Monday Night Football
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- For the UK television programme, see Ford Monday Night Football.
Monday Night Football (MNF) is a live television broadcast of the National Football League. Originally airing on the ABC network from 1970 to 2005, Monday Night Football was the second longest running prime time show on American broadcast network television (after CBS's 60 Minutes) and one of the highest-rated, particularly among male viewers. ABC aired a total of 555 Monday night games.
On April 18, 2005, the NFL announced that Monday Night Football would be televised on ESPN in 2006, ending the 36-year run on ABC. ABC and ESPN are both owned by the Walt Disney Company.
Monday Night Football has enjoyed success throughout its 36-year run, with the NFL using the national spotlight as a way of rewarding the best teams and biggest stars from the previous season. However, that process has come under fire, due to late-season contests involving promising teams whose fortunes had declined during the course of the season. Two examples came during the 1981 season, when neither of that season's Super Bowl teams—the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals—had played on Monday night, and 1999, when the St. Louis Rams won the Super Bowl after not having appeared in a Monday night game during the year.
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. The most common Monday Night Football pairings are Denver vs. Oakland and Dallas vs. Washington, with each matchup having been televised 14 times.
During the early 1960s, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle envisioned the possibility of playing at least one game weekly during prime time for a greater TV audience. An early bid in 1964 to play on Friday nights was soundly defeated, with critics charging that such telecasts would damage the attendance at high school games. Undaunted, Rozelle decided to experiment with the concept of playing on Monday night, scheduling the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions for a game on September 28, 1964. While the game was not televised, it drew a sellout crowd of 59,203 to Tiger Stadium, the largest crowd ever to watch a professional football game in Detroit up to that point.
Two years later, Rozelle would build on this success as the NFL began a four-year experiment of playing on Monday night, scheduling one game in prime time on CBS during the 1966 and 1967 seasons, and two contests during each of the next two years. NBC followed suit in 1968 and 1969 with games involving AFL teams.
During subsequent negotiations on a television contract that would begin in 1970, Rozelle concentrated on signing a weekly Monday night deal with one of the three major networks. After sensing reluctance from both NBC and CBS in disturbing their regular programming schedules, Rozelle spoke with ABC.
Despite the network's status as the lowest-rated network, ABC was also reluctant to enter the risky venture. Only after Rozelle used the threat of signing with the independent Hughes Sports Network, an entity bankrolled by reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes, did ABC sign a contract for the scheduled games. Speculation was that had Rozelle signed with Hughes, many ABC affiliates would have pre-empted the network's Monday lineup in favor of the games, severely damaging potential ratings.
After the final contract for Monday Night Football was signed, ABC producer Roone Arledge immediately saw possibilities for the new show. Setting out to create an entertainment "spectacle" as much as a simple sports broadcast, Arledge hired Chet Forte, who would serve as director of the program for over 22 years. Arledge also ordered twice the usual number of cameras to cover the game, expanded the regular two-man broadcasting booth to three and used extensive graphic design within the show as well as "instant replay."
Looking for a lightning rod to garner attention, Arledge hired controversial 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. 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.
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. Advertisers were charged $65,000 per minute by ABC during the clash, a cost that proved to be a bargain when the contest collected 33 percent of the viewing audience.
One of the trademarks of Monday Night Football is a music cue used during the opening teasers of each program, a Johnny Pearson composition entitled "Heavy Action", originally theme music for the BBC's Superstars series. ABC had acquired the rights to Heavy Action specifically for Monday Night Football.
That success would continue over the course of the season, helping establish a phenomenon on Monday nights in the fall: Movie attendance dropped, bowling leagues shifted to Tuesday nights and a Seattle hospital established an unwritten rule of no births during games.
Cosell's presence initially caused Henry Ford II, chairman of the Ford Motor Company, the show's main sponsor, to ask for his removal. Cosell dodged another controversy when he appeared to be intoxicated on the air during the November 23 game between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles. Already under the weather, Cosell drank at a promotional party prior to the game, then ended up vomiting on Don Meredith's cowboy boots near the end of the first half. Jackson and Meredith ended up announcing the rest of the contest.
