Expressway: My day as Howard Cosell's driver
'Let's go to the beach," I said to my husband, Jack, one summer in the early 1980s.
"Are you serious? On the Fourth of July?" he replied. "Jones Beach will be mobbed."
But we are beach lovers, so Jack gave in and we headed for the shore. We set up our spot on the sand and took a swim.
"My tooth is acting up," Jack said, referring to a chronic toothache.
So after just 30 minutes, we headed home. Relief was two aspirin and 20 minutes away.
On the side of the Southern State Parkway, we saw a gray Buick sedan with its hood raised. Jack, ever the Good Samaritan, pulled up to help. Suddenly, the passenger door flung open and a very tall man stepped out.
"It's Howard Cosell!" I exclaimed, unable to contain my surprise.
The well-known sportscaster was not happy. The sedan carrying him and his driver had also broken down earlier on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. His family was expecting him by noon at their home in Westhampton Beach. And he had a 2 o'clock tennis date with Bowie Kuhn, the baseball commissioner.
"Where can I get a cab?" he asked.
"You'll have to drive him," Jack whispered.
"Me?" I said, suddenly wondering what we might talk about on the long drive east. "What do I know about sports?"
But I changed into dry clothes and off we went. On the way, Howard entertained me with stories about celebrities, politicians and, of course, sports. No topic was beyond his considerable recall.
I have never forgotten one of his comments about pro sports: that contests were no longer played on the athletic fields, but in corporate boardrooms, and that it was all about contracts. How much more true is that today?
We were still several miles from the Hamptons when Howard asked if I was hungry.
"I'm starving," I said.
"Let's stop here," he said, pointing to a Nathan's hot dog stand on Sunrise Highway.
People immediately recognized him and came over. Rumors had been circulating that ABC was going to remove Howard from "Monday Night Football," and these fans were not happy about the prospect. (Indeed, 1983 was his last season in that job.)
After a little more time on the road, we arrived in Westhampton Beach. There, Howard the celebrity was welcomed home as Howard the dad and grandpa. His lovely wife, Mary, offered us homemade blueberry pie. I declined, saying we had just stopped for hot dogs.
"Howard!" she said sternly. "You're not supposed to eat hot dogs."
"Are you trying to get me in trouble?" he countered, winking at me.
Howard wanted to give me something for driving him, but I said no. "My pleasure," I told him. "I felt like Barbara Walters interviewing a celebrity."
Within a few days, a huge bouquet of flowers arrived at our house in Bethpage. The note said, "With gratitude. Howard."
Reader Mary McCaffery lives in Bethpage.