Irv Cross, broadcasting legend with CBS Sports and Pro Bowl NFL cornerback, dies at 81

Irv Cross, who spent nine seasons as an NFL cornerback and later became the first black man to work full-time as a sports analyst on national television, has died at age 81, CBS Sports announced Sunday night. Cross thrived while working in several different roles during his 23 years at CBS Sports.

“All of us at CBS Sports are saddened by the news of Irv Cross’s passing,” CBS Sports President Sean McManus said in a statement. “Irv was a pioneer who made significant contributions to the history and lore of CBS Sports and, along with Phyllis George and Brent Musburger, set the standard for NFL pregame programs with THE NFL TODAY. He was a true gentleman and a pioneer in the sports television industry and will be remembered for his accomplishments and the pathways he opened for those who followed. “

Cross was born in Hammond, Indiana in 1939 and attended Northwestern University, where he participated in track and field and also soccer. He was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the seventh round of the 1961 NFL Draft, and would spend six years in Philadelphia and three with the Rams before hanging up his boots after the 1969 season. Cross made two Pro Bowls and made 22 passes. in his nine NFL seasons.

After retiring, Cross worked with the Eagles as an assistant coach and then joined CBS in 1971, when he became Black’s first sports show host. CBS Sports assembled a team of Musburger, George, Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, and Cross for THE NFL TODAY, which had a major impact on how pregame programs were planned and executed.

“I knew it was important to him to get it right,” said Clifton Brown, who worked with Cross on his memoirs. Carrying the cross, via the official Eagles website. “Irv knew that if the show had failed, it could be painful for other black sportscasters to have a similar opportunity. He was carrying that weight and he did it excellently.

“It’s just a smooth transition now. We’re so used to seeing former athletes on TV. But all of them, particularly those who are African American, whether they know it or not, I think they owe Irv Cross a debt.”

In 2009, Cross was named the winner of the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award from the Professional Soccer Hall of Fame. This honor is awarded annually by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and recognizes “long-standing exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional soccer,” according to its website.

Humble, hard-working, and insightful regardless of what role he played, Cross was a great television character that we will certainly miss.

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