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, died at the age of 81, told CBS Sports on Sunday night. Cross thrived in a variety of roles during his 23 years at CBS Sports.
“We all at CBS Sports are saddened to hear the news of Irv Cross’ death,” said Sean McManus, chairman of CBS Sports, in a statement. “Irv was a pioneer who made significant contributions to the history and tradition of CBS Sports and, along with Phyllis George and Brent Musburger, set the standard for NFL pregame shows with THE NFL TODAY. He was a true gentleman and a trailblazer Sports television industry and will be remembered for its accomplishments and the paths it paved for those who followed. “
Cross was born in Hammond, Indiana in 1939 and attended Northwestern University, where he participated in athletics and also in soccer. Drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the seventh round of the 1961 NFL Draft, he spent six years in Philly and three years with the Rams before hanging up his cleats after the 1969 season. Cross made two pro bowls and picked up 22 passes in his nine NFL seasons.
Upon retirement, Cross worked as an assistant coach with the Eagles and joined CBS in 1971 when he became the first anchor on the Black Network Sports Show. CBS Sports put together a crew of Musburger, George, Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder and Cross for THE NFL TODAY show, which had a huge impact on how pregame shows were planned and run.
“He knew that doing well was important to him,” said Clifton Brown, who worked with Cross on his memoir, “Bearing the Cross,” on the Eagles’ official website. “Irv knew that if the show had failed, it might hurt other black sports organizers later to get a similar opportunity. He carried that weight and he did it so well.
“It’s just a seamless transition now. We’re just used to seeing former athletes on TV. But everyone, especially those who are African American, whether they know it or not, I think they owe a debt to Irv Cross.”
In 2009, Cross was recognized as a recipient of the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This award is presented annually by the Pro Football Hall of Fame and, according to its website, recognizes “longstanding exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football”.
Cross was humble, hardworking, and insightful no matter what role he played. He was a great television station that will surely be missed.