- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Network television said goodbye last night to one of its greatest programming phenomena, “Monday Night Football.”

There still will be a version of “MNF” around — the game moves to ESPN next season — and let’s face it, the show hasn’t been the product that changed television viewing for quite some time. Cable has changed and devoured everything, so it was inevitable it would gobble up what used to be one of America’s biggest social events and turn it into just another night of programming.

The Washington Redskins shouldn’t be sorry to see “MNF” fade onto ESPN. The Redskins have been good to the show, providing some of its most memorable moments. Monday nights, however, have not been good to the Redskins.

They appeared on “MNF” 54 times. They rank, however, 20th in their performance with a 26-28 record and a .482 winning percentage.

Things started badly for the Redskins on Monday nights.

Raiders fullback Hewitt Dixon scored a 39-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage in the Redskins’ debut on the show, Oct. 19, 1970, at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The Redskins went on to lose 34-20. They also lost five of their next seven games, and coach Bill Austin was dismissed after one season.

The final appearance went a little better. It was a thriller, perhaps the defining moment of the second tenure of coach Joe Gibbs with the club. On Sept. 19, Mark Brunell connected with Santana Moss on touchdown passes of 39 and 70 yards in the final 3:46 to pull out a stunning 14-13 win over the Cowboys in Dallas.

That victory tied the all-time “MNF” series between the teams at 7-7 — a pretty good showing for the Redskins, considering the Cowboys went 32-20 against all other opponents on the program. The Redskins and Cowboys played more games against each other on the show than any teams except the Broncos and Raiders, who also met 14 times. (The Dolphins, with 70 appearances, played more games on Monday night than any other team.)

In between that loss to the Raiders in 1970 and the win over the Cowboys this season, the Redskins made some distinctive appearances on “MNF.”

The most noteworthy also was a disturbing one: the Nov. 18, 1985, game in which New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor broke quarterback Joe Theismann’s leg, ending his career.

Another came Sept. 5, 1983, when Howard Cosell described Redskins receiver Alvin Garrett as “that little monkey.” The resulting furor nearly cost Cosell his career, and it overshadowed one of the greatest — and for Redskins fans, painful — games in the history of the Washington-Dallas rivalry.

Rookie cornerback Darrell Green entered Redskins lore in the second quarter of that game by chasing down the Cowboys’ great running back, Tony Dorsett, after Dorsett broke free at the Washington 17 and seemed headed for the end zone.

The Redskins took a 23-3 lead at halftime, and victory seemed like a lock. “We want Dallas. We want Dallas,” the fans chanted at RFK, reminiscent of the playoff run in the Super Bowl championship season the year before. But Danny White led one of the all-time great comebacks, throwing three touchdown passes and running for another in a 31-30 Dallas win.

The Redskins also were part of the highest-scoring game in Monday night history that season, a 48-47 defeat at the hands of the Packers in a game that produced more than 1,000 yards of offense. Those two “MNF” games were the only regular-season losses for the Redskins that year.

There were so many big Monday night moments for the Redskins.

The Redskins got their first victory on the show Oct. 8, 1973, a dramatic 14-7 win over the Cowboys. Safety Ken Houston stopped fullback Walt Garrison on fourth-and-goal at the 4-yard line with 24 seconds left in the game — perhaps the most famous tackle in Redskins history.

“I was in perfect position to make the tackle, and I did — on ‘Monday Night Football,’ with Howard Cosell and all that, the Cowboys and the Redskins, with the whole country watching,” Houston said. “It was a big deal. A lot of good players made great plays that night, but that play took on a life of its own.”

Then there was the 35-16 Redskins victory over the Cowboys at RFK on Sept. 6, 1993. It was the first game coached by Richie Petitbon after Gibbs retired.

It seemed after that game as if the Redskins would not miss a beat without Gibbs. That turned out to be an illusion: They lost their next six games, and over the next 12 years, the franchise did not come close to its former glories.

As the Redskins prepare to try to clinch a playoff spot against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, it is fitting their success this year truly began in the final three minutes of a game in the final season of “Monday Night Football” as we have known it.

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