The American Broadcasting Corporation will no longer be broadcasting “Monday Night Football.” Tonight’s 31-21 Patriots win was the 555th and final broadcast of this sports institution as we know it. In 1970, Pete Rozelle, then commissioner of the league, strong-armed ABC to commit to showing football during primetime. Rozelle threatened to go with the Hughes Sports Network (as in Howard Hughes) and ABC feared its affiliates would pre-empt its shows for the games.
Although MNF seems as natural as breathing to us, at the time it was an innovative and risky venture. It is yet another example showing the NFL’s strategy to corner market share and make its product appointment television. The league had the plan, but it was ABC producer Roone Arledge had the flash. Another man before his time, Arledge founded the sports coverage vernacular of multiple cameras and instant replay that we still speak today.
I have countless memories of MNF, and many of them are colored by growing up many time zones away. Every NFL fan in Hawai‘i knows about “close your eyes time” on the 6:00 evening news. Rather than showing MNF at its actual time, the game would be shown on tape delay. The final score would be shown on the screen as the sportscaster would solemnly intone those magic words. I was permitted to stay up late, even into overtime, as long as I did not peek at the final score and spoil it for my dad.
How we loved MNF through all its incarnations, even when Fran Tarkenton, the bland former Vikings quarterback whose hair oddness rivaled that of Ted Koppel, was part of the team. I remember when Howard Cosell called Washington Redskins wide receiver Alvin Garrett a “little monkey” although at the time I didn’t understand racist undertones to that comment. Had Cosell’s sympathies lay closer to indigenous peoples or had he been more canny, he could have turned the tables on his criticizers by pointing out the name of Garrett’s team is as racist his comment.
By the time Dennis Miller took over as color man I was in college. For this I am thankful, since I rather enjoyed Miller’s shtick and my dad most decidedly did not.
Al Michaels has always been one of my favorite play-by-play men--congenial without being fawning, concise but never overwhelming his audience with detail, and ever the consummate professional. Since he began his career on O‘ahu by broadcasting Hawaii Islander games, he always pronounced Hawaiian words correctly, which I appreciated.
To be sure, ABC’s productions were becoming encumbered with the gewgaws that adorn rather than enrich. Rather than keeping with the tried and true, ABC tried to keep up with FOX and ESPN’s sports spectacles and surrendered some of its dignity in the process.
I shudder to think what the effects meisters at ESPN will do with the game. Thankfully, the season is much shorter than baseball’s. I may survive the season without being driven insane by Chris Berman’s inane nicknames since there are only sixteen weeks in the season.