Monday Night Football is a weekly football game which takes place during the regular season of the NFL schedule. Monday Night Football started in 1970 and has continued to this day.
From 1970 to 2005, games were broadcast on ABC. From 2006 to the present, games are now broadcast on the cable sports network, ESPN. ESPN and ABC are both subsidiaries of the Disney Corporation.
Monday Night Football was the brainchild of former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle. Rozelle wanted an extra nationally-televised NFL broadcast every week, and he first tried to add the game on Friday night in 1964. This was defeated by proponents of high school football, so that the NFL never schedules games on Fridays (except in the preseason, which hardly counts).
NFL Football on Monday Night
From 1964 to 1969, Pete Rozelle began to experiment with games on monday night. After playing one game a year on that night, games which were broadcasts sometimes on CBS or NBC, Rozelle sought a contract for a weekly monday night football game in the 1970 television contract negotations. Leveraging a rumor that the NFL would sign with the (Howard) Hughes Sports Network, Rozelle received a contract from ABC, then the #3 network.
Monday Night Football on ABC
ABC broke with tradition in their Monday Night Football broadcasts. It allotted twice the number of cameras and added a third commentator in the broadcast booth. The play-by-play man in the first year was Keith Jackson (replaced by Frank Gifford in year two). The color analysts chosen were Howard Cossell and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback, Don Meredith.
The interactions and tensions between the erudite but pompous Cossell and the folksy Dandy Don Meredith proved to be instant and compelling, and Monday Night Football (sometimes shortened to MNF) became a fixture on Monday nights in American households. MNF was second to 60 Minutes as the longest-running program in prime time television history, while the games often set season records for viewership.
Over the years, the broadcast team has changed several times (including a three-year absence by Meredith in the 1970′s), and these changes have often been the source of controversy. Howard Cossell was replaced the season after his "watch that little monkey run" comment, made about an African-American player. Cossell’s defenders claimed he used the term "monkey" as a term of endearment for his grandchildren, and they pointed to his close ties with black athletes (such as Mohammed Ali) over the past couple of decades.
Whatever the case, Cossell was gone, and the search started for a combination that would match the excellence of the early years of MNF. That has never quite come to be.
Ex-players like Joe Namath, Frank Tarkenton, Lynn Swann and O.J. Simpson tried their hand in the booth during the 1980′s, though the longest-serving broadcast team after the original group was the Al Michaels, Frank Gifford and Dan Dierdorf combination of the late-eighties and 1990′s.
The Dennis Miller Years
After ratings began to sink, Gifford and Dierdorf were replaced by Boomer Esiason, but he was quickly replaced, too. The new team was Michaels, Dan Fouts and Dennis Miller, a comedian with no prior experience broadcasting sports. This two-year experiment was roundly panned by the sports media and continues to be ridiculed by fans today — (though I have to admit I kind of liked the group, and it seemed like Michaels and Fouts genuinely enjoyed the company of Dennis Miller.)
Madden and Michaels
To bolster ratings, ABC brought in the dream team of Al Michaels and John Madden, generally considered the best play-by-play and color analyst, respectively, in the business. Though providing the broadcast with several years of solid work, a two-man team seemed a little out of place in the Monday Night Football broadcast booth. The pairing came to an end with the move of Monday Night Football to ESPN.
The newest combination was Mike Tirico, Joe Theismann and Tony Kornheiser. This proved unpopular and Theismann was replaced by Ron Jaworski, which continues to be the Monday Night crew after one season together.
Monday Night Football Moments
Monday Night Football has provided many memorable moments over the years, including several controversial moments. During the show’s 500+ broadcasts, there have even been moments of tragedy, such as the night John Lennon was slain and much of America learned of the event from MNF, or the night Brett Favre played after the death of his father and had a 5-touchdown game.
There have been absurd moments, too, such as when Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones announced the signing of a major licensing contract with Nike, and paraded Nike CEO Phil Knight on the Cowboys sidelines during the Monday Night Football broadcasts. An embarrassing MNF moment happened was when a retired and aging Joe Namath appeared on the sidelines of a Jets game in what appeared to be an inebriated state, and began to "hit on" Suzy Kolber, the sideline reporter, at one point asking for a kiss.
After nearly 40 years of MNF broadcasts, Monday Night Football is an American institution, and is as much a part of the NFL weekend as the Sunday afternoon games. MNF remains a spectacle and a showcase for teams and players, some of whom might never get the chance to be seen on national television otherwise.