I have lived long enough to be aware that there are people who have no idea of the enormity of Monday Night Football. The Brady-Manning Bowl of 2005 was an MNF broadcast. For three and a half decades, there was no bigger regular-season NFL stage than that primetime matchup on ABC.
As someone who grew up with Monday Night Football as the crown jewel of the NFL week, it felt good to watch arguably the best two teams in the NFL duke it out during what used to be the league’s featured regular-season attraction.
That game has existed since the NFL and AFL merger of 1970. Then-NFL commissioner, Pete Rozelle, believed that a regular prime-time broadcast would draw a huge audience. NBC and CBS wanted no part of it, but ABC had nothing to lose as the distant third of the three major broadcast networks. The result was a phenomenon. The 1985 Chicago Bears suffered their only loss in an MNF game, two broadcasts after Lawrence Taylor shattered Joe Theismann’s leg.
When Monday Night Football went exclusively to cable — ESPN — in 2006, broadcasters Al Michaels and John Madden left for the new Sunday Night Football on NBC. Since then, it has grown into television’s most consistent primetime television product. Forget just Sunday nights, NCIS, America’s Got Talent, Young Sheldon and all of the other top network television programs are fighting with all their might to unseat NBC’s 18-week juggernaut.
Of course, the correct business play nearly 20 years ago was to expand Sunday Night Football, but for those of us who remember a time when Hank Williams Jr.’s voice sounded like fun instead of racism, MNF was the cure for the case of the Mondays.
For 35 years, the featured matchup in America’s favorite sport was the NFL’s Monday night game. To see last season’s Super Bowl participants get after each other during a primetime Monday, one-possession game, the nostalgia allowed this ‘90’s kid to indulge in a time when he could eat his mom’s cooking without having to purchase a plane ticket to get to it.
Get as angry as you want with me, Carrie Underwood fans, but I have never waited for Sunday night with the same anticipation that I did for Frank and Al and Dan to call the final football game of the week.
For many, one of the NFL’s greatest ideas has fallen from a Monday night party to simply one last chance to make up some points in fantasy football. But on one night, Nov. 20, 2023, Monday Night Football aired arguably the game of the year and all of the NFL’s rowdy friends watched it.
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