The year was 1970 and after much jockeying with the television networks, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle finally inked a deal with ABC to carry a weekly Monday night game during the upcoming NFL football season.
Looking for a lightning rod commentator to garner attention, ABC Sports Producer, Roone Arledge hired controversial (not to mention nasal) New York sports broadcaster Howard Cosell as a commentator, along with veteran football play-by-play man Keith Jackson. Arledge’s original choice for the third member of the trio, Frank Gifford, was unavailable since he was still under contract to CBS Sports. However, Gifford suggested former Dallas Cowboy quarterback Don Meredith, setting the stage for years of fireworks between the often-pompous Cosell and the laid-back Meredith. Gifford joined the trio the next season after his contract with CBS expired.
In addition to expanding the typical two-man broadcasting booth to three, Arledge also ordered twice the usual number of cameras to cover the game, and used extensive graphic design within the show as well as “instant replay” setting the stage for today’s video game-like quality of football broadcasting.
Though not technically the first NFL game to be played on a Monday night, the first branded Monday Night Football game first aired on ABC on September 21, 1970, with a game between the New York Jets and the Browns in Cleveland.
This game set the stage for 40 years and 627 Monday nights of good ol’ fashioned man time together in living rooms all across America. Living rooms weren’t the only places affected by the Monday Night Football phenomenon either. During that first season it has also been rumored that all across the land Monday night movie attendance dropped, bowling leagues shifted to Tuesday nights, and there are even some reports that a Seattle hospital established an unwritten rule of no births during Monday night games.
The Browns defeated the Jets, 31-21 in a game which featured a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by the Browns’ Homer Jones and was punctuated when Billy Andrews intercepted Joe Namath late in the fourth quarter and returned it 25 yards for the clinching touchdown.
Advertisers were charged $65,000 per minute by ABC during the clash, a cost that proved to be a bargain when the contest captured 33 percent of the viewing audience.
Here we are almost 40 years later and the glory, phenomenon, and spectacle that is Monday Night Football lives on, albeit on ESPN instead of ABC. In just five weeks from tonight, the Ravens and the Jets will kickoff the 627th Monday Night Football game. The next week the 49ers and the Saints will battle it out for the 40th Anniversary game. No doubt, ESPN will do something big for this one.
Fall must be around the corner because I have football on the brain — this is at least my third post in the last week to mention the pigskin projectile.
Are you ready for some football?