Howard Cross developed a reputation as a dominating blocker during his days as a tight end at Alabama which culminated in him being the recipient of the prestigious Jacobs Trophy awarded by the Southeastern Conference to the best blocker as a senior in 1988.
After a 13 year career with the New York Giants, highlighted by two Super Bowl appearances (1990 and 2000 teams), Howard discovered he possessed the talent necessary to pursue a broadcasting career. He presently appears on television for the Yes Network as both a panel member of "This Week in Football" and a color commentator for Ivy League football games.
Howard lives in New Jersey with his wife, Pia and their twins, Isabella and Howard. Along with his numerous charitable activities and speaking engagements, Howard is also an Associate with the real estate services company, CB Richard Ellis.
On a cold and windy October day, at the conclusion of the Columbia versus Yale football game, we visited with Howard in the press box at the Yale Bowl in New Haven. The discussion explored his gridiron career, relationships with teammates and coaches and life since retirement from the NFL.
APS: How did you get involved in broadcasting?
HC: They recruited me right out of the league (NFL). In my last season, agents were asking me if I would consider broadcasting. They would call me to do a lot of master of ceremony and auctioneering work for different charities. You have fun with it and you have a great time. They said I should broadcast on air. That's how you get started.
APS: Did you pattern yourself after any particular broadcaster?
HC: I never patterned myself after anybody but if there is somebody that I admired I probably think it would be Ahmad Rashad. I think it was my junior year in college (Hall of Fame Bowl) I got to meet Ahmad. He was a great guy, well spoken and a lot of fun. I watch him do all the things with the NBA. He's a big crossover guy. I don't think anyone associates him with the Minnesota Vikings (one of his former NFL teams). Everyone just thinks, he's the NBA guy.
APS: Did you have any heroes that influenced you when you were young?
HC: I think a hero would probably be Dr. J, Julius Erving, great basketball player. That was my era. Muhammad Ali, probably the greatest fighter that ever lived. He was a phenomenal boxer with great hands. He stood for something. I don't believe in what he stood for but he stood for something so much, they took away his livelihood. When he got a chance to come back, he became a champ again. I love that. And probably the biggest influence of all was my dad. He taught me the thing that was probably more important than anything anybody's ever taught me and that was to be a man. You can be a lot of things but before you become anything else, just be a man.
APS: What is your definition of being a man?
HC: Being a man to me is understanding that your relationship is a vertical relationship and a horizontal relationship. Vertically, is how you live with your maker and how you live with God, whatever faith you may follow. I am Christian of course but other people follow other faiths. You have to have a good vertical relationship. Once you have a good vertical relationship, the horizontal relationship is real easy because how you relate to people around you and the environment. You've got to love and respect everything because if you can't do that, you can't live. That's what being a man is about.
APS: Can you talk about your experience of being recruited to play college football?
HC: Wow, that's like twenty one years ago. That's embarrassing to say (laughing). Rockey Felker (former UA assistant coach) was the guy who came out and talked to me. Coach (Ray) Perkins was the head coach. When Coach Perkins came to the house, he made reference to a verse in Ezekiel (20:29) and it said something that its place will be called Bamah (high place). And I laughed. It was actually in the bible. I was like, holy smokes. My dad said, I guess you're going to Alabama (laughing).
APS: What were your impressions when you met Coach Perkins?
HC: A good man with steely blue eyes. I thought that he was looking right thru you sometimes. When he smiled, his eyes smiled too and I thought that was a great thing about him. He really enjoyed having me as a player which I don't even know if he really remembers me these days. That made my reason for being at Alabama even more special.
APS: What was his forte as a coach?
HC: He was an offensive guy. He has some set plays. He had a set system and we had two or three plays that you could run. Back in the old Dallas Cowboy days, they would run four or five plays. Back in those days, Alabama ran four or five plays and we ran them all the time. They were very good.
APS: What are your impressions of Coach Bill Curry?
HC: Bill Curry was a good coach. Very well spoken and he had been around many historical football figures. He played for Vince Lombardi. He had met Coach Bryant a couple of times. I think he was doing a great job. He did a great job recruiting. His only glitch or flaw in his system was he never beat Auburn. It came back to haunt him. Georgia Tech was a good school that he came from but the thing that he learned is that college tradition dictates that if you're at Alabama you have to beat Auburn and Tennessee. If you're at Auburn, you have to beat Alabama. If you're at Ohio State, you have to beat Michigan. If you're at USC, you have to beat Notre Dame. If you don't do these things at those specific universities, you don't get to coach there very long.
APS: Describe the transition to the NFL.
HC: The biggest thing for me was I didn't have a roommate anymore and I had to learn to do everything on my own. The biggest transitional moment for me moving up north (New York Giants) was the morning I woke up and there was about twelve inches of snow on the ground. I called the stadium to ask if they were going to cancel practice (laughing). It was like a big joke. Everybody waited for me to get to practice. I had to dig my car out of the snow. That was the toughest moment for me.
APS: What can you tell the people about playing for Coach Bill Parcells?
HC: Coach Parcells really understood the idea of how to get guys to play for him. Not everybody had to like him. Not everybody wanted to like him and he used that to his advantage. Sometimes a lot of guys played to spite him. He was so revered by all the players. Loving him or hating him, either way, you played for him.
