Monday Night Football

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File:Stamp-us-monday-night-football.jpg
Commemorative Monday Night Football U.S. postage stamp

Monday Night Football is a television broadcast of one of the premier National Football League games of the week. It airs live on the ABC television network in the United States on Monday nights during the NFL season, and is one of the most popular shows on American television, particularly among men. Monday Night Football (often informally abbreviated as MNF) is currently the second-longest-running prime time show on American television, after CBS's 60 Minutes.

On April 18, 2005, the ESPN cable network signed a deal to televise Monday Night Football beginning with the 2006 season, thereby ending the NFL's 36-year partnership with ABC.

History

By 1968, the NFL was becoming very popular in the United States as a broadcast television sport. Games were and still are mainly played on Sunday afternoons. Then-Commissioner of the NFL, Pete Rozelle, began to envision the possibility of playing at least one game during prime time for a greater TV audience, and approached both the CBS and NBC TV networks with the idea. Both networks rejected it, as they already had successful prime time programming in place. (Reportedly, NBC turned down the idea when comedian and talk-show host Johnny Carson became incensed that a football game, if it lasted longer than the allotted three hours, would pre-empt a portion of his popular show, The Tonight Show). Even so, a few Monday night games were actually played in 1969, but were only telecast locally; that is, to the market of the visiting team (all home games were "blacked out" until a federal law was passed in 1971 permitting such games to be broadcast so long as all tickets to the game had sold out; the change took effect the following year).

As there were three major networks at the time, this left only ABC, where producer Roone Arledge immediately saw possibilities for the new show. Arledge set out to create an entertainment "spectacle" as much as a simple sports broadcast. Chet Forte, the director of the program for over 22 years, ordered twice the usual number of cameras to cover the game. He created the "color man" position and used graphic design within the show as well as "instant replay". The controversial and idiosyncratic sports broadcaster Howard Cosell commented on the action, along with veteran football commentator Keith Jackson and former player Don Meredith. Monday Night Football first aired on ABC on September 21, 1970, with a match between the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns, in Cleveland, Ohio.

The show has run ever since, and the NFL has obliged by scheduling its best teams and biggest stars for that night, so as to gain maximum exposure; however, the league has sometimes been criticized for reflexively excluding teams that had finished near the bottom of the previous season's standings from the Monday night schedule; examples include the 1981 season, neither of whose two Super Bowl teams—the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals—had played on Monday night that year, and 1999, when the St. Louis Rams won the Super Bowl after not having appeared in a Monday night game during that regular season.

Franchises with the most Monday night appearances include the Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys, Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, and Miami Dolphins.

Often, the previous year's Super Bowl champion will be scheduled to play in the first Monday night game of the season, usually at home—although in 2003 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who had won the Super Bowl the season before, were made to open their season on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles, in what was the first regular-season game ever played at Lincoln Financial Field. (The Buccaneers nevertheless won the game, 17-0).

In 2003, ABC and the NFL dropped the Monday Night Football game for the final week of the regular season. Teams and players had for years been concerned about playing in that game, considering they might have to play in the wild card playoffs only five days later. In order to give all teams fair rest time before the playoffs, the Week 17 Monday game was dropped, and ABC replaced the missing telecast with an opening weekend Thursday night game, in exchange for a Saturday night game on ESPN.

In the 2001 season, the final two MNF games fell on Christmas Day and New Year's Day. The NFL and ABC reacted by moving the two games up two days, and playing them on two consecutive Saturday nights instead. Of course, they were the last 2 games until the events of 9/11 pushed the Week 2 games to the weekend of January 6-7, 2002.

Historically, ABC's MNF television package has included seventeen regular season games, the first two wild card playoff games (held on the first Saturday of the playoffs), and the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl. After suffering through several years of dismal Pro Bowl ratings, ABC considered moving the game to Monday night. In February 2003, John Madden was unable to commentate the game in Hawaii, due to his fear of flying. Former MNF personality Dan Fouts took his place for the day. The Pro Bowl remained on Sunday, and instead, beginning in February 2004, it was moved to ESPN.

