NSSA: Costas goes into Hall of Fame
By David Shaw
SALISBURY — Here’s a novel idea. Let’s give Bob Costas the “Cookie Lavagetto Award,” for his body of work as a longtime NBC sportscaster.
You remember Lavagetto — the Brooklyn Dodgers infielder whose ninth-inning, pinch-hit double broke up a Bill Bevens no-hitter in Game 4 of the 1947 World Series. Costas, like Lavagetto all those years ago, is guy who shows up at work and makes magic happen.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have excellent assignments and I didn’t screw too many of them up,” he explained with a boyish smirk Monday night at Catawba’s Goodman Gym. “And if you’re around long enough, good things happen. Who was it, Woody Allen, who said 80 percent of success is just showing up? Well, I’ve been lucky enough to show up at a lot of great events.”
Costas has been showing up and affixing his signature to sports history for nearly four decades. Now he finds himself in Salisbury, where the NSSA inducted the 60-year old into its saintly Hall of Fame. His name will take root among sports journalism’s elite few — the Enbergs, Scullys, McKays, Jack Bucks and Harry Careys of sportscasting.
“I hope (my career) has had some texture to it,” said Costas. “I hope it had a lot of appreciation for the drama, the excitement, the joy of sports. But I also hope there was some humor mixed in there. I hope there was some commentary. And I hope, where it was called for, there was some journalism.”
There was plenty of that. Eight times Costas has shown up at the Olympics — and his bags are packed for London this summer. He’ll have a front-row seat as swimmer Michael Phelps attempts to become history’s most-decorated Olympic athlete and sprinter Usain Bolt takes aim at the world’s fastest-man-ever mark. “Those things will be front-and-center for sure,” Costas said.
For a guy who sprouted from blue-collar Commack, N.Y., Costas has led a fairly glamorous life. His career has touched every square on the board, a sportscasting road map littered with accomplishments. He’s worked Super Bowls, the World Series, the NBA finals, Stanley Cup playoffs, major golf championships and the Kentucky Derby. Just last Saturday he provided a behind-the-scenes closeup at the Belmont, where I’ll Have Another’s triple-crown dream was crushed by an injury.
“It changed from what could have been a great storyline into a lesser storyline,” Costas said. “But I was surprised that the audience was as large as it was. It was the largest Belmont rating since 2005. All three Triple Crown races were great in and of themselves, but we missed out on a great drama.”
An eight-time NSSA Sportscaster of the Year, Costas has passed the test of longevity. He attended Syracuse University’s revered Newhouse School of Journalism, where he cut his teeth calling Eastern Hockey League contests. Then it was on to St. Louis, where he called ABA games for the Hawks and later, University of Missouri basketball games. He broke into the bigs when NBC hired him to broadcast NFL games in 1980. The rest is sportscasting history — and through it all Costas has kept a 1958 Mickey Mantle all-star baseball card tucked in his pocket.
“I don’t have a collection,” he told a television reporter. “This is it. I had a collection — a shoebox full in my closet like everyone else in that era. But you go away to college and your mother finds it and says, ‘What is this junk?’ and throws it away. That happened to a lot of guys.”
What followed was a love affair with sports, one that Costas has never outgrown. It’s taken him around the world, across the country and even onto David Letterman’s late-night stage.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been around a smarter, more insightful broadcaster than Bob,” said ESPN’s Jay Bilas. “He’s always anticipating. He obviously loves what he does.”
Some of what Costas sees today is anything but pleasant. He believes the NFL must address the fundamental danger of football. “It’s a great sport and very, very appealing,” he said. “But it’s at a crossroad regarding the kinds of injuries we’re seeing. It’s no longer broken ankles and broken arms, but life-altering injuries. That issue has got to be covered by the press and responded to by the NFL.”
Another of his beefs is the failed connection between academics and major college athletics. “Let’s be honest here,” he said. “You’ve got too many people playing major college basketball and football who don’t belong in a university under any circumstances. College should not be a place for remedial reading. College should be for college work.”
And with that Costas was gone, released to the maddening crowd and another magical moment.