APS: Could you comment about playing for some of the other New York Giant coaches?
HC: The guy I think about mostly out of the guys that I played for is Dan Reeves because he was at the height of my career. I was leading the league as a tight end. I was one of the most dominant players at the tight end position. When I mean most dominant, I wasn't catching seventy or eighty balls, but I could block anybody and we ran the ball constantly. Teams were trying to figure out if we were going to run on my side. Teams were game planning for me. That made a big impact on my career. Coach (Jim) Fassell was great because he was at the end of my career. Not only was he a good coach, but he was a good friend. I still see Jim from time to time now. It's like we haven't been apart. Great guy.
APS: How did the deaths of some former Alabama teammates (George Scruggs and Willie Ryles) dying so young affect your life?
HC: When you're growing up and you're eighteen years old, I think there may have been one child who died that I knew of. Even then, he did something that was so wrong. That was crazy. That just doesn't happen. Then when George passed away (April 1986) in a car accident, it was hard for me to comprehend how somebody who had so much fun to be gone. Then the same thing happened when Willie died (August 1986) within a few months of that on the field. It's very, very hard for a young man especially in my situation who had never been around death. Most people who die are old and I don't want to say that they deserve to die but older people seem to die. Kids didn't die. And that was tough for me. I didn't live through a war. I didn't live through any great military activity at that time. I didn't know that young people died I thought they lived forever unless they did something really crazy. That was a big influence on my life.
APS: Would you talk about your special relationship with Derrick Thomas and his passing?
HC: Derrick was like my brother in a sense. We spent every off season together. We were roommates during the off season. We would spend almost every day together. I tried to affect his life as much as I possibly could and he definitely tried to affect mine as much as he possibly could. Despite all the other things in his life, he was a really good man. He meant well. He tried to do the right thing as much as possible. I was on my honeymoon and came back a little early. I told my wife I really wanted to see him. I went down and saw him. On that day, we talked for a little bit that night and the next morning he passed away. You don't like to see one of your best friends pass away but God has a plan for all of us. When it's our time, it's our time. I came in that morning and we were supposed to do his workout that was all set up for him. I was joking make sure you have me a chair and I don't want you to out do me. When I got there the next morning, when I was walking in the door, people were running in the door and I stayed on the outside. He was dying while I was standing out in the hallway.
APS: What are some of your fondest moments at Alabama?
HC: Catching a touchdown pass against Notre Dame after talking about it for so long and what it was going to be like. They gave me a hard time because Alabama had never beaten Notre Dame. Winning the Notre Dame game (1986) and the Iron Bowl my freshmen year (1985). Being on the field when Van Tiffin made the kick (Auburn 1985). That was exciting for me. Every year we beat Tennessee. That was great. We had some great years and got to see some good players thru the years. It was fun the whole time.
APS: What are some of your fondest memories with the New York Giants?
HC: Winning the Super Bowl (XXV) is great. Being on the field is great and doing all the other things as well. Up here (New York City area), my platform for talking and meeting people has grown astronomically. I think my biggest moment is one time I had spoken to a group of people after I had just come from a hospital of terminally ill children and I'm in a homeless shelter the next week talking to healthy men down on their luck. I gave them a real tongue thrashing about how blessed and fortunate they were to have their health and strength. Two years later, one of those guys saw me at the mall when I was at a signing event and with my family shopping. He said you won't remember me but I was one of the guys from the shelter. That meant a lot to me. You do a lot of things in your life and you don't really know but that means a lot.
APS: Do you still stand by the comment you made that winning the Super Bowl (vs. Buffalo) is almost as good as beating Auburn?
HC: When you grow up and you play at a university with a great rivalry like an Alabama vs. Auburn or an Army vs. Navy or something like that, and you beat your rival, guys I played against in the Super Bowl, I may never see them again. But the guys I played against at Auburn, when I go home, you still see them at different events. It's good to beat them when you get a chance.
APS: What are some of your interests?
HC: I work for the largest commercial real estate firm (Associate) in the world, CB. Richard Ellis. I have a wedding hall and I play golf as much as possible. I'm married (wife, Pia) and have twins, Isabella and Howard.
APS: Living near New York City, how did 9/11 affect you?
HC: I used to live in Jersey City in a big, spacious apartment with a view of the Statue of Liberty to my right. I had the greatest skyline view ever. We were coming back from Denver that morning after a Monday night football game against the Broncos and we landed. 9/11 happened and it changed my whole view of what's important and what's not important. I understand that my kids, my wife and my family, you only get them one time. It doesn't matter where you live or where you are in the world. Appreciate what you've got while you've got it because you never know.
APS: What are some of the future trends in football?
HC: I would like to say they're making it better. Unfortunately today with the taunting penalties, they are trying to be parents to young men. Unfortunately for the game, they have to be. For the most part, nobody is trying to hurt anyone. Every once in a while you'll see something get out of hand on the field. Predominantly, it's a good game and people enjoy playing it. As for the safety of the game and the rules of the game, guys are getting bigger, stronger and faster. It's going to be part of the game. No matter what they do, it's never going to be safe. I think fantasy football has created fans of the world. Fantasy football has made the game grow and has been one of the most important things for the game right now.
APS: What did it mean for you to wear the crimson and white?
HC: It was a great thing. It meant a lot to me. Alabama is a great school, especially a football school with a great tradition.