Former NFL player and legendary broadcaster Irv Cross stopped by Ferrall on the Bench on Tuesday to discuss his playing days and time on television, among other topics.
Cross, 74, played at Northwestern and was drafted in 1961. He spent five years with Philadelphia, three with the Los Angeles Rams and one more in Philadelphia before retiring in 1969.
“If you could walk, if you could breathe, you played,” Cross said, explaining the NFL culture in the 1960s. “It’s still a mixed bag. I’ve had both my knees replaced, a hip replaced. I’m having some work done on my neck because my neck was broken. I’m doing some brain scans and stuff because I’ve got some funny things going on up there.
“But I was always active as a reader,” Cross continued. “That helped a lot. If you didn’t really push your brain and different brainwaves, you’d have a problem. That’s what happens to a lot of the guys. They don’t exercise their brains enough, and with injury on top of that, it’s tough to avoid problems in the future.”
Cross, a member of the Retired Players Association, is among those seeking compensation for the NFL’s use of his likeness in highlight films.
“We never really thought about being compensated for those highlight films (at the time),” Cross said. “In the ’60s, it was a different kind of animal. League was smaller.”
After his playing days, Cross became the first African American football analyst on network television. Scott Ferrall said he thinks Cross’ pre-game show was one of the best ever – and certainly better than any pre-game show today, which few people may believe given the all-about-now, instant-gratification world in which we live.
“I loved doing it,” Cross said. “It’s not a job. It’s something you just enjoy doing. Yeah, it’s a tough assignment. I have to go out and spend the weekend with Joe Montana.
That’s great, you know? Any time I had a chance to get close to the game and talk to the guys about football and sometimes their personal interests – which I never reported – (was great), and (I) developed a real strong tie with a lot of guys like that over the years.
“Our whole thing, from my perspective, was to try to teach people how to watch football and to slow it down a little bit (so people had) a better understanding of who the guys are and what they’re trying to accomplish out there on a Sunday afternoon. And I think we were able to hit a lot of those enough times that people walked away saying, ‘Oh, now I understand how they do that.’”
Cross also shared his thoughts on some current NFL teams, including the Eagles, for whom he played most of his career. He believes Chip Kelly’s style can work in the NFL and that it’s possible for the offense to get 80 plays a game.
“It’s going to be hard to do, but they can do it,” Cross said. “But it depends on how fast the referees move. I think you can still get in 80, but usually if you get in between 60 and 70, you’re doing pretty well.”