Monday Night Football kicked off 50 years ago this week. The broadcast was a crucial component in establishing the NFL as a dominant ratings force and making it the most-watched sporting league in the United States. Prior to its move to ESPN in 2005, MNF was one of the longest-running prime-time shows in the history of network TV. With a new season underway, here are five things you didn’t know about Monday Night Football.
1. It Has Hosted More Than 700 Games
Throughout the 50 seasons of Monday Night Football, the series has played 718 games as of September 21, 2020. The very first game saw the Cleveland Browns host the New York Jets. The Browns won 31-21 in a game that was watched by 33 percent of the total American viewing audience for that evening.
2. Gifford Had the Chair Longer Than Anyone
Howard Cosell remains the most famous original commentator; he held his spot for 13 years. Frank Gifford joined in the second season, and his run lasted until 1998, making him the commentator who was with the show the longest with a total of 27 years. There have been about 40 play-by-play announcers and color commentators across the history of the program on ABC and ESPN; the current team consists of Steve Levy, Brian Griese, and Louis Riddick. There have been dozens of sideline reporters and more than a dozen radio commentators; the current radio team is Jim Gray, Kevin Harlan, and Kurt Warner.
3. Famous Guests Have Hit the Booth
Over the years, a number of celebrities dropped by the broadcast booth. Visitors have included Kermit the Frog, Richard Nixon’s first vice-president Spiro Agnew, and President Bill Clinton. On December 9, 1974, both John Lennon and Ronald Reagan were in the both at the same time. Sadly, just six years later on December 8, 1980, Lennon was shot and killed in New York City. Cosell broke the news to most of America near the end of a Monday Night game between the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins.
4. It Took Over American Sports and Went Global
MNF was firmly entrenched in the Top Ten of the weekly broadcast ratings for years, becoming one of the most popular shows in America. It elevated football to the position of the most-watched sport of the big three in the States, dethroning Major League Baseball as the favorite and holding off NBA basketball even at its biggest. The show is carried in Europe, Australia, and South America. ESPN has American broadcast rights, including streaming, through 2021. As of August, ESPN is looking to improve the deal for an extension.
5. Monday Night by the Numbers
The most-watched game ever was the Miami Dolphins versus the Chicago Bears on December 2, 1985. The Dolphins ruined the Bears’ shot at a perfect season, handing them their only regular season loss; the Bears would go on to win the Super Bowl (while, one presumes, doing the “Super Bowl Shuffle”). The Dolphins, however, take the title of Most MNF appearances (their 85th appearance is this season). The highest scoring game ever was in 1983 when the Green Bay Packers and the now-titled Washington Football Team ran up a combined 95 points.
MNF has been the stage for some amazing comebacks. One of the most popular came in 2003 when the Indianapolis Colts were down 35-14 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning engineered a comeback with four minutes left on the clock to tie the game; Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt kicked a winning field goal in OT, giving the Colts a 38-35 win. However, only one game is called the “Monday Night Miracle,” and that honor goes to the October 23, 2000, game between the Jets and the Dolphins. The Jets scored a seemingly impossible 30 points in the fourth quarter, tying the game and sending into OT; when it was all over, the Jets had squeaked by 40-37.
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The Big Game will be played today for the 54th time. Just in time for the impending clash between the Chiefs and the 49ers, here’s a look at some Super Bowl superlatives, from the best movie trailer debut to the best half-time show and more.
Best Movie Trailer: The Avengers (2012)
It’s easy to forget now in the age of Marvel movie domination, but the first Avengers film was considered a risky premise built on a gamble. In the early 2000s, the non-X-Men and Spidey characters were considered the B List. But that all changed with the 2008 breakthrough of Iron Man, the first part of Marvel Studios honcho Kevin Feige’s master plan. The next four movies (Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger) built toward the formation of the team. A teaser at the end of Captain America (“Some Assembly Required”) and another teaser (set to “We’re in This Together” by Nine Inch Nails) set the stage, but the Big Game Trailer included the first version of the now-iconic “circle shot” of the team together for the first time. The Avengers had assembled, and an unprecedented string of successes would follow.
Best Commercial: Apple, “1984” (1984)
There will always be endless debate about the best ad. There have been long-lasting favorites from the likes of Volkswagen (“Vader Kid”), McDonald’s (Jordan vs. Bird, “nothing but net”), Pepsi (1992 Cindy Crawford), and countless memorable beer spots. But potentially the craziest one is the Apple ad that ran only once. Evoking the films of Fritz Lang and the writings of George Orwell, the spot suggests liberation from a gray-hued dystopian by … the Macintosh computer? Though the spot aired just one time, it consumed conversation with opinion pieces, TV news airtime, and talk show discussions. Publications like Business Insider consider this the moment that Super Bowl ads became the biggest commercial availability of the year.
Best Half-Time Show: Prince (2007)
You know a half-time show transcends mere mid-game entertainment when the NFL makes a mini-documentary about it. In the midst of pouring rain, the crowd heard an opening take on Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” Then the stage lit up: it was The Symbol. Prince appeared, said, “Dearly beloved … ” and the crowd went bonkers. What followed was a super-charged performance that included a mosaic of tunes like “Let’s Go Crazy,” “1999,” “Baby I’m a Star,” CCR/Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary,” Dylan/Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” Foo Fighters’ “Best of You,” and, of course, “Purple Rain.” It was showmanship of the highest level, made more incredible by the artist’s ability to transcend, and in a way, even take control of the weather to enhance the performance.
Best Play (tie): The Riggins Run and the Tyree “Helmet Catch”
Ask 50 people what the Best Super Bowl Play Ever was, and you’ll probably get more than 50 answers. However, if you ask people to list some of the best plays, a few elite moments will rise to the top every time. For that reason, the Post offers two selections, appropriately split between a run play and a pass play.
In Super Bowl XVII in 1982, the Redskins squared off against the Dolphins. Trailing on a 4th and 1, the Redskins handed the ball to John Riggins. Riggins broke through to pick up the 1st down … and just kept going. He ran for an additional 41 yards, right into the end zone. The play turned the tide of the game, and Riggins was named Super Bowl MVP.
In 2008’s Super Bowl XLII, the Giants were running out of time against the Patriots. In the final two minutes, scrambling Giants QB Eli Manning threw to wide receiver David Tyree, who was facing his own heavy pressure. Remarkably, Tyree secured the ball in mid-air by holding it against his helmet. The play gained the Giants 32 yards and a 1st down. The Giants went on to win, 17-14.
Best Game: Super Bowl LI (2017)
Let’s face it. Some Super Bowls have been thrilling, and others have been one-sided affairs that were decided in the early going. This was a spirited nail-biter that went into the first OT in Super Bowl history. You had the New England Patriots with Brady and Belichick and the Atlanta Falcons had MVP QB Matt Ryan. It certainly looked like it could be a blowout, as the Falcons led 28-3 in the third. But the Patriots came roaring back, dropping 25 on the Falcons to take it into OT. The Patriots won the coin toss and converted that stroke of luck into a TD, wrapping up their fifth championship.
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