In 1971, ABC Sports president Roone Arledge dropped Jackson, who returned to broadcasting college football for ABC, in favor of Gifford. The former New York Giant had been an NFL announcer for CBS during the 1960s but never a play-by-play man prior to joining Monday Night Football. In that capacity for Monday Night Football from 1971-1985, Gifford was often criticized for his see-no-evil approach in regard to discussing the NFL, earning him the dubious nickname "Faultless Frank."
While the NFL's image was often spotless to Gifford, his own broadcasting mistakes often proved to be embarrassing. During the December 11, 1972 game between the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders, he confused a receiver with former Raider wideout Warren Wells, who had been arrested on charges of sexual misconduct. Then, on September 24, 1979, Gifford referred to Dallas Cowboys defensive back Dennis Thurman as Thurman Munson, who had been killed in a plane crash less than two months before. Gifford also had continual problems with Atlanta Falcons head coach Leeman Bennett's name, referring to him as "Leeman Beeman." Regardless, Gifford would have the longest tenure of any broadcaster on the show, lasting until 1998.
Cosell's abrasive personality gave him enough recognition to host a live ABC variety show in the fall of 1975. That show is remembered today only as a trivia question, as its title, "Saturday Night Live", prevented a new late-night sketch comedy program on NBC from using that title until the ABC show was cancelled. That seeming popularity was in contrast to the repeated criticisms in the media, as well as bar room contests in which winners were allowed to throw a brick through a television image of Cosell.
After beginning with critical acclaim, Meredith began to take his weekly assignments less seriously, while also beginning an acting career. By 1973, his motivation for the broadcasts seemed highly suspect, given incidents during a trio of contests. On October 16, Meredith was drinking during the Buffalo Bills-Kansas City Chiefs game, followed one week later by his pre-game analysis of the Denver Broncos-Oakland Raiders game: "We're in the Mile High City and I sure am," --a not-so-subtle reference to his use of marijuana at the time. Finally, during the Pittsburgh Steelers-Washington Redskins game on November 5, he referred to U.S. President Richard Nixon as "Tricky Dick."
Meredith would be absent from Monday Night Football for a broadcasting and acting career on rival NBC from 1974 through 1976. Fred Williamson, a former Kansas City Chiefs defensive back nicknamed "The Hammer" for his often-brutal hits, was selected by ABC to replace Meredith in 1974, but following a few pre-season broadcasts, proved so inarticulate that he was relieved of his duties prior to the start of the regular season, becoming the first MNF personality not to last an entire season. Williamson was replaced by fellow Gary, Indiana native Alex Karras, formerly of the Detroit Lions.
Karras made his debut on September 16, 1974 and immediately made an impact when he jokingly referred to Oakland Raiders' defensive lineman Otis Sistrunk as having attended "The University of Mars." That would essentially be the high point of Karras' three-year tenure, with a developing movie career often distracting Karras from showing any improvement.
Meredith returned to the ABC booth in 1977, but seemed to lack the enthusiasm that had marked his first stint from 1970-1973. While the NFL moved to a 16-week schedule in 1978, Meredith was only contractually obligated to work 14 games, leaving Cosell and Gifford to work games as a duo or with newly-retired Fran Tarkenton beginning in 1979.
From 1990 until 2005, ABC's MNF television package has included seventeen regular season games (from 1998 until 2005, a Thursday game and 16 Mondays -- no game on Week 17 because of playoff preparation disadvantages) , the first two wild card playoff games (held on the first Saturday of the playoffs), and at times, the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl.
One of the more somber contests in the run of the series came on November 27, 1978 when the San Francisco 49ers hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers. Earlier in the day, San Francisco mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk had been murdered at City Hall. Despite the complaints that followed, the NFL chose to play the game, a decision that mirrored the league's playing the weekend of the John F. Kennedy assassination 15 years earlier.
