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ABC's Monday Night Football last game


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ABC prepares for last call of

'Monday Night Football' As "Dandy" Don Meredith would sing, turn out the lights, the party's over for ABC's Monday Night Football.

clear.gif2005-12-22-inside-mnf.jpgclear.gif Fred Gaudelli, left, and Drew Esocoff work in the production truck during last Monday's Packers-Ravens game. clear.gif By Mikki K. Harris, USA TODAY The finale is Monday after a 36-year run, though ABC's MNF crew will handle Super Bowl XL on Feb. 5. ESPN takes over Mondays with the 2006 season, and NBC returns to the NFL broadcast team with Sunday night games.

When ABC Sports maven Roone Arledge and director Chet Forte brought football to prime time in 1970, they thought they would blend sports and entertainment. They ended up changing the way we view sports — and creating the first reality show.

clear.gif Announcers through the years clear.gifclear.gifclear.gifbullet.gif1970: Keith Jackson, Don Meredith, Howard Cosell

bullet.gif1971-73: Frank Gifford, Meredith, Cosell

bullet.gif1974: Gifford, Cosell, Alex Karras, Fred Williamson

bullet.gif1975-76: Gifford, Cosell, Karras

bullet.gif1977-78: Gifford, Cosell, Meredith

bullet.gif1979-82: Gifford, Cosell, Meredith, Fran Tarkenton

bullet.gif1983: Gifford, Cosell, Meredith, O.J. Simpson

bullet.gif1984: Gifford, Meredith, Simpson

bullet.gif1985: Gifford, Simpson, Joe Namath

bullet.gif1986: Al Michaels, Gifford

bullet.gif1987-93: Michaels, Gifford, Dan Dierdorf

bullet.gif1994-96: Michaels, Gifford, Dierdorf, Lynn Swann

bullet.gif1997: Michaels, Gifford, Dierdorf, Lesley Visser

bullet.gif1998: Michaels, Dierdorf, Boomer Esiason, Visser

bullet.gif1999: Michaels, Esiason, Visser

bullet.gif2000-01: Michaels, Dan Fouts, Dennis Miller, Melissa Stark, Eric Dickerson

bullet.gif2002: Michaels, John Madden, Stark

bullet.gif2003: Michaels, Madden, Lisa Guerrero

bullet.gif2004: Michaels, Madden, Michele Tafoya

bullet.gif2005: Michaels, Madden, Tafoya/Sam Ryan # # — Replacement during Tafoya's pregnancy/maternity leave

clear.gifclear.gif The celebrated trio of Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford and Meredith became bigger than the games they called. The bombastic Cosell influenced a generation of sportscasters with his machine-gun delivery of "Halftime Highlights." MNF popularized the three-person booth, multiple cameras and microphones, extreme close-ups of players and fans, instant replays and graphics and Wide World of Sports-type storytelling. All those tools are still employed, if not overused, today. "It was a milestone in TV sports coverage," ABC's Jim McKay says.

Influential? Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter rescheduled their 1980 presidential debate around MNF. The show aired so long it has its own records: The Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys are tied in wins (39); Dan Marino and Jerry Rice dominate individual stats. The infighting among Cosell, Gifford and Meredith inspired a book and a movie, both titled Monday Night Mayhem.

MNF is the latest in a long line of sports properties to migrate from free to pay TV. ABC was losing $150 million a year on its annual $550 million package. Armed with dual revenue streams from subscribers and advertisers, sister Disney network ESPN will pay double that amount, or $1.1 billion annually.

With MNF games averaging a 10.9 rating this season, the show's numbers are half of what they were at their peak of 21.7 in 1981. While the name Monday Night Football will continue, it's still the end of an era.

As Monday Night Mayhem co-author Bill Carter told Bernard Goldberg of HBO's Real Sports, ