Wednesday, December 8, 2010

December 8, 1980: Three words

MIAMI - New England kicker John Smith was warming up on the sideline, then started trotting out onto the field. There were two seconds left on the clock, and Smith was about to try a game-winning field goal when the announcers started talking about something else. How could they? It was a 13-13 game with two seconds left - this wasn't the time for any kind of breaking news.

It wasn't just any breaking news, though. It was so much more. It was one of those types of news reports that are impossible to believe as they're being reported, that people refuse to believe even as they realize the words they're hearing were true. The announcement became one of those generation-defining, where-were-you types of moments, something that made the game being shown become, in one instant, both instantly irrelevant and completely unforgettable.

Howard Cosell's words were measured, careful like they always were, but they still painted a surreal, hard-to-believe picture; John Lennon ... shot ... apartment building ... hospital ... what? It didn't make sense. What was happening? Then Cosell said the final three words, the words that hung in the air forever like a bold newspaper headline, the words that left a shockwave across America: "Dead On Arrival."

Dead on arrival. The three words that left an entire generation with the realization that their hero, their inspiration, was gone. The three words that had an effect across the country, across the world, and that would linger on in history far beyond anything that happened in that game. Cosell's three words have lived on as the three most famous ever uttered during a football game. Many millions of people first heard about Lennon's death while watching the game, putting Cosell in a similar place in American history as Walter Cronkite 17 years before.

John Lennon and the Beatles defined the musical landscape in the 1960s and beyond. Howard Cosell and Monday Night Football changed the sports television landscape forever. It's sad, but it's fitting that the two are now forever linked in American consciousness. Linked together by three words left hanging in the cold December air.

The announcement:

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