Former Miss America, ‘NFL Today’ Host Phyllis George Dies at 70

By The Associated Press

Phyllis George, the former Miss America who hosted CBS’s “The NFL Today” and served as the first lady of Kentucky, has died. She was 70.

A family spokeswoman said George died Thursday at a Lexington, Kentucky, hospital after a long fight with a blood disorder.

Her children, Lincoln Tyler George Brown and CNN White House correspondent Pamela Ashley Brown, released a joint statement, saying:

“For many, Mom was known by her incredible accomplishments as the pioneering female sportscaster, 50th Miss America and first lady. But this was all before we were born and never how we viewed Mom. To us, she was the most incredible mother we could ever ask for, and it is all of the defining qualities the public never saw, especially against the winds of adversity, that symbolize how extraordinary she is more than anything else. The beauty so many recognized on the outside was a mere fraction of her internal beauty, only to be outdone by an unwavering spirit that allowed her to persevere against all the odds.”

Phyllis George file photo
Phyllis George arrives at the Museum of Television and Radio “She Made It” launch party in New York on Dec. 1, 2005. (Stephen Chernin/AP Photo)

Miss America in 1971, George joined Brent Musburger and Irv Cross in 1975 on “The NFL Today.” Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder later was added to the cast.

“Phyllis George was special. Her smile lit up millions of homes for the NFL Today,” Musburger tweeted. “Phyllis didn’t receive nearly enough credit for opening the sports broadcasting door for the dozens of talented women who took her lead and soared.”

George spent three seasons on the live pregame show, returned in 1980 and left in 1983, winning plaudits for her warmth of her interviews with star athletes. She also covered horse racing, hosted the entertainment show “People” and co-anchored the “CBS Morning News.”

George was briefly married to Hollywood producer Robert Evans in the mid-1970s and to John Y. Brown Jr. from 1979-98. Brown owned Kentucky Fried Chicken and the NBA’s Boston Celtics and served as the governor of Kentucky.

“Phyllis was a great asset to Kentucky,” Brown told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “We had a great partnership. I think we enjoyed every single day.”

Phyllis George and John Y. Brown Jr
Phyllis George and her husband Boston Celtics owner John Y. Brown, Jr. pose for cameramen during reception at New York’s Tavern on the Green on March 17, 1979. (G. Paul Burnett/AP Photo)

From Denton, Texas, George attended the University of North Texas for three years, then went to Texas Christian University after earning a scholarship as Miss Texas in 1970.

George was a friend of minister Norman Vincent Peale and a devout believer in his best-selling philosophy of positive thinking. George credited that approach for launching a defining career she didn’t expect—one that saw her range into an astonishing variety of ventures and roles, in media, the film industry, food and beauty products, and as the glamorous first lady of the bluegrass state.

“Saying yes to yourself opens up opportunities that can take you anywhere,” George wrote in her 2002 memoir. “Having a mentor in your life who says yes to you is also key. Appreciate your mentors when you’re starting out. And later, always give credit to the people who were there with you at the beginning.”

Neal Pilson, a former president of CBS Sports, called George’s hiring as part of “The NFL Today” team a “groundbreaking decision” that “changed the face of sports television.”

“She had an openness and enthusiasm that made her a valuable contributor,” Pilson said. “She didn’t claim to know a tremendous amount about sports, but she knew about people, which is why her interviews resonated. She could do the best interviews with athletes and family members. She was a warm person and that came through on the set and in the interviews.”

21 year old Phyllis George
Twenty-one year old Phyllis George of Denton, Texas, waves against backdrop of he beach and ocean at Atlantic City, N.J., on Sept. 13, 1970, a day after she was named Miss America. (Bill Ingraham/AP Photo)

The industry discovered George after she co-hosted “Candid Camera” and the Miss America pageant. She received a 13-week option from CBS in 1974 without a defined role. But a popular interview with reluctant Boston Celtics star Dave Cowens soon earned her a three-year deal and paved the way to her breakthrough role the next year on “The NFL Today.”

“Phyllis George was a great person and a true pioneer for women in television. The NFL could not have made a better “pick” when they choose Phyllis to be the first woman to represent them. Also, a wonderful First Lady of Kentucky,” President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter Sunday.

George moved on to co-host the “CBS Morning News” in 1985 but quit after less than eight months. Among the people she interviewed was former first lady Nancy Reagan. She later interviewed President Bill Clinton in 1994 as part of her own prime-time talk show.

As a businesswoman, George founded “Chicken By George,” an eight-item line of fresh, marinated chicken breast entrees, and sold it two years later to Geo. A. Hormel & Co. She created “Phyllis George Beauty” in 2003. The cosmetic and skincare product line was sold through a TV home shopping network.

She also wrote several other books and had roles in a pair of Hollywood comedy films.

“Phyllis is a pioneer. Her range is what impresses me the most,” former Kentucky and Louisville coach Rick Pitino, now at Iona, wrote in the forward to her memoir.

“She entered a highly competitive pageant and emerged as Miss America,” Pitino wrote. “She became the first national female sports broadcaster. She flourished in the limelight as First Lady in the state of Kentucky. She’s been successful in business. And she is a respected humanitarian. Each step along the way, she embraced the mission at hand.”

By Bruce Schreiner and John Raby