The List: Top 10 ‘Monday Night Football’ facts

This Jan. 1972 photo shows from left, Don Meredith, Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford, the broadcasting team for Monday Night Football. (Courtesy ABC)This Jan. 1972 photo shows from left, Don Meredith, Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford, the broadcasting team for Monday Night Football. (Courtesy ABC)

On Monday, Sept. 9, the Washington Redskins host the Philadelphia Eagles on ESPN. In honor of the 44th anniversary of “Monday Night Football,” The List looks back at this venerable prime-time sports institution. Are you ready for some football?

  • 10. In the beginning — In 1969, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle approached ABC, CBS, and NBC with the idea of broadcasting an NFL game on Monday nights in prime time. NBC and CBS passed on the idea because they did not think it would have wide-ranging appeal, but Roone Arledge, the president of ABC Sports, agreed to Rozelle’s plan. The first “Monday Night Football” game was played Sept. 21, 1970, at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium. The Cleveland Browns defeated the New York Jets 31-21.
  • 9. Switching channels — In 2006, after 36 seasons with ABC, “Monday Night Football” moved to ESPN. While the jump to cable TV was a bit of a shock, the game stayed in the family, as both ABC and ESPN are owned by the Walt Disney Co.
  • 8. A bad break — On Nov. 18, 1985, in the second quarter of a game between the New York Giants and Washington Redskins at RFK Stadium, Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor tackled Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann, breaking Theismann’s right leg. Theismann’s tibia snapped in two, with one end protruding from the skin. This gruesome injury ended Theismann’s career and in an ESPN poll was considered the most shocking moment in NFL history.
  • 7. Not quite perfect — The Miami Dolphins beat the previously undefeated Chicago Bears 38-24 on Dec. 2, 1985, at the Orange Bowl in Miami. This was the only loss for Chicago in 1985, which finished the season 18-1 and ultimately won the Super Bowl 46-10 over the New England Patriots. With a Nielsen rating of 29.6 and a 46 share, this game was the highest-rated game in “Monday Night Football” history.
  • 6. Ending a lockout — The conclusion of the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers “Monday Night Football” game on Sept. 24, 2012, at Century Link Field in Seattle helped end the lockout of NFL referees. On the final play of the game, replacement referees gave Seattle a disputed touchdown and the victory, 14-12. The resulting national outrage over the call caused the NFL and the referees to come to an agreement. The regular referees were back on the field the next week.
  • 5. Throwing in the towel — In a teaser before the Nov. 15, 2004, “Monday Night Football” game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys, “Desperate Housewives” actress Nicolette Sheridan appears in the Philadelphia locker room wearing only a towel. She approaches Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens and, after some flirting, drops the towel and jumps into his arms. While the eyebrow-raising skit caused some controversy, the Federal Communications Commission unanimously decided that it did not violate decency laws.
  • 4. Breaking the news — During a game between the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins on Dec. 8, 1980, “Monday Night Football” commentator Howard Cosell broke the news of John Lennon’s death to the entire nation.
  • 3. Saving on the electric bill — When he felt a game’s outcome had been decided, “Monday Night Football” analyst and former Dallas Cowboy quarterback “Dandy” Don Meredith would sing “Turn out the lights, the party’s over,” from the Willie Nelson song “The Party’s Over.”
  • 2. Larger than life — During his 14 years in the TV booth, the opinionated, brash and outspoken Howard Cosell made “Monday Night Football” the program to watch. Cosell could make the most boring play sound exciting and he never hesitated to deliver caustic comments. He was simultaneously voted the most popular and most disliked sportscaster in America.
  • 1. Impacting America — Whether it was the announcers, the guests who dropped by (Ronald Reagan, John Lennon, Bill Clinton, or Kermit the Frog to name a few), or the game itself, “Monday Night Football” provided conversation material the next day. For one night of the week, America’s focus was on this one sporting event that had the stage all to itself. Even today, in a fractured media environment, “Monday Night Football” is the most-watched program on cable television in a given week. Therefore, in a nod to the power of this enduring broadcast, the night before the 2012 election both President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney had short interviews during halftime of “Monday Night Football.”

Compiled by John Sopko, an avid Redskins and Steelers fan

Sources: Washington Post, ESPN, Wikipedia, Sports Illustrated; The Associated Press; USA Today; National Public Radio; The New York Times; Bleacher Report

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