As co-host of ESPN’s NFL Matchup, few people watch more game film than Greg Cosell. A senior producer at NFL Films, Cosell is also the co-author of The Games That Changed the Game: The Evolution of the NFL in Seven Sundays.
We caught up with Cosell for this week’s Friday Five…
Who is your biggest mentor?
Steve Sabol. In many ways he’s responsible for my career, because in 1984, he came into my office – I had been with NFL Films for five years. The world at that time was a different place. ESPN had only been in existence for five years; I think cable TV had only been in existence for five years. And he basically came into my office – I was still young, obviously – and he threw out this matchup idea. He didn’t have a great sense of it, either. He just had a thought and he knew that ESPN would air it because at that time they were looking to air anything. And he pretty much said to me, “Hey, you’re the guy to do this. You just do whatever you want. It’s your baby. You make of it what you will.” And that was the beginning of the NFL Matchup show – and we have been on every single year since 1984. And that kind of became my career path. So he’s really responsible for the turn that my career took.
It seems that Steve Sabol has had a major impact on everyone that knew him. What is it that stood out about him?
I think a good reason for that is he was such a genuine person. He didn’t come across at all the way most people think about bosses. He was just a genuine human being. As soon as you met him you saw that. It oozed from him immediately. I think that’s probably what most people reacted to.
Watching as much game film as you have over the years, which player stands out as having really blown you away when you first watched them on tape?
Oh boy, that’s a tough one. I’ve been watching tape since 1992 … Here’s what I think: And unfortunately he got hurt not long after I started watching tape – he might have gotten hurt the next year and it kinda changed him. This was early in my career, but I just remember the impact it made on me. That was the way Dan Marino threw a football. And that was early in my career, so I didn’t have the experience of film study for a long time, but it just looked different.
Heading into the 2021 NFL season, what storyline most intrigues you?
I’ve said this before and of course I’ve been ripped on Twitter – but that’s the way it goes. The player who most fascinates me — and therefore, I think, the storyline is most fascinating — are the Bills and Josh Allen. Because I think Josh Allen is so physically gifted. Size is a trait. It’s truly a trait at any position, because everybody would like big and fast and talented as opposed to small and talented.
I’ve been fortunate enough to stand next to Josh Allen and stand next to him when he threw a football. Josh Allen is 6-5, 240 pounds, and the ball comes out of his hands a little differently than most, if not all. I’m just fascinated with what he potentially could become. He’s not the best quarterback in the league as we speak today, but to me he is the most fascinating player to watch.
If you could have dinner with any three people in history, who would they be?
John Lewis, Jackie Robinson and George Orwell. The first two – I majored in American history and political science at Amherst College and I was always fascinated by race relations in America. I took a number of classes on that subject. So my interest goes back to when I was in college, and that’s why those two are on my list. It’s something I’ve always read about and I’m always fascinated by. In very simplified terms, I’m just blown away by the fact that people make judgments about people based on the color of their skin. That might sound incredibly simplistic, but it just blows me away that that’s how people make judgments about people.
Orwell’s fascinating to me because I read 1984 a long time ago — as most of us did, I’m sure – and it just seems particularly prescient in today’s world. I think with what’s going, not only in the United States but around the world, with someone like Tucker Carlson – no matter what you think of him – just being hungry. I think it’s very topical right now.
Check out all of our Friday Five features — including Troy Aikman, Adam Schefter, Andrea Kremer and more — in the Friday Five archive.