The story behind how Howard Cosell announced the death of John Lennon live on air

35 years ago this week, Howard Cosell announced the death of John Lennon to the American nation during Monday Night Football.

Howard Cosell, John Lennon,

Image: AP/Press Association Images

As one of the most recognisable voices in sports, Howard Cosell is remembered for many things, but perhaps the moment in which he broke the news of John Lennon's death to the nation is the most famous moment of his career. 

The incident has long since become the stuff of sporting and pop culture legend, as in the middle of a Monday Night game between the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots, Cosell broke away from his calling of the game to reveal that the lead singer of The Beatles and one of the most beloved solo artists in the world had been killed.  

"Yes we have to say it, remember this is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses. An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us by ABC News [...] John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the west side of New York City, the most famous perhaps of all The Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital. Dead on arrival. Hard to go back to the game after that news".

On December 8th, 1980, 35 years ago, Cosell broke the news to millions who were watching the game, and looking back on that anniversary on Off The Ball, Donny Mahoney explained the significance of the moment. 

"Howard Cosell is one of the five greatest American broadcasters, period. He transcends sports, he was a voice that evokes [...] the great sporting events through the 1960s and '70s, he was the man who was heading up the flagship sports broadcasting product that was Monday Night Football, a huge part of the move to bring sports into primetime television". 

Setting the scene, Mahoney details that "it's a big game, it's late in the game and the game was tied going into the fourth quarter. In the booth, Cosell gets a phone call and the producer lets him know that John Lennon had been murdered that night in Central Park. The guys in the booth have a decision to make, what will they do? The game is nearly over, will they just sit on this news and leave it to the TV news people?

"There's no Twitter or social media obviously, but the landscape has changed so hugely, there wasn't even any CNN, not many people have this news". 

For Cossel, it was a tough decision to make, having met Lennon on a previous broadcast, and there was a conversation between the broadcasters about how best to handle the moment. 

"Fellas, I just don't know. I'd like your opinion, I can't see this game situation allowing for this news flash", says Cosell. 

"If we know it we've got to do it", replies his broadcast partner Frank Gifford. "It's a tragic moment, this is going to shake up the whole world". 

You can listen to the US Sports slot from Off The Ball below: