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Published: Saturday, 10/2/2004

Cross to lead chronicle on sports

Irv Cross opened the door for such NFL players as Deion Sanders and Shannon Sharpe to pursue careers on high-profile NFL pre-game shows, and today he's excited about his latest groundbreaking experience.

Cross, 65, former player and first African-American to hold a full-time co-host position on a Sunday morning NFL show, is taking a lead role in chronicling the history of sports in the United States.

He's chairman of the Smithsonian Institution's The Sports Initiative project, scheduled to be unveiled in Washington in July of 2006. Historical documents, pictures and portraits about such U.S. sports icons as Babe Ruth, Lance Armstrong, Muhammad Ali and Jackie Robinson will be housed in the interactive facility in the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery.

The intent of The Sports Initiative is to establish the first nationally recognized facility for celebrating and remembering "American men and women whose relentless striving for excellence in sportsmanship exemplifies the quintessential American values of self-discipline, courage, competition and teamwork."

For Cross, such a national facility is long overdue. He believes sports have long played a role in shaping the lives of many Americans. Ultimately, Cross believes sports has helped shape America.

"The idea that if you work hard enough and roll up your sleeves you can make it - that comes from sports," Cross said.

Well, at least that was his experience. He excelled as a student-athlete growing up in Hammond, Ind., earned a football scholarship to Northwestern and went on to become a Pro Bowl player in the NFL.

Later, he turned to broadcasting. Most notably, Cross was a co-host for 15 seasons in the 1970s and '80s on CBS' Emmy Award-winning NFL Today, working alongside Brent Musburger, Phyllis George and Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder.

Today, he is the athletic director at Division III Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. He served as athletic director at Idaho State from 1996 to 1999 before going to Macalester.

Full-time work as a sports broadcaster is in his past. "What I'm doing now I enjoy doing."

Making The Sports Initiative a reality is a voluntary job for Cross. In fact, he had been contemplating writing a book that would chronicle how sports has helped shape American history long before he was approached about the Smithsonian's plans.

As one of the first African-Americans to hold a prominent on-air position, Cross certainly qualifies as one who has made a contribution in the sports broadcasting business. Yet he downplays his place in history.

"Those were different times. The thing that was important to me was to be as professional as possible. The fact that I was there made it easier for others because it showed that you could get [the job]."

Cross still enjoys watching the NFL on Sundays and Monday nights. As for what he thinks about today's NFL pre-game shows, including the NFL Today, Cross doesn't feel qualified to provide any comments, because he doesn't watch them.

"I'm still in church around that time on Sundays," he said.

Pistons' season near

Exactly a month from today the Detroit Pistons will be presented with their NBA championship rings before the tip-off of their season-opener against Houston. The game, which will also represent the debut of a revamped Rockets team featuring Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady and Toledoan Jim Jackson, will air on TNT at 8 p.m.

Houston and Sacramento will meet in the first televised preseason game when they play two games in China. Those games will take place Oct. 14 (ESPN, 7:30 a.m., Toledo time) in Shanghai and Oct. 17 (ESPN, 12:01 a.m.) in Beijing.

Channel changing

t●ESPN Classic is scheduled to air a half-hour program, Friday Night Lights: The Story Of The 1988 Permian Panthers, tomorrow at 7 and 7:30, followed by the original version of The Longest Yard at 8. A remake of the classic sports comedy movie is currently in the works with Adam Sandler starring in the lead role. It's scheduled for release in 2005.



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