The opening contest of the 1979 season saw a poignant moment as former New England Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley was introduced to a sellout crowd at the Patriots' Schaefer Stadium. Stingley had been paralyzed in a preseason game the year before and was making his first visit to the stadium since the tragic accident.
One of the best remembered moments in Monday Night Football history occurred on December 8, 1980, yet had nothing to do with the game or football in general. During a game between the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots, Howard Cosell broke the news of famed Beatle John Lennon's murder, news that stunned a nationwide audience.
The 1982 television contract renewal also put ABC in the Super Bowl rotation for the first time, with Super Bowl XIX in 1985. A second renewal of the television contract gave them XXII in 1988.
Cosell continued to draw criticism during Monday Night Football with one of his offhand comments during the September 5, 1983 game igniting a controversy and laying the groundwork for his departure at the end of that season. In a game between the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys, Cosell referred to Alvin Garrett, an African American wide receiver for the Redskins, as a "little monkey." Cosell noted that Garrett's small stature, and not his race, was the basis for his comment, citing the fact that he had used to term to describe his grandchildren. In fact, a later special on Howard Cosell done by NFL Films soon after his death showed at least two occasions where he had called white players little monkey(s). Stung by the unrelenting barrage of remarks, Cosell claimed upon his departure from Monday Night Football 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 the Garrett episode.
That same year, O.J. Simpson replaced Tarkenton as a fill-in when Meredith or Cosell, who also was a broadcaster for Major League Baseball's playoffs, was unavailable. The season would serve as a study in contrasts as one of the most exciting Monday night games ever was followed the next week by one of the most badly-played in the run of the series. On October 17, 1983, the highest scoring game in Monday Night Football history took place in the Green Bay Packers/Washington Redskins game, with the Packers winning the game by a 48-47 score. Seven days later, the New York Giants and St. Louis Cardinals played for more than four hours before settling for a 20-20 tie. The deadlock had come after dropped touchdown passes by Cardinal wide receivers Willard Harrell and Roy Green and a trio of missed field goals by teammate Neil O'Donoghue, including two in the final 63 seconds of the overtime period.
When Cosell left prior to the start of the 1984, the trio of Gifford, Meredith and Simpson handled the duties. Cosell's departure seemed to have the greatest effect on Meredith, who many believed to be a poor analyst in his absence. Falling ratings also gave indications that much of the mystique that surrounded the weekly event had disappeared.
After the 1984 season, ABC replaced Meredith with Joe Namath the following year, with the quarterback making his debut in the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame Game. In a coincidental twist, both Namath and Simpson were busy prior to the telecast with their induction into the shrine.
One of the more grisly moments in Monday Night Football history occurred 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 him down and Taylor fell heavily on the quarterback’s leg in the process. On the play, which viewers could see in a gruesome slow-motion replay, Theismann suffered a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula in his lower right leg.
Two weeks after that painful memory, the series' most watched contest took place as the previously unbeaten Chicago Bears were defeated by the Miami Dolphins, who had not lost to an NFC team at home since 1976. That would turn out to be Chicago's only loss in 1985. The show gained a Nielsen rating of 29.6 with a 46 share.
Both Namath and Simpson would be replaced at the end of the 1985 NFL season, with critics noting their lack of journalistic and reportorial skills in comparison to Cosell. In their place the following year came veteran broadcaster Al Michaels, who had previously anchored ABC's pre-game coverage of Super Bowl XIX and was perhaps best known to that point as the play-by-play announcer of the "Miracle on Ice" game in the 1980 Winter Olympics.
Michaels served as the play-by-play announcer, teaming with Gifford for a two-man booth in 1986. During that season, the Miami Dolphins again made Monday night history with the biggest blowout in Monday Night Football history in a 45-3 rout of the New York Jets. (The record was later tied and subsequently broken in 2005; see below.) Also in 1986, when Al Michaels became unavailable due to him calling Major League Baseball's League Championship Series, Frank Gifford moved up into the play-by-play spot while Lynn Swann filled-in as the color commentator.
