The Odd Couple made a return to television this season. The original movie odd couple was played by Walter Mathau and Jack Lemmon, followed with a television run by Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. They were all fine actors. But they had nothing on the real life odd couple, at least the sports world version, of Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell. On the surface, other than an equal fondness for the spoken word, specifically their own, they had nothing in common. One was a model handsome, world class athlete with a Greek god-like physique. The other was a frumpy, balding, out of shape, cigar smoking, lawyer turned sportscaster who wore a bad toupee. Individually they were both stars in their own right in their respective fields. Ali took the sports world from orchestrated slow dance to unpredictable rock and roll extravaganza while Cosell changed sports t.v. broadcasts from reverential productions into a never can be sure what might happen next circus. But together, from pre and post fight interviews to their respective roles at fight time, they became the dynamic duo of must see t.v. throughout the seventies. Ali performed his physical magic in the ring as only he could, while Cosell adeptly described the action in his nasally, often dramatic, at times irritating, staccato.  Their odd couple shtick was equal to that of Martin and Lewis except theirs was completely genuine and totally unrehearsed. Ali often teasingly pantomimed the threat of snatching the toupee off Cosell’s head. And Cosell would in turn admonish him as a frustrated teacher would an unruly pupil, one time telling Ali, “You’re being extremely truculent.” To which Ali  replied, “Whatever “truculent” means. If that’s good, I’m that.” But their pairing worked because deep down most people could feel the admiration and respect the two had for each other. Cosell was the only national sportswriter of note to defend Ali’s right to refuse military induction based on his religious beliefs. And he did so despite being continuously threatened with bodily harm and even death.  He also faced serious risk of losing his sportscaster job. The high profile television field at that time was extremely sensitive to and easily swayed to take decisive action based on public opinion. He was also the only sportscaster during that time to call Ali by his new name. Perhaps, this was somewhat due to his own experience of having to change his last name from Cohen to Cosell due to the marginalizing of Jews by society in those days. Ali never forgot the stance his friend Howard Cosell took on his behalf. And Cosell admired and respected Ali’s conviction for standing up for what he believed in despite the long hardship and suffering he incurred while defending his beliefs. But the two stayed the course, never swaying in their conviction on the issue until the tide turned on public opinion in this country. As a result, both not only achieved  career super-stardom but maintained an enduring friendship until Cosell’s passing in 1995. From late 1970 through late 1978, Ali fought an almost unbelievable 30 times, and Howard Cosell and ABC television were there to broadcast most of them. The three were like peanut butter, jelly, and Wonder bread. Each was an individually valued commodity. But together, they were an unbeatable combination that became a staple of the sports television viewers diet throughout the decade. For more on the Ali and Cosell story you can check out sportswriter David Kindred’s book “SOUND AND FURY: Two Powerful Lives, One Fateful Friendship.”