Irv Cross, a Pro Bowl cornerback in the NFL who went on to become the first Black sports analyst on national television before later serving in various roles in Minnesota, died Sunday at age 81.
The Philadelphia Eagles announced the death on their website, saying Cross died near his home in Roseville.
Cross was hired by CBS Sports as a game analyst in 1971 and stayed with the network through 1994. He was a member of the pioneering "The NFL Today" studio show, which began with Cross, Brent Musburger, Phyllis George and Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder in 1975.
"He was the perfect personality for the group of egos that he had to be around," Musburger told the Eagles website. "And it is not easy. It's like putting together a football team. You got a flashy quarterback. You have a flashy wide receiver. You got a hard-working running back, but you better have the offensive tackles, guards, the guys who do the dirty work day in and day out. Irv Cross did that. If we had another huge ego in there as an ex-player, we would have had major problems. Not once was there a problem between Irv and anybody else. He was the ultimate teammate to tell you the truth. He was just a great team player."
Said CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus: "All of us at CBS Sports are saddened by the news of Irv Cross' passing. Irv was a pioneer who made significant contributions to the storied history and tradition of CBS Sports and, along with Phyllis George and Brent Musburger, set the standard for NFL pregame shows with 'The NFL Today.' He was a true gentleman and a trailblazer in the sports television industry and will be remembered for his accomplishments and the paths he paved for those who followed."
Cross went on to serve as a college athletic director, first at Idaho State from 1996 to 1999, and then, after his contract there wasn't renewed, he landed at Macalester from 1999 to 2005.
"Macalester's — and Division III's — philosophy is exactly what I believe in," Cross said in 1999. "A student goes to a college or university to get an education. If you happen to have athletic skills, too, you're lucky to have it paid for."
Cross' tenure at Macalester was marked by two difficult decisions — the football program leaving the MIAC after the 2001 season to play as an independent and having to cancel its 2004-05 women's basketball season after six games. But when he announced he was stepping down, then-Macalester President Brian Rosenberg said: "Irv has done a great job balancing our desire to be competitive in athletics with our belief that our mission is to provide an outstanding liberal arts education. Irv never lost sight of that. He helped bring us a long way in six years."
He then served as CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Minnesota and served as a Vikings commentator on KMSP-TV. He also served as chairman of the Twins Community Fund. In 2009, he received the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award given by the Pro Football Hall of Fame for "long-time exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football."
Born in Hammond, Ind., in 1939 as the eighth of 15 children, Cross was part of coach Ara Parseghian's first recruiting class at Northwestern. Cross was an All-Big Ten cornerback and a Wildcats captain in 1960.
A seventh-round draft pick of the Eagles in 1961, Cross played nine NFL seasons: six for Philadelphia and three for the Los Angeles Rams, who traded for him in 1965. He returned to the Eagles as a player/defensive backs coach in 1969 and remained in the coaching role in 1970, before joining CBS the following year.