In 1987, Gifford and Michaels were joined by Dan Dierdorf, returning the series to its original concept of three announcers in the booth. The trio would last for 11 seasons through the conclusion of the 1997 season. Also in 1987, television composer Edd Kalehoff created a new arrangement of Johnny Pearson's "Heavy Action", by that time fully synonymous with the series. This more or less replaced an original composition by Charles Fox.
Monday Night Football
Along with the renewed television contract, ABC was awarded the telecast to Super Bowl XXV and Super Bowl XXIX, and the first round of NFL playoffs. The Monday Night Football team of announcers anchored the telecasts, except for the first of two Wild Card playoff games, where ESPN's Sunday Night NFL crew of Mike Patrick and Joe Theismann anchored that telecast. However, the original crew for one of the two Wild Card playoff games in 1990 and 1991 consisted of Brent Musburger and Dick Vermeil (both of whom did college football broadcasts for ABC during those two seasons).
The October 17, 1994 episode between the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos featured a duel between two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Joe Montana and John Elway. With 1:29 left to play in the game, Elway scored on a 4-yard touchdown run to put the Broncos ahead 28-24. But then Montana led the Chiefs on a 75-yard drive to score the game-winning touchdown with just 8 seconds to play. The final score was Chiefs 31, Broncos 28.
In 1997, ABC began using a scoring bug showing the game clock and score throughout the entire broadcast.
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-1970s, 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 pre-game 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 pre-game show.
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. Fox had begun using it first.
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. Esiason and Michaels reportedly never got along, and it led to ABC firing Esiason shortly after calling Super Bowl XXXIV together.
Unexpectedly, comedian Dennis Miller joined the cast in 2000 along with Dan Fouts. The move was ultimately regarded as a bust by many viewers and commentators. 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 sometimes obscure pop culture references.
Also in 2000, Don Ohlmeyer, the program's producer up until 1977 was brought back.  After spending time at NBC, Ohlmeyer was lured out of retirement to spark interest and provide some vigor to the broadcast. Besides the on-air talent, Ohlmeyer's changes included clips of players introducing themselves, new graphics, and music. In another rather irreverent move, the scoring bug was seen to have nicknames for the teams, such as "Skins" and "Fins" (for Redskins and Dolphins, respectively) instead of their common abbreviations, WSH and MIA, respectively.
On October 23, 2000, the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins competed in what is now known as The Monday Night Miracle. Trailing 30-7 in the fourth quarter, Vinny Testaverde led the Jets to score 23 unanswered points to tie the game. After Miami scored another touchdown, Testaverde threw to offensive tackle Jumbo Elliott to tie the game at 37-all. At 1:08 a.m., Tuesday morning, John Hall kicked a field goal in overtime to win the game 40-37. It was the second biggest fourth quarter comeback in NFL history and biggest comeback in Jets' history. Interestingly, Arnold Schwarzenegger predicted the comeback at halftime, where he was appearing with the MNF crew for an upcoming movie. With the Jets already down by 20 points he said, "Wayne Chrebet will catch a pass and the Jets will win. They're a great team."
The 2001 season of MNF featured a season-long campaign promoting the anticipated 20,000th point scored in MNF history. Broncos kicker Jason Elam completed the task with a field goal during a 38-28 loss at Oakland on November 5. The three points also put Elam over 1,000 points for his career.
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 2002, the broadcast debuted the mildly popular Horse Trailer award, in which a picture of the game's top performer(s) is displayed, as chosen by the broadcasting crew. During the fourth quarter of a preseason game early that season, Madden was joking about doing some recording in the "horse trailer", a term the producers used for one of the ABC production trucks. It was, in fact, a custom built trailer designed from the shell of a horse transporter, but inside housed sophisticated electronic equipment. By the first week of the regular season, an idea to decorate the plain white trailer with MNF decor, the entire MNF schedule, and a weekly MVP, was born. Immediately following each game, the winner(s) is chosen, and his picture is affixed to the trailer in the corresponding location.
Also, in 2002, the commentators for the AFC Wild Card game were Brent Musburger and Gary Danielson. Jack Arute was the sideline reporter.