1970s

In 1971, seeking even more star power than he already possessed, ABC Sports president Roone Arledge dropped Keith Jackson, who returned to broadcasting college football for ABC, in favor of the more attractive ex-New York Giant star Frank Gifford. Gifford had been an NFL announcer for CBS during the 1960s but never a play-by-play man prior to joining Monday Night Football. Over the course of his 15+ year stint as the play-by-play man for Monday Night Football, Gifford constantly bungled names, got the score wrong, and confused teams. On one occassion, Gifford confused a player who had scored a touchdown with another former player who had died a couple of years earlier. On another, he mistakenly identified a player with another former player who was arrested on charges of sexual misconduct (former Oakland Raiders receiver Warren Wells). Regardless, Frank Gifford, who left the program in 1998, began the longest tenure of any broadcaster on the show.

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Frank Gifford (portrayed by Kevin Anderson), Howard Cosell (portrayed by John Turturro), and Don Meredith (portrayed by Brad Beyer)

From 1974 through 1976, Don Meredith was absent from Monday Night Football for a broadcasting career on rival NBC and to pursue an acting career. In 1974, Fred Williamson was selected by ABC to replace Meredith. Williamson was used on a few pre-season broadcasts, but proved so inarticulate that he was relieved of his duties at the beginning of the regular season, becoming the first MNF personality not to endure for the entire season. Williamson was soon replaced by fellow Gary, Indiana native Alex Karras.

1980s

One of the most memorable moments in Monday Night Football history occurred on December 8, 1980. During a game between the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots, Howard Cosell broke the news of famed Beatle John Lennon's murder[1].

Howard Cosell also drew criticism during one Monday Night Football telecast in September 1983, for refering to Alvin Garrett, an African American wide receiver for the Washington Redskins, as a "little monkey." Cosell left Monday Night Football shortly before the start of the 1984 NFL season, claiming that the NFL had "become a stagnant bore." In Cosell's book, I Never Played the Game, he devoted an entire chapter ("Monkey Business") to that particlar episode. Cosell claimed that it was an innocent ad-lib, and he stated that he even called his grandchildren "little monkeys" when he played with them.

In Monday Night Football's first year without Howard Cosell, Don Meredith teamed with Frank Gifford and O. J. Simpson. Cosell's departure seemed to have the greatest effect on Meredith, who many believed to be a poor analyst in his absence. After the 1984 season, ABC replaced Meredith with Joe Namath for the 1985 season, but Namath would be replaced after only one season.

In 1986, Al Michaels, who had previously anchored ABC's pre-game coverage of Super Bowl XIX, took over for Frank Gifford as the play-by-play announcer. Gifford was bumped to the color commentator spot for one season before him and Michaels were joined by Dan Dierdorf. The trio of Al Michaels, Dan Dierdorf, and Frank Gifford lasted until the 1997 season, when Gifford left the show amid a controversy regarding an extra-marital affair.

The most watched episode occurred on December 2, 1985, as the previously unbeaten Chicago Bears were defeated at Miami by the Dolphins, who had not lost to an NFC team at home since 1976. The show gained a Nielsen rating of 29.6 with a 46 share. The highest scoring game in Monday Night Football history was a Green Bay Packers/Washington Redskins game from 1983. Green Bay won the game 48-47 with both teams combining for 95 points. The biggest blowout in Monday Night Football history was a 1986 Miami Dolphins/New York Jets game with Miami winning 45-3.

One of the most infamous and horrific moments in Monday Night Football history occurred on during a game between the Washington Redskins and New York Giants on November 18, 1985, at RFK Stadium. Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann's career would end when Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor reached from behind to drag down Theismann and fell heavily on The Quarterback’s leg in the process. On the play, Theismann suffered a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula in his lower right leg[2].

After two decades of rotating soley between CBS and NBC, the Super Bowl began to be included with ABC's Monday Night Football contract. ABC was awarded the rights to Super Bowl XIX and Super Bowl XXII. The regular Monday Night Football announcing team would anchor the telecast.

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Monday Night Football pinball game

1990s

In 1998, Lesley Visser became the first woman on Monday Night Football. She had been the first female beat writer in the NFL when she covered the New England Patriots for the Boston Globe in the mid-70's, and was the first and only woman to handle a Super Bowl presentation when she was a sportscaster with CBS. Visser was followed by several women on the sideline who were perceived as "eye candy," none of whom affected the ratings.

For the 1998 season, ABC pushed Monday Night Football back an hour (it has usually aired at 9:00 p.m. EST). A special pregame show that was hosted by Chris Berman from the ESPN Zone restaurant in Baltimore was created. The game would start around 8:20 p.m. for this particular season. Despite leaving the booth, Frank Gifford stayed on one more year as a special contributor to the pregame show. Boomer Esiason replaced Gifford in 1998, and Dierdorf left for a return to CBS in 1999. Esiason's relationship with Michaels was questioned leading to his firing.

