John Lennon was slain 30 years ago today. (Feeling old? He’d have been 70 this year.) Of course, news sites everywhere will be filled with the usual cliche tributes referencing peace, love, and understanding. (Does anybody remember laughter?) But at Little Earthquake, you get something more: peace, love, understanding, and how American football can be their spark. Okay, maybe not love but definitely the other two.
Of course, many remember that Lennon’s death was announced, among other places, live on ABC’s Monday Night Football by Howard Cosell. Many more still may remember Lennon making a guest appearance in the booth of that show in 1974 (see video above). Curiously, that Redskins-Rams contest also featured an appearance by then-Governor and future president Ronald Reagan. As Bob Hohler of the Boston Globe recounted in 2005,
The show became a celebrity magnet for the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Placido Domingo, Burt Reynolds, John Denver . . . and Kermit the Frog.
The most fascinating episode, however, involved Lennon and President Ronald Reagan, then governor of California. Each figure embodied part of the cultural divide of the time, Lennon the protesting pacifist pop star, Reagan the hard-line conservative leader. Gifford had invited them to appear on the same show in the early ’70s, assuming Lennon would be a no-show.
These two towering icons of their professions in fact not only met, but had a conversation about the sport itself.
To Gifford’s surprise, he looked over his shoulder during the broadcast and spotted the two waiting together.
”Governor Reagan had his arm around John Lennon and he was explaining American football to him,” Gifford said. “Only on ‘Monday Night Football’ would you get those two guys, who were poles apart, united.”
Cosell, who in his day was as large a media figure as Reagan and Lennon, quickly sized up the situation.
Their appearance prompted some swift maneuvering by Cosell, who initially planned to interview Reagan but anticipated the audience’s keener interest in Lennon.
”Giffer,” Gifford recalled Cosell abruptly stating, ”you take the governor and I’ll take the Beatle.”
Unfortunately the two were never on camera together; wouldn’t that have been something? Six years and one day later Lennon was shot and killed by a deranged man inspired by (besides his own demons) The Catcher in the Rye. Oddly, President Reagan was shot and wounded three months later, by another deranged man inspired by the film Taxi Driver. Not to trivialize either episode, but the cast of characters (Lennon, Reagan, Cosell, Salinger, Scorsese) makes this series of events sound like a throwaway page from the script of Forrest Gump.
Lennon himself was not a football fan, and, though he may have found him amiable in person, probably not a Reagan fan either. (He may have appreciated that Reagan never included him on any enemies list.) The tale is really just an historical footnote, but a fascinating one, during tumultuous times. Four months after Watergate ended, as Vietnam ebbed, a Beatle and a future president of opposite political stock took in a football game and had a chat. Just a day in the life.