(top) This Jan. 1972, photo provided by ABC, shows, from left, Don Meredith, Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford, the broadcast team of “Monday Night Football.” (the next nine photos) The very first Monday Night football game in Cleveland! Look at that hulk of a video camera! The Browns kept scoring, the fans loved it and Joe Namath left depressed. (the last three photos) This year’s MNF game saw the new Browns beating the Jets again!!! So, crank-up the sound and click here for what is probably the most iconic theme song for a show in American television history, “Heavy Action” written by British composer, Johnny Pearson. If you want a Monday Night Football music history lesson click HERE. You’ll hear the very first MNF theme music.
I think it’s imbedded in my brain – forever. The opening theme music to Monday Night Football. This past Monday, Cleveland fans enjoyed a real treat – seeing their beloved Brownies play …. and ready for it …. WIN – on Monday Night Football. They actually scored touchdowns that were not called back, made some nice running plays, threw a couple long passes and even sacked the opposing quarterback. (it’s been about 20 years since I’ve witnessed this). Some Steve trivia – did you know, the first Monday Night Football game was between Cleveland and the Jets … and Cleveland won, beating the famous Broadway Joe Namath – remember Homer Jones and Billy Andrews? As I reflect back, I don’t remember a time when MNF wasn’t a part of my Fall ritual. So, I jumped online and dug up some fun information and trivia for you on how it got started (talk about solving a PIA (Pain In The @%$) Job! Can you believe it – it’s been on TV for almost 50 years – Wow. Special thanks to Wikipedia for the “early days” insights. (see how many guys from the shows you remember). My Browns will be on MNF and SNF a few times this Fall – go Baker and OBJ – IT’S ABOUT @$%$&%^%$@^%$ TIME!!!!!!!!!!! GO BROWNS!
- During the early 1960s, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle envisioned the possibility of playing at least one game weekly during prime time that could be viewed by a greater television audience. An early bid by the league in 1964 to play on Friday nights was soundly defeated, with critics charging that such telecasts would damage the attendance at high school footballgames. 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 spectators 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 1967seasons, and two contests during each of the next two years. NBC followed suit in 1968 and 1969 with games involving American Football League teams.
- During subsequent negotiations on a new television contract that would begin in 1970 (coinciding with a merger between the NFL and AFL), 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 at the time as the lowest-rated of the three major broadcast networks, ABC was also reluctant to enter the risky venture. It was only after Rozelle used the threat of signing a deal with the independent Hughes Sports Network, an entity bankrolled by reclusive businessman 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 Sports producer Roone Arledge immediately saw possibilities for the new program. 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 City sportscaster Howard Cosell as a commentator, along with veteran football play-by-play announcer Keith Jackson. Arledge had tried to lure Curt Gowdy and then Vin Scully to ABC for the MNF play-by-play role, but settled for Jackson after they proved unable to break their respective existing contracts with NBC Sports and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Jack Buck was also considered, but when Arledge assistant Chuck Howard telephoned Buck with the job offer, Buck refused to respond due to anger at his treatment by ABC during an earlier stint with the network. 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 Cowboys 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 game between the New York Jets and the Browns in Cleveland. Advertisers were charged US$65,000 per minute by ABC during the clash, a cost that proved to be a bargain when the contest collected 33% of the viewing audience. 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 to open the second half, and was punctuated when Billy Andrewsintercepted Joe Namath late in the fourth quarter and returned it 25 yards for the clinching touchdown. However, Cleveland viewers saw different programming on WEWS-TV, because of the NFL’s blackout rules of the time (this would apply for all games through the end of the 1972 season; beginning in 1973, home games could be televised if tickets were sold out 72 hours before kickoff).
- One of the trademarks of Monday Night Football is a music cue used during the opening teasers of each program, a Johnny Pearson-composition titled “Heavy Action”, originally a KPM production library cue (and also used as the theme music for the BBC program Superstars), which MNF began using in 1975.
- 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 program’s main sponsor, to ask for his removal. ABC refused, and Ford had a change of heart once the show’s ratings were made public.
- In 1971, Frank Gifford became available after his contract with CBS Sports concluded; Arledge brought him to ABC to serve as play-by-play announcer, replacing Jackson (who returned to broadcasting college football for the network, which he continued to do for the next 35 seasons). The former New York Giant had been an NFL analyst for CBS during the 1960s but had never called play-by-play prior to joining Monday Night Football. In that capacity for Monday Night Football from 1971 to 1985, Gifford was often criticized for his see-no-evil approach in regard to discussing the NFL, earning him the dubious nickname “Faultless Frank.” 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 variety show on ABC 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 canceled. 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.
- ABC Broadcast teams: Play-by-play announcers: Keith Jackson (1970),Frank Gifford (1971–1985),Al Michaels (1986–2005,Gary Bender (1987),Mike Patrick (1997 and 2005) Color commentators: Howard Cosell (1970–1983),Don Meredith (1970–1973, 1977–1984), Fred Williamson (1974), Alex Karras (1974–1976),Fran Tarkenton (1979–1982), O. J. Simpson (1983–1985),Joe Namath (1985),Frank Gifford (1986–1997),Dan Dierdorf (1987–1998),Lynn Swann (1987),Joe Theismann (1997 and 2005), Dan Fouts (2000–2001),Boomer Esiason (1998–1999), Dennis Miller (2000–2001),John Madden (2002–2005), Paul Maguire (2005)
- Monday Night Football moved to ESPN in 2006 – for its debut on ESPN, (see trailer link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01hLEJ7sn44) Hank Williams, Jr. re-recorded the MNF opening theme with an all-star jam band that included among others Brian Setzer, Little Richard, Questlove, Joe Perry, Clarence Clemons, Rick Nielsen, Bootsy Collins, Charlie Daniels and Steven Van Zandt.