A mildly infamous incident came during the final 1998 telecast when Dierdorf asked Michaels, prior to a halftime interview with Buffalo Bills quarterback Doug Flutie, "Are you gonna tell 'em how you're sick of all this B.C. stuff?" Michaels (thinking that they had gone into a commercial break and that his microphone was off) replied, "No shit."

Nielsen numbers for the first 17 weeks of the 1998 TV season showed that Monday Night Football averaged a 13.9 rating. That's down 8 percent from 1997's 15.0--the previous standard in ratings futility. In actuality, MNF ratings had been hitting all-time record lows for the previous four years.

Beginning in 1999, Monday Night Football telecasts used a computer-generated yellow line to mark where a team needs to get a first down.

Along with the renewed television contract, ABC was awarded the telecast to Super Bowl XXV and Super Bowl XXIX. The Monday Night Football team of announcers anchored the telecasts.

2000s

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Al Michaels and John Madden

Unexpectedly, comedian Dennis Miller joined the cast in 2000 along with Dan Fouts. The move was ultimately a bust. ABC briefly considered adding popular political commentator Rush Limbaugh before Miller was added to the broadcast team, despite having no prior sports broadcast experience. Miller demonstrated a knowledge of the game and its personalities, although at times he tended to lapse into sometimes obscure analogy-riddled streams of consciousness similar to his "rants." ABC ultimately ended up setting up a Web page dedicated to explaining Miller's many obscure (and not-so-obscure) pop culture references.

In 2002, both Dennis Miller and Dan Fouts were dropped and John Madden joined Al Michaels in a two man booth, which is arguably one of the most successful of all time. Madden was a former coach for the Oakland Raiders, namesake of the seminal Madden NFL video game series, and successful broadcaster with the CBS and Fox networks for 21 years before joining Monday Night Football.

In 2003, Lisa Guerrero decided to leave Fox's The Best Damn Sports Show Period to join the MNF television crew as a sideline reporter (replacing the pregnant Melissa Stark). Guerrero's performance on the broadcast was heavily criticized, and the following year (also in an apparent move to away from the "eye candy" concept) ABC replaced her with longtime TV sports journalist Michele Tafoya. In 2005, Michele Tafoya sat out much of the season due her being on maternity leave. In Tafoya's place came Sam Ryan.

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Still from the controversial Desperate Housewives pregame skit

On November 15, 2004, controversy shrouded Philadelphia Eagles wide receiever Terrell Owens when he appeared with popular TV actress Nicolette Sheridan (of the new ABC series Desperate Housewives) in an introductory skit which opened that evening's MNF telecast, in which Owens and the Eagles played the Cowboys at Texas Stadium. The skit was widely condemned as being sexually suggestive (see video [3]) and ABC was forced to apologize for airing it (the Eagles went on to win the game, 49-21, with Owens catching three touchdown passes). However, on March 14, 2005, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that the skit did not violate decency standards, because it contained no outright nudity or foul language. The skit was parodied by the WWE's Shelton Benjamin and Trish Stratus on Monday Night RAW the following week.

Despite high ratings, ABC lost millions of dollars on televising the games during the late 1990s and 2000s. Hence, on April 18, 2005, it was announced that ABC and the NFL had decided to end their 36-year partnership, with Monday Night Football being aired on ESPN starting with the 2006 season. Later in 2005, ESPN announced that its MNF team would consist of Al Michaels and Joe Theismann in the booth with Michele Tafoya and Suzy Kolber serving as sideline reporters.

Starting in 2006, ESPN will begin airing the Monday night games and NBC Sports will get ESPN's Sunday night package. The NFL's decision to swap the nights games are on cable and network TV is because Sunday has become the prime night for TV ratings. Sunday nights on television are the best of any night of the week. ABC decided to stay with its successful prime-time package of shows, headlined by Desperate Housewives, leaving NBC with the Sunday night package. The Sunday night game now will be the "showcase" game of the week on the NFL schedule.

While the ESPN broadcasts will have the MNF name and heritage, NBC is a broadcast network as is ABC, whereas ESPN is a cable service not freely available to all Americans. For that reason, NBC, not ESPN, will gain rights to the wild-card doubleheader that has traditionally aired on ABC, as well as a share of the rotating rights to the Super Bowl. Also, John Madden has elected to join NBC for its broadcasts, despite the success of the Michaels-Madden pairing.

