Sunday, November 02, 2008

NFL On Monday Nights No Longer "Must-See TV"

The rumors of the death of Monday Night Football have been greatly under exaggerated.

The franchise, now in its 39th season, died in 1985, but it’s still on the air, strangely. MNF continues, post-mortem, but only like the deer head on the wall – it’s just ... there.

I can fix the date of MNF’s death because it corresponds to when Howard Cosell took his cigar and his ego and went home. Only, he needed to make two trips to carry the ego.

Don’t believe me when I say a television show – and that’s what MNF is, first and foremost – can be dead for 23 years and still be on the air? Then tell me, and no looking away, nothing less than a straight face will be accepted: are Monday nights as fun now as they were when Howard occupied one-third of the booth?

In a way, it’s sort of unfair to compare Monday Night Football now to when it first hit the airwaves, because it’s really an apples and oranges kind of thing. The Cosell version was new, first of all. Nothing like it had been attempted. Pro football was a Sunday afternoon activity. The NFL dabbled in night games, for sure – even using a white football so it would show up better under the lights – but those were anomalies. And they weren’t on Monday nights, anyhow.

So with all this newness at its disposal, MNF could be innovative and ground-breaking on so many levels. And it was.

A three-man booth – that was new. A former player as the play-by-play guy (Frank Gifford replaced Keith Jackson after the first season) – that was new. A good ole Southern boy for comic relief – that was refreshingly new. And a lawyer by trade who never played anything at anytime in his life – that was most certainly new.

Gifford, Don Meredith, and Cosell didn’t just enter your living room; they burst in, like the Schlitz Malt Liquor bull. We’d never heard anything like it before: football, served up with almost as much drama among the announcers as what was taking place on the field below. Maybe more so.

Gifford would deliver his no-nonsense descriptions of what we just saw while Meredith and Cosell were engaged in banter that suggested they either didn’t realize Gifford was with them, or they didn’t care – one or the other.

Cosell had his pet names for his compadres: Gifford was The Giffer, and Meredith was Dandy Don. Privately, he called them other things, and not so endearing. But then, on the air, Cosell was being non-endearing, so it evened out.

There was a drunken night in Philadelphia, when Howard couldn’t finish the game, throwing up in the booth. There was an outburst in Buffalo. He called diminutive Washington Redskins receiver Alvin Garrett, an African-American, a “little monkey.” He railed often against pro sports – the very business that was feeding him, but Howard bit that hand anyway. Frequently. His extravagant, pompous use of the English language was blatant and fed his need to remind everyone of his intelligence.

Off the air, Cosell had disdain for his partners in the booth. He didn’t respect Gifford all that much – not convinced that a “jock” could be a “serious” announcer. Howard thought Meredith was a goofball who didn’t show nearly enough deference to him. That one, he got right – on both accounts. But it made for grand television.

It became a status symbol to be seen on MNF with that motley trio. Vice president Spiro Agnew dropped in. So would the likes of Burt Reynolds, John Wayne, and Bo Derek. One historic night, Cosell interviewed John Lennon, and the ex-Beatle marveled at both the similarities and differences between American football and his native England’s rugby. Sadly, in 1980, Cosell would famously announce the news of Lennon’s death on a Monday night in Miami. I remember it with crystal clarity.

Monday Night Football was something because no other football game in the country – college or pro – was played in prime time. Nothing started on Sundays after 4:00. The colleges kept their schedules to Saturday afternoons.

MNF's "A-Team" That Will Never Be Matched: Cosell in front of Meredith (left) and Gifford

And there was Howard. Always Howard. People tuned in because they loved him. More people – way more – tuned in because they hated him. Some enterprising company manufactured and marketed Styrofoam bricks – sold specifically to be hurled at the television set whenever Cosell ticked the brick owner off.

All this, and a funny thing started happening on Tuesday mornings. People talked about Monday Night Football – but not necessarily about the game itself.

“Did you hear what Howard said?”

“Wasn’t that great when Don put Howard in his place?”

“I hate Cosell!”

When Meredith left for NBC in 1974, his goofball role was filled by Alex Karras, and Howard and Karras struck up a rapport based on mutual disrespect and loathing. The smarmy Karras was just the guy to take Dandy Don’s torch and burn Howard with it weekly, while the living rooms cheered.

Then it came out that Howard took all those jokes, and all that venom from the viewers, seriously. Too seriously. Which meant, of course, that the jokes and the venom got more frequent, and more caustic.

The forever classy Dave Diles was one of Cosell’s ABC colleagues, back in the ‘70s. A couple years ago, he told me about Howard’s insatiable ego.

“We all believe our own press from time to time,” Diles said. “But Howard took it to such an extreme.”

In 2000, an experiment was tried, 30 years after ABC put the ex-lawyer Cosell in a football broadcast booth. Comedian Dennis Miller was tabbed to join the MNF team. It was a bolder move than when they hired Cosell, because Miller was a known product. And that product, at first blush, didn’t seem to be one that you would expect, or want, with your football on TV.

But I grew to like Miller, because he reminded me of, well, Howard Cosell. I once wrote that if you could somehow have teamed Miller’s smarmy, obscure pop culture references with Cosell’s bombastic, pompous commentary, you’d have had one of the best weekly TV shows of all time, bar none. You wouldn’t have even needed the football game, for goodness sakes.

Miller didn’t last very long – just two seasons. His shtick didn’t work well with the straight-laced Al Michaels and the vanilla Dan Fouts. No Giffer or Dandy Don, they.

Monday Night Football hasn’t tickled my fancy, or my curiosity, since Cosell left – save the two years of Dennis Miller. It’s just another nighttime football game in an era where there are tons of them. And Tuesday mornings aren’t all that anymore, either.

Oh, Howard would love that: he leaves, and takes a night and a morning with him. Nobody tell him. Please.


howdoyouspellmookie said...

Greg Eno,
You are an idiot. The experiment didn't work because of Dennis Miller. Now I like Miller, but he was truly out of his element. Al Michaels straight laced? Dan Fouts - vanilla? Like I said above, you are an idiot. Had the games had been worked by just Michaels and Fouts, they'd still be together. Instead, ABC decided to bring in a clown (Madden), whose shtick is as withered as Cosell's long-gone saturated liver. But instead of knowledgeable and quick-witted, you prefer Ringling Bros. Well, now do you not only have it on Monday Night Football, but Sunday Night as well, with a trio of clowns. I must credit you on one thing, your attempt at tabloid journalism is alive and well in the blogosphere. Good luck in future blogging endeavors, for this one shall be short-lived. Just thought I would let you know that I have emailed my entire address book, with the request to pass on to their address books to not patronize any of your advertisers. Why?


- A Real Football Fan

Greg Eno said...


Thanks for visiting, though it's looking like you won't be back. I never said I LIKED Cosell (I didn't) -- just that when he was in there, the games had an added dimension of interest. I think most would agree that the original MNF broadcast team was cutting edge, interesting, captivating, and fresh. There can be little argument about that.

I just don't think you can say the same thing about recent teams, is all.


Anonymous said...


Wow, talk about over reaction to a blog entry. Geez, if you don't have high blood pressure you will very soon. To get this upset with a blog entry that in my estimation is pretty vanilla I'm absolutely flabbergasted.

I hate to see how you would handle a real crisis in your life.

Sit down, watch TV (maybe Monday Night Football) and relax Dude. I think you need to get things in perspective.

Good luck with life!! I think you will need it.

Lean, Mean and Serene
"A Normal Person"

howdoyouspellmookie said...

If you know anything about the game, then you don't need AN ADDED DIMENSION OF INTEREST. As far as Anonymous is concerned...BLAH, BLAH, BLAH.

Anonymous said...


Blah, Blah, Blah here.

Seriously, relax Dude.

Way too upset. Blood pressure rising POW!!! Heart attack or stroke in your future.

Get a life and again, Dude -- RELAX!!!!!

Calm down and take a chill pill. You're like an arsonist; set the building on fire and come back to hopefully see it burn. However, you right now just look like an idiot yourself. I hate to be the one to let you know, but the building isn't on fire.

And you my friend are the idiot. With a name like Mookie it all makes sense.

You should have named yourself Kookie.


howdoyouspellmookie said...

Hey Buddy I am relaxed. You are the one who needs a pill. Inever read so many words before that really said so little. I guess that explains the empty space between your ears. I do however have a name for you...CHUMP

Anonymous said...

First of all, I'm not your buddy, I happen to be a woman.

Second of all, you must be very young because you don't know a thing about the history of football.

I am a woman and I know more about the game of football than you do. You know nothing of the history of the game or have the respect for the game or of others. You don't get the point of the blog entry because you're just to immature, period.

Your mama should spank you little boy.

howdoyouspellmookie said...

My apologies regarding your alleged gender. Perhaps I should just call you Pat (from SNL). Oh this is great. The history of football hey? Now that's funny. OK Pat which era, team, position, would you like to discuss? Would you like to start with the Chicago Staleys and Papa Bear, or how about the AAFC (Browns-49ers rivalry. Oh I know, what about the Ice Bowl or gee actually anything which might convince me you're anything but an idiot. So my guess is that you haven't taken your Midol today, hey?

Anonymous said...

Take my Midol huh? What an arrogant, sexist, egotistical ass you are.

I tell you what: I'll take my Midol when you take your Viagra.

Obviously, you must be sexually frustrated or confused. Maybe you like football so much because you like all those tight ends!

You want to talk football Kookie-- so let's go. My 15 year old daughter probably knows more football than you do too.

It's ON!!!!

As for Papa Bear (George Halas) and the AAFC (hello, Otto Graham) and the Ice Bowl (Jerry Kramer), I'm a little older and wiser than you give me credit for! Women can know about sports too!

Anonymous said...

C'mon Kookie!

Where's the reply?

Who's the idiot now?

howdoyouspellmookie said...

Listen sweetheart, I'm sure, for a woman, you are well versed on the game of football. But what really imoresses me is my ability to get your goat. Arrogant...perhaps. Egotistical...probably. Sexist...ABSOLUTELY. You might even like me, as I too am a lesbian, albeit a male lesbian. Now as far as your knowledge of the game, I thought it worthy of you to try and prove it. Name dropping is a great pasttime. Here is a question for you...which player effectively ended Gayle Sayers playing career? If you can answer that question, I'll drop the sexist attitude and name calling and give you your due as a football afficianado. Hell, I might even invite you to sit with me in the press box at a game of your choice. However, Greg Eno will still be an idiot.

Greg Eno said...


I thought Anonymous was wiping me off your front page, Mookie. Oh well.

I wish nothing but Fred Williamson on your future viewing of football on TV, Mook! :-)


Anonymous said...

First of all Greg Eno is not an idiot. He is more successful than you claim to be. What press box do you sit in, a high school one?

As for me, I've sat in many a press box. Don't do me any favors. I have met Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, Al Kaline, Ernie Harwell, Alex Karras, Ted Lindsay, just to mention a few. I've sat in the Press Box at Comerica Park, Ford Field and many others.

As for the Sayers question, I do know what TEAM he was hurt against in 1969. So how about if YOU tell me who the player was, and that will confirm to me that you actually know this answer!

And stop calling me sweetheart; you've hardly earned that right!

As for lesbian, I have been happily married (to a MAN) for 16 years!

howdoyouspellmookie said...

Okay anonymous, it's obvius that you don't know the answer, so the slurs will have to keep coming. You were close on the year (it was 1968) not '69. It was a game against the 49ers and Kermit Alexander made the hit that took out Sayers' knee.

Now I can only assume, that Greg must be your man of 16 years, for only an idiot would be married to an insufferable juicebag such as yourself.

As far as press boxes, are concerned, I been around professional sports my entire life,

Aside from football, you may be blogging with the only man in America who has in person witnessed 5 no-hitters. Two of which were perfect games. Catfish Hunter in '68 vs the Twins and David Cone in '99 vs. the Expos. As well I was present at the only back-to-back no-hitters in baseball history, also in '68 (Perry vs. the Cardinals, and Wasburn vs. the Giants, the next day). The last by AJ Burnett (Marlins vs Padres).

Now if you would still like to claim you know more aqbout me when it comes to football or any other major sports, I've got a bridge I can sell you for cheap. That being said, I truly hope that you and Greg are very happy together, as it stands to reason that two idiots should be. Oh and don't forget your Midol!

howdoyouspellmookie said...

Oh and Go LIons! 0-16 in sight!

Anonymous said...

I hate to break the news to you Kookie, but I'm not married to Greg Eno.

Are you married? Probably not. No woman in her right mind would marry a boorish shrew like yourself.

Do yourself a favor and pat yourself on the back and kiss your cute little face in the mirror, because nobody else will.

I feel sorry for you and you aren't worth anyone's time.

You are the idiot and go take some Viagra and screw yourself.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and by the way Kookie learn how to spell. You embarrass yourself. You can't be anyone too important if you can't spell.

howdoyouspellmookie said...

Pat, you've got a great sense of humor. My apologies if I upset you. I realize life has got to be tough living in the Detroit area.
But I must say I really did enjoy getting under your skin. Good luck with your Lions, Tigers and Pistons, oh my! By the way, Billups for Iverson, geez did Dumars screw that one up. And with that I bid you farewell.

Anonymous said...


It's been fun!

By the way as I was writing these comebacks they were all tongue in cheek.

Trying to get under your skin myself.

You entertained my daughter and I last night. We had a good laugh! :)

Make sure you vote today! It's the reason we can express our opinions like we did yesterday! (All in fun!)

I bid you farewell too!!!!