Young Bobby Costas’—that’s how many of us remember Bob Costas when he first emerged on the St. Louis scene at KMOX Radio in 1974. The late broadcasting great Jack Carney pinned the ‘young Bobby’ tag on Costas when he included the station’s wonder-kid sportscaster in his ongoing radio soap opera called The Adventures of Tiki Jack.
Back then, the biggest names in town included the likes of Thomas Eagleton, August A. Busch Jr. and Charles Knight. They were the kind of people who would have buildings and institutions named after them. Costas, meanwhile, was just a kid out of New York trying to build a name for himself in St. Louis.
We all know how the story ends up: Today, Bob Costas is a sports icon. He is the face and voice of NBC Sports and is always center-stage in front of millions of people at events from the Kentucky Derby, the Superbowl and the Olympics.
They also named a building after him: The Bob Costas Cancer Center at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center. Costas says he probably would have vetoed the center’s name if hospital officials had given him the chance. But he rationalizes the honor in the same way he would analyze a key World Series double-play. “It’s a function of recognition as much as it is the contribution itself,” Costas explains. “You can take recognition, or what some people refer to as celebrity—which is kind of an empty-headed concept, if you ask me—and it’s carried to a ridiculous extreme in modern America.”
Costas finds humility in the honor, concluding that if his name and celebrity can be used in a way that will help make the lives of sick children better, he’s happy to be a part of it. “It’s a wonderful thing, and I’m very proud to be associated with it, but I don’t want to confuse it with an achievement of my own. The achievement is by the doctors and nurses, and administrators and volunteers, and the kids and the families.” For the past 23 years, Costas has hosted a benefit event that has raised more than $12 million for Cardinal Glennon. Last year’s show at the Fox Theatre featured Conan O’Brien and Faith Hill and brought in a record $830,000. This year, the April 21 event features comedian Dana Carvey, with Costas, as usual, playing host and reminding everyone in the audience why they are there. “When I stand on the stage at the Fox, I’m always mindful that while I’m speaking, somebody is sitting at the bedside of a sick kid, holding their hand.”
We’ve come to expect the in-depth perspective and exceptional dissertations that Costas is known for regarding sports. But to hear him speak about the hospital, you begin to see a whole new side of him. He remembers fondly the days he spent with a young cancer patient named Jimmy Campisi. Ten years ago, Costas helped him live out a dream of being a sportscaster when he brought him into the broadcast booth for a playoff game at Yankee Stadium. The teen ultimately succumbed to his illness, but Costas feels the care he got at the hospital gave Jimmy many more good years than expected. “Jimmy was only 16 when he died, but he went to his prom and he spent more time with his family and friends. For all the days and weeks he had to spend in a hospital, they still feel gratitude to Cardinal Glennon because those days helped extend the amount of time he had on this earth.”
Just as he is finishing his heartfelt thoughts, the phone rings on another line. Costas aptly moves himself along to prepare for the sports world’s next big televised event, but not before staunchly declaring that, although he spends much of his time in New York, he still considers himself a St. Louisan and proudly accepts his status as an adopted son of the Gateway City. “It’s a great feeling, especially during the World Series this last year. When you do sports on a national level like I do, you really don’t root for anybody, but when the Cardinals are involved, you feel that hometown tug,” he says. “St. Louis always has meant a lot to me—and still does.” And the feeling is mutual, young Bobby Costas.