After suffering through several years of dismal Pro Bowl ratings, ABC considered moving the game to Monday night. In February 2003, Madden declined to serve as color commentator for the game in Hawaii, citing his fear of flying; former MNF personality Dan Fouts took his place. The following year, the Pro Bowl remained on Sunday, but was moved to ABC's sister network, ESPN.
In 2003, ABC and the NFL dropped the Monday Night Football game for the final week of the regular season. The move, which had been in effect for the first eight years of the broadcast (1970-1977), was the result of declining ratings, as well as problems involved for potential playoff teams, as there was a potential of only four days between their final regular season game and first round playoff game. ABC replaced the telecast with an opening weekend Thursday night game, and in exchange ESPN got a Saturday night game on the final weekend.
Also during the 2003 season, 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, Tafoya sat out much of the season while on maternity leave. In Tafoya's place came Sam Ryan.
On the October 6, 2003, episode (between the Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Indianapolis was trailing 35-14 with 3:43 remaining. A Tampa Bay kickoff was returned 90 yards, setting up an Indianapolis score. The Colts recovered the onside kick and scored to narrow the margin to seven. They forced a Tampa Bay punt and with under two minutes remaining, Manning led an 87-yard scoring drive, and the Colts scored the game-tying touchdown with 35 seconds left. In overtime, kicker Mike Vanderjagt missed a forty yard field goal, but Simeon Rice was called for a leaping penalty, a rarely-seen infraction that penalizes a player for running and jumping to block a kick and landing on other players. Vanderjagt's subsequent kick was batted and hit the upright, but fell in good, winning the game for the Colts. Vanderjagt went on to become the first kicker in NFL history not to miss a kick attempt in a complete season, including the playoffs.
On December 22, 2003, Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre put on one of the most defining moments of his career (while also ranking among his greatest game ever). The day before the contest against the Oakland Raiders, his father, Irvin, died suddenly of a heart attack. Favre elected to play, passing for four touchdowns in the first half, and 399 yards for the game in a 41-7 destruction of the Raiders (receiving applause from the highly partisan "Raider Nation"). Afterwards, Brett said, "I knew that my dad would have wanted me to play. I love him so much and I love this game. It's meant a great deal to me, to my dad, to my family, and I didn't expect this kind of performance. But I know he was watching tonight."
On November 15, 2004, controversy shrouded Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens when he appeared with popular TV actress Nicollette Sheridan (of the new hit 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 below)
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.
Despite high ratings, ABC lost millions of dollars on televising the games during the late 1990s and 2000s. That, and the rise of ABC's ratings on Sunday night, and their wish of protecting their Desperate Housewives franchise (which they knew would be costly), resulted in the April 18, 2005 decision 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, a move some Disney shareholders have criticized.
The final ABC Monday Night broadcast was on December 26, when the New York Jets hosted the New England Patriots, from Giants Stadium. Eerily, both the first and last ABC Monday Night Football telecast games ended with a score of 31-21 with the Jets on the losing end. Vinny Testaverde holds the distinction of throwing the last TD pass in ABC's MNF telecast history; it was to wide receiver Laveranues Coles. Also, Testaverde's pass set an NFL record: most consecutive seasons with a touchdown pass, 19 seasons (1987-2005). Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel in the last ABC MNF broadcast on 26 December 2005 set a record of note, becoming the first player to catch 2 touchdown passes and record a quarterback sack in the same game. The final play of the ABC era was a Pats kneeldown by 44-year old reserve quarterback Doug Flutie. John Madden said at the show's ending "They can take football away from ABC on Monday nights, but they can't take away the memories."
In 2005, the Seattle Seahawks matched the record for MNF margin of victory, shutting out the hometown Philadelphia Eagles, 42-0. However, two weeks later, the penultimate broadcast for ABC saw the Baltimore Ravens establish a new benchmark in this department by defeating the Green Bay Packers, 48-3.
