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Monday Night Football

By Wikipedia

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 on Monday nights during the NFL season, and is one of the most popular shows on American television. 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.


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. Over the course of the television program's history, the NFL's elite franchises have become the staple of Monday Night Football. Franchises with the most appearances on the television show include the Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys, Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, Chicago Bears, and Miami Dolphins. Early in the programs history the Oakland Raiders dominated in game appearances. In recent history, (from 1996-2006) no team has played on Monday Night Football more than the Green Bay Packers, an astonishing 27 times.

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).

There have been occasions when two Monday night games were played simultaneously; this scenario would most commonly arise in October where an NFL team's home stadium is also used by the same city's baseball team, and the latter had reached the playoffs or World Series, forcing what was to have been a Sunday afternoon football game to be moved to Monday night; in these cases, the game so moved would be televised only in the market of the game's visiting team (and also in that of the home team provided the game sold out), with the rest of the nation's viewers watching the originally-scheduled Monday night game for that week.


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 physically 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, confused teams. On one occasion, 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.

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.


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.

Howard Cosell also drew criticism during one Monday Night Football telecast in September of 1983, for referring 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 particular 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. Don Meredith's jokes arguably seemed bland because there was no Cosell there to balance him out. Meredith was subsequently exposed that season as a poor analyst because there was no Cosell to set him up. So after the 1984 season, ABC dumped Don Meredith. Joe Namath joined O.J. Simpson and Frank Gifford in the booth for the 1985 season of Monday Night Football, but Namath in particular, never seemed to be comfortable, or particularly talented, in this role.

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 20, 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 Theismann's leg in the process. On the play, Theismann suffered a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula in his lower right leg.

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 was replaced amid an extra-marital affair.


In 1998, former CBS commentator Lesley Visser replaced Hall of Famer Lynn Swann as the sideline reporter, in an apparent attempt to have a young, attractive female on camera for better popularity among men. Visser was the first of several women added as sideline reporters. Several were perceived, fairly or unfairly, to have been added as "eye candy" for the male audience.

For the 1998 season, ABC pushed Monday Night Football back an hour (it has usually aired at 9:00 p.m. EST). A special pre-game show that was hosted by Chris Berman from the ESPN Zone in Baltimore was created. Despite leaving the booth, Frank Gifford stayed on one more year as a special contributor to the pre-game 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 moment occurred in on the final Monday night game of the 1998 season (between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers on December 28) when Al Michaels said, "No shit" in response to a question posed by Dan Dierdorf about Buffalo Bills quarterback Doug Flutie. Dierdorf said to Michaels about the halftime interview with Doug Flutie, "Are you gonna tell 'em how you're sick of all this B.C. stuff?" It turned out that Michaels thought that a commercial break was going on and that his microphone was turned off.

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.


Unexpectedly, comedian Dennis Miller joined the cast in 2000 along with Dan Fouts. The move was a ultimately a bust. ABC briefly considered adding conservative media member 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.

The T.O. / Sheridan of Desperate Housewives fame skit involved her flashing Owens which was designed to be talked about in the media and which was.

On November 15, 2004, controversy shrouded Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver 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 picture right) 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). Apparently some found the amusing skit troubling, despite all the violence, Viagra ads and alcohol commercials that accompanied it. 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.

Despite high ratings, ABC lost millions of dollars on televising the games during the late 1990s and 2000s. That is why, 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.

ESPN and NBC Sports, which will begin airing Sunday night games at the same time, have each staked a claim to their package being the rightful descendant of the ABC version of MNF as the league's "showcase" game, NBC's chief argument being that it is a broadcast network as is ABC, whereas ESPN is a cable service not freely available to all Americans.

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, 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).

The program's affiliation with ABC also resulted in numerous crossovers between MNF and other ABC programs, which is why ABC put up with perceived losses in carrying MNF and why NBC was happy to snap the franchise up. Casts of various ABC series such as Alias often appeared in specially produced skits made to introduce various broadcasts.

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.

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):

  • Chris Berman (halftime host, 1996–1997 and during wild card playoffs and Super Bowls)
  • Howard Cosell (1970–1983)
  • Eric Dickerson (sideline reporter, 2000–2001)
  • Dan Dierdorf (1987–1998)
  • Boomer Esiason (1998–1999)
  • Dan Fouts (2000–2001)
  • Frank Gifford (1971–1997)
  • Lisa Guerrero (sideline reporter, 2003)
  • Keith Jackson (1970)
  • Alex Karras (1974–1976)
  • Suzy Kolber (sideline reporter, 2006- )
  • John Madden (2002–2006)
  • Don Meredith (1970–1973, 1977–1984)
  • Al Michaels (1986–present)
  • Dennis Miller (2000–2001)
  • Joe Namath (1985)
  • O.J. Simpson (1983–1985)
  • Melissa Stark (sideline reporter, 2000–2002)
  • Lynn Swann (sideline reporter, 1994–1997)
  • Michele Tafoya (sideline reporter, 2004-present)
  • Fran Tarkenton (1979–1982)
  • Lesley Visser (sideline reporter, 1998–1999)
  • Fred Williamson (1974)


Share Your Memories In Our Forums!

Check out our Monday Night Football forum! Do you have a favorite episode of the show? What do you remember about the series? Do you have any questions about it or its stars? Now you can post comments and questions directly to our TV forums! Click here to see what other Monday Night Football viewers have said or to post your own comments about the show!

Your Memories Shared!

Howard Cosell!!! Who could forget the intro sound and his voice announcing the game of the evening, "Can they beat the Jets, that will be determined here tonight!" Love it!


Note: This is just a random sample of the Monday Night Football messages in our TV forums! Click here to see what others have said or to post your own comments!



Aired: 1970-

Cast: Howard Cosell, Don Meredith, Frank Gifford

Network: ABC

Genre: Sports

Theme song

Image courtesy of ABC

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