Irv Cross

It’s no longer a news story or a big deal today to see Black faces on a sports telecast, either a game broadcast or a studio show. Nor does anyone even blink when women are part of a studio or game team. But that certainly wasn’t the case as recently as the ‘70s.

Longtime cornerback and broadcaster Irv Cross died on Sunday near his Minnesota home, the Philadelphia Eagles announced. CBS made headlines back in 1975 when they announced a change in the lineup for their marquee studio show “The NFL Today.” 

That was the year that former Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams cornerback Irv Cross joined the program as one of four on-air announcers alongside principal host Brent Musburger, Phyllis George (the network’s first woman studio sports host) and Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, who served as the gambling expert (though they didn’t call him that at the time).

Cross had previously been an NFL game analyst for CBS, but didn’t have any anchor experience. Neither did George. But this quartet became enormously popular over the years, and Cross was a trailblazer as his success allowed other networks to begin adding Black faces to their studio shows.

Cross, who died over the weekend at 81, had earned two Pro Bowl selections during his career, but he wasn’t the most critical analyst. He preferred to emphasize good things players were doing on the field, though he would certainly point out flaws and errors as well. But he wasn’t a loud-talking, brash type, and certainly wasn’t someone who’d say things he didn’t believe just to generate response, something that’s par for the course these days in the sports talk world.

“I’ve been around all kinds of people, from every walk of life. I don’t know that I could give you one person who was nicer than Irv Cross,” Musburger said in tribute, via the Eagles. “He was a constant gentleman.” Irv Cross stayed with the network for 23 years, spending 14 on the pregame show. He was a 2009 inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as the Pete Rozelle Award winner. But Cross did a lot more for others that wasn’t so highly publicized or well known.

He served as the athletic director at two colleges, Idaho State and Macalester, and spent lots of time advising young prospects on the pitfalls of fame and the obstacles they’d face going into the NFL. He spent even more time working with all sorts of non-athletes as executive director of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Central Minnesota and Love Inc.

There’s a tendency in some circles today to view soft-spoken types as either weak or uncertain of themselves. Irv Cross was neither, and there were times during the studio show when people would say things that he knew were either factually inaccurate or at best oversimplifications. Cross never tried to embarrass his colleagues, or insist that they didn’t know what they were talking about, even if it was rather clear he thought they didn’t.

He’d just simply and politely state his feelings on the subject, buttress them with facts and in some cases actual experience, and then let that sink in for impact. Irv Cross’ brand of broadcasting is not exactly the preferred style in the Twitter era, but it was and is a lot more informative than a lot of the blowhard, over-the-top manner encouraged by the shout shows. He will be missed in many ways, both as a broadcaster and a class person.