During its final NFL television contract, ABC was awarded the telecasts to Super Bowl XXXIV, Super Bowl XXXVII, and Super Bowl XL. With the end of ABC's contract, the Super Bowl XL broadcast was the network's final NFL telecast, at least for the foreseeable future.
Move to ESPN
Starting in 2006, ESPN will begin airing the Monday night games and NBC 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 nights now have the highest viewership 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 (like ABC) is a broadcast network, whereas ESPN is a cable service not freely available to all Americans, though any ESPN games will still air on free broadcast TV in the home markets of each team. 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 (with CBS and Fox also in the mix). Also, John Madden, key MNF production personnel, and most recently Al Michaels have all elected to join NBC for its broadcasts.
ESPN had initially stated that its MNF team would consist of Michaels and Joe Theismann in the booth with Michele Tafoya and Suzy Kolber serving as sideline reporters. However, on February 8, 2006, ESPN announced that Mike Tirico would replace Michaels in the booth in 2006, joined by Theismann and Tony Kornheiser. ESPN announced the following day that it had "traded" the contract of Michaels to NBC to join Madden on their Sunday Night Football broadcast in exchange to rights to some sports broadcast and other NBC Universal properties. In a related note, the "trade" also returned Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to ESPN parent The Walt Disney Company after nearly 80 years of Universal ownership. 
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 Vice President Spiro Agnew, singers Plácido Domingo and John Lennon, President Bill Clinton, and even Kermit the Frog were often featured during the game to "liven up" the broadcast. The November 26, 1973 contest featured a rare instance of two celebrities entering the booth, with Lennon being interviewed by Cosell and California Governor Ronald Reagan speaking with Gifford. 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. It was Williams who literally had the last word on ABC's last broadcast, with his rendition of Don Meredith's famous song, "Turn Out the Lights, The Party's Over," shown as the broadcast ended.
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?").
Scheduling oddities & notes
- 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 Seattle ABC affiliate then tried to accommodate having to show their news later than the other TV stations in the city by marketing it as KOMO 4 NEWS PRIMETIME saying it was a great way to watch the news at a more convenient time than evening rush hour.
- Additionally, this practice was done in Hawaii, where ABC affiliate KITV/Honolulu delayed the game until 6 p.m. locally, meaning either 11 p.m. or midnight eastern depending on which side of the daylight savings time date the game was played. Thusly, the game was almost over before it aired.
- In the case of Guam, KTGM, the ABC affiliate in that US territory, aired MNF live on Tuesdays at 11AM, which is due to Guam's being a day ahead of the United States.
- In September 2005, the New Orleans Saints vacated from the Louisiana Superdome in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, and were forced to move a scheduled Sunday afternoon home game against the New York Giants from New Orleans to Monday night at Giants Stadium. In a unique television doubleheader, the Saints-Giants game started at 7:30 p.m. Eastern and the first half aired on ABC; at 9 p.m. the game shifted to ESPN while ABC began its regularly-scheduled MNF game of the Washington Redskins visiting the Dallas Cowboys. ABC and ESPN interspersed both games with an on-air telethon to raise money for aid to the hurricane's victims. The last 2 minutes of the 2nd quarter and the entirety of the 2nd half were not seen in Canada, as TSN, the cable network that held the rights to ESPN NFL games, chose instead to air WWE wrestling, and ABC had switched to the start of the Dallas-Washington game.
- The MNF crew of Michaels, Gifford, and Dierdorf made a cameo appearance in the 1996 movie Jerry Maguire, during the fictional Monday Night Football game in the film.
- The first sponsor of MNF was Marlboro Cigarettes; this was before the FCC banned all cigarette commercials from television forever.
- As a coach, John Madden has the highest winning percentage (.740) in Monday Night Football history.
