 22 interceptions, 14 fumble recoveries, eight forced fumbles, two defensive TDs, and a 27.9 yards averaged on kickoff and punt returns.
That’s a solid career, but especially solid for a seventh-round draft pick, a player who had starred in both football and track-and-field at Northwestern.
When he retired and then joined CBS in 1971, he became the first full-time black analyst on a network sports show. He was a trailblazer in that regard and a trailblazer in not taking football too seriously. It was plenty important, but Irv and The NFL Today then knew it was only ball, not nuclear physics.
Cross left CBS in 1994, had other jobs in athletics, and in 2009, he received the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award.
His longtime friend Musburger posted this on his Twitter account:
“Irv was one of the finest gentleman I’ve been with. We met at Northwestern where Irv played both ways for Coach (Ara) Parseghian, He later became my go-to mainstay on the NFL TODAY. No one ever had a bad thing to say about Irv. He led the way for African Americans to host NFL and other sports shows. Rest in peace my friend.”
The eighth of 15 children, Cross is survived by wife Liz; children, Susan, Lisa, Matthew and Sarah; grandson Aiden; brothers Raymond, Teal and Sam; sisters Joan, Jackie, Julia, Pat, and Gwen.
We thank them for sharing him, and we thank him for sharing him. He made Sundays just that much more better. From the bottom of a little boy heart, I thank him.