ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — I’ve said many times, to whomever would listen, that the highlight of my 2011 was being called a big dummy by Bill Cosby.
Given what I’ve learned about the man since, how do you think I feel now?
That year, Temple University’s football team was selected to play Wyoming in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. Temple was Cosby’s alma mater in his hometown of Philadelphia, so the school arranged to have me interview its most famous alumnus by phone a couple of days before the game.
At the appointed time on Thursday, Dec. 15, I called Cosby at his apartment in New York. I was nervous, realizing I was about to interview a man I’d revered for years.
I’d never been a huge fan of his landmark TV series, “The Cosby Show,” which had aired from 1984-92. I was more of a “Cheers” guy. I was aware of, though, and respected, the powerful statement “The Cosby Show” had made for family values, for African Americans especially.
Really, it had always been Cosby’s stand-up routines that I loved so. Growing up as a black kid in Philly, it turned out, wasn’t all that different from growing up as a white kid in Albuquerque. Bit after bit, it all just rang so true.
Cosby had appeared several times in Albuquerque over the years. I hadn’t seen him in person, but a Journal colleague of mine attended a Cosby performance at the Sandia Casino Amphitheater in 2001.
He’d laughed so hard that night, he told me, that at one point he literally fell off his seat onto the floor.
So, then, I wiped off my sweaty palms and dialed the number. He picked up immediately, and we spoke, as I recall, for 10 minutes.
Given his fame, I wasn’t sure how engaged the famed comedian would be in an interview with some sports writer in Albuquerque.
He was great.
Cosby told tales from his brief athletic career at Temple, which ended when he left school after two years to launch a comedy career. He later “earned” a degree and, at the time of our interview, was serving on the Temple Board of Trustees.
He wasn’t planning to come to Albuquerque for the New Mexico Bowl because the Temple men’s basketball team was playing Texas in Austin at the same time. He’d be toggling back and forth with his TV remote, he said, keeping a close watch on both.
Saturday, Dec. 17, would be a mixed bag for “The Coz” and his Owls. In Albuquerque, Temple routed Wyoming 37-15. In Austin, the Owls fell to Texas 77-65.
At one point during the interview, I misinterpreted something he said. “No, ya big dummy,” he replied, correcting me, but not unkindly. A thrill.
I wrote the story for the following day, leading with a line from one of his many sports-related comedy routines – this depicting a pickup football game: “Cosby, you go down to Third Street. Catch the J Bus. Have them open the doors at 19th Street. I’ll fake it to ya.”
I wasn’t sure how good the story was, and, having re-read it this week, I’m still not. But I had interviewed a living legend, and I was happy.
Now, I’d been aware for a while that Bill Cosby was not a perfect human being.
Once, I had read, he’d sucker-punched fellow comedian Tom Smothers at the Los Angeles Playboy Club. In 1997, the daughter of a former Cosby mistress, claiming to be his daughter, threatened to go to the tabloids with her claim and demanded $40 million. The woman was convicted on an extortion charge.
Even so, nothing prepared me for what was to come. Since 2014, dozens of women have alleged that Cosby drugged and sexually molested them. They described how they were betrayed by this man whom the public revered, and how the assaults traumatized and impacted their lives for years to come.
Thursday, in Norristown, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb, came the coup de grace. Cosby, 80, was convicted of three counts of aggravated indecent assault and faces years of prison time.
On Friday, Temple University rescinded the honorary degree it had bestowed on Cosby in 1991. He had resigned from the Board of Trustees in 2014.
So, this man, this warm comedian and devout champion of family values, has been revealed as a fraud. And so much worse.
Meanwhile, my fondest memory of 2011 lies in ruins.