A complete list of broadcasters (many of whom were 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). Game announcers used in #2 games usually come from ESPN and are included for both wild card playoff games (1995-2005 except 2002-2003 season) and #2 games:
- Gary Bender (#2 play-by-play, 1987)
- Chris Berman (halftime host, 1996–1997 and during wild card playoffs and Super Bowls)
- Howard Cosell (color commentator, 1970–1983)
- Gary Danielson (color commentator for 2003 Wild Card Game)
- Eric Dickerson (sideline reporter, 2000–2001)
- Dan Dierdorf (color commentator, 1987–1998)
- Boomer Esiason (color commentator, 1998–1999)
- Dan Fouts (color commentator, 2000–2001)
- Frank Gifford (play-by-play (1971-1985), color commentator (1986-1997), host (1987-1997)
- Lisa Guerrero (sideline reporter, 2003)
- Keith Jackson (play-by-play, 1970; Super Bowl XXII host)
- Alex Karras (color commentator, 1974–1976)
- Peter King (studio analyst, 1995)
- Suzy Kolber (sideline reporter, Super Bowl XL)
- Jim Lampley (halftime and Super Bowl XIX co-host)
- John Madden (color commentator, 2002–2005)
- Paul Maguire (color commentator, 1998-2005, except 2002-2003 season/playoffs); wild card playoffs and #2 game)
- Don Meredith (color commentator 1970–1973, 1977–1984)
- Al Michaels (play-by-play, 1986-2005; Super Bowl XIX co-host)
- Dennis Miller (color commentator, 2000–2001)
- Brent Musburger (studio host, 1990-1995; play-by-play for wild card playoffs and #2 game, 1990-1995 and 2003 Wild Card Game)
- Joe Namath (color commentator, 1985)
- Mike Patrick (play-by-play, wild card playoffs and #2 game, 1995-2005,except 2002-2003 season/playoffs)
- Sam Ryan (sideline reporter, 2005)
- Robin Roberts (playoffs and Hurricane Katrina telethon co-host, 2005)
- O.J. Simpson (color commentator, 1983–1985)
- Melissa Stark (sideline reporter, 2000–2002)
- Lynn Swann (#2 color commentator, 1986-1987; sideline reporter, 1994–1997, Super Bowls)
- Michele Tafoya (sideline reporter, 2004-2005)
- Fran Tarkenton (color commentator, 1979–1982)
- Joe Theismann (color commentator, wild card playoffs and #2 game, 1995-2001 & 2003-2005; Super Bowl XIX analyst)
- Dick Vermeil (studio analyst during playoffs and Super Bowl, 1990-1995; wild card playoffs and #2 game analyst, 1990-1995)
- Lesley Visser (sideline reporter, 1998–1999 and during wild card playoffs and Super Bowl XXXIV; first female member of MNF)
- Fred Williamson (color commentator, 1974 - preseason only)
- Steve Young (studio analyst during playoffs and Super Bowl)
MNF on radio
Since its inception Monday Night Football has also been carried on national radio networks. The Mutual Broadcasting System aired the games initially, with Van Patrick (1970-1973) and Lindsey Nelson (1974-1977) announcing. CBS Radio (now Westwood One, which interestingly 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.
- Google Video Search channel:abc title:monday title:night title:live
- ESPN.com - NFL Index
- John Madden
- ESPN.com - NFL - 2005 ABC Sports' MNF schedule
-  John Madden's RSS (file format) feed, available during the NFL season
- Monday Night Mayhem (2002) (TV)
- Jump the Shark - Monday Night Football
- TWoP Forums -> Monday Night Football
- Though well-intentioned, "MNF's" Katrina telethon was poorly executed
- Monday Night Football Theme (1978 - 1988) (.mp3 format)
- Saying goodbye to Monday Night Football on ABC
- TV Theme - ABC, NFL - Are You Ready For Some Football.wav
- ABC Monday Night Football (1970) - 'Heavy Action' instrumental music
- ABC Monday Night Football (1989) - The long 'Heavy Action' instrumental version used when introducing the teams.
- 2 MNF opens (1996 & 2000)
- Gunther, Marc, and Bill Carter. (1988). Monday Night Mayhem: The Inside Story of ABC's Monday Night Football. New York, NY: Beech Tree Books. ISBN 0688075533
Visit the SBS home page at http://www.sbs-world.com to learn about SBS.