After initially renewing their NFL television contract, ABC was awarded the telecasts to Super Bowl XXXIV, Super Bowl XXXVII, and Super Bowl XL. Due to the end of ABC's contract with the NFL, the Super Bowl XL broadcast will be the network's final NFL telecast (at least for the foreseeable future).

The show as entertainment

Monday Night Football has continued to provide as much entertainment as sports throughout its run. In addition to the extra cameras, the show has also pioneered technological broadcast innovations, such as the use of enhanced slow motion replays and computerized graphics, such as a first down marker superimposed onto the field during play.

Celebrity guests, such as Plácido Domingo, John Lennon (whose murder was ironically announced on MNF), President Bill Clinton, and even Kermit the Frog were often featured during the game to "liven up" the broadcast. However, the late 1990s and early 2000s saw an even more increased reliance on the entertainment factor. Some halftime shows, featuring popular music stars, were broadcast in full rather than being ignored in favor of analysis of the game by the commentators, as in previous seasons. Country music star Hank Williams, Jr. (who sang the memorable catchprase "Are you ready for some football?") composed a music video–style opening theme for the show (a later theme was provided by Kid Rock).

Before Hank Williams, Jr.; Edd Kalehoff revamped the "Heavy Action" theme song in 1989.

The program's affiliation with ABC has also resulted in numerous promotional crossovers between MNF and other ABC programs. Casts of various ABC series such as Alias often appeared in specially produced skits made to introduce various broadcasts (often ending with the stars asking "Are you ready for some football?").

Yet at the heart of the program is the game itself, and the "game" has produced dramatic moments that rival that of any scripted television program. For example, Joe Montana tossing a game winning touchdown to the right front corner of the end zone playing his last years with the Kansas City Chiefs. Or even greater, Green Bay Packer quarterback Brett Favre's heart felt performance on December 22, 2003, a day after the untimely death of his father from a heart attack. Favre led the Packers to a 41-7 victory over the Oakland Raiders passing for 399 yards and 4 touchdowns. Favre, already one of the games all-time greats, that night became a legend in front of a national television audience on Monday Night Football. These moments remain indicative of the essence of Monday Night Football as a television product and further as a significant piece of the national entertainment fabric and sports culture; entertainment and cultural impact only Roone Arledge foresaw.

Scheduling oddities

  • Prior to 1978, there would be one "bye week" per season in which no Monday night game would be scheduled or televised.
  • For a time in the 1980s, ABC also aired occasional games on Thursday nights. These were billed by the network as "Thursday Night Editions of Monday Night Football."
  • From 1970 to 1995, ABC affiliates in Seattle and Portland aired MNF games on a one-hour tape delay in order to accommodate local newscasts (unless the Seattle Seahawks were playing, in which case the game would be shown live). The practice, long opposed by viewers and ABC, was ended in 1996.

The commentators

A complete list of broadcasters (many of whom are ex-NFL players), with their period of tenure on the show (beginning years of each season shown, as the NFL season ends in the calendar year after it begins):

Graphical chart of just the announcers (1970-2005)

MNF on radio

Since its inception Monday Night Football has also been carried on national radio networks. The Mutual Broadcasting System aired the games from 1970-1977; CBS Radio (now Westwood One, who ironically would absorb Mutual) took over in 1978 with Jack Buck and Hank Stram commentating. In 1995, Howard David and Matt Millen replaced Buck and Stram. Marv Albert and Boomer Esiason have been the MNF radio voices since 2002.

See also

  1. The NFL on CBS
  2. The NFL on FOX
  3. The NFL on NBC
  4. Monday Night Football: Series By Series History

External links

  1. Google Video Search channel:abc title:monday title:night title:live
  2. ESPN.com - NFL Index
    1. ABCSports.com
    2. John Madden
    3. ESPN.com - NFL - 2005 ABC Sports' MNF schedule
    4. [4] John Madden's RSS (file format) feed, available during the NFL season
  3. Monday Night Mayhem (2002) (TV)
  4. Jump the Shark - Monday Night Football
  5. TWoP Forums -> Monday Night Football
  6. Though well-intentioned, "MNF's" Katrina telethon was poorly executed
  7. Original Monday Night Football Theme (.mp3 format)

Resources

  1. Gunther, Marc, and Bill Carter. Monday Night Mayhem: The Inside Story of ABC's Monday Night Football. New York, NY: Beech Tree Books, 1988. (ISBN 0688075533)