Broadcaster and former Pro Bowler Irv Cross dies at 81

Cross, the former Philadelphia Eagle and 'The NFL Today' co-host, was the first Black man to serve as a sports analyst on national TV.

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Former NFL cornerback and pioneering football commentator Irv Cross, national television’s first Black man to serve as a sports analyst, died Sunday at the age of 81.

A commentator for CBS for nearly a quarter century — from 1971 to 1994 — Cross’ passing was noted by network brass on Twitter.

In this 1985 photo, CBS Football analyst Irv Cross talks through the on-the-field antics during a season game. Cross, a former NFL cornerback, has died at age of 81. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

“All of us at CBS Sports are saddened by the news of Irv Cross’ passing,” reads the statement from Sean McManus, chairman of CBS Sports. “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 trailblazer in the sports television industry,” said McManus, “and will be remembered for his accomplishments and the paths he paved for those who followed.”

Musberger offered his own kind words for his “go-to mainstay” Sunday, about whom he contended “no one ever had a bad thing to say.”

“It’s kind of symbolic that he passed away on the last day of Black History Month,” said Clifton Brown, a longtime sportswriter who worked with Cross on his 2017 memoir, Bearing the Cross: My Inspiring Journey from Poverty to the NFL and Sports Television, in a statement from the Philadelphia Eagles, the team with whom Cross spent six seasons. “He is a historic figure in television as the first Black national sports analyst and to be on a show that successful; he’s a part of sports television history.”

Cross played most of his NFL career with the Eagles, beginning with his draft in 1961 after playing at Northwestern University.

He appeared in the Pro Bowl in 1964 and 1965. He played for a stint with the Rams from 1966 to 1969, when he returned to the Eagles, then later retired.

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Cross worked for CBS for 23 years, and he spent 14 of them as an analyst on The NFL Today.

He was also the first Black recipient of the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award in 2009, an accolade created in 1989 and named for late longtime NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle. It is bestowed annually by the Pro Football Hall of Fame “for longtime exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football.”

Cross, whose cause of death was not released, is survived by his wife, Liz; four children, Susan, Lisa, Matthew and Sarah, as well as a large extended family. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked for donations to be made to the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation or the Concussion Legacy Foundation.

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