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 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’ passing,” CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus said in a statement. “Irv was a pioneer who made significant contributions to the storied 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 in the sports television industry and will be remembered for his accomplishments and the paths he paved 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 football. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the seventh round of the 1961 NFL Draft, and would spend six years in Philly and three with the Rams before hanging up his cleats following the 1969 season. Cross made two Pro Bowls and picked off 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 the first Black network sports show anchor. CBS Sports put together a crew of Musburger, George, Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder and Cross for THE NFL TODAY show, which made a large impact on how pregame shows were planned and executed.
“He knew that it was important for him to do well,” said Clifton Brown, who worked with Cross on his memoir, Bearing the Cross, via the Eagles’ official website. “Irv knew that if the show had failed, that it might hurt down the road for other Black sportscasters to get a similar opportunity. He was carrying that weight and he did it so superbly.
“It’s just a seamless transition now. We’re just so used to seeing former athletes on television. But all of them, particularly those who are African-American, whether they know it or not, I believe they owe a debt to Irv Cross.”
In 2009, Cross was named as the recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award. This honor is given annually by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and recognizes “long-time exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football,” according to its website.
Humble, hard-working and insightful no matter which role he was filling, Cross was a television great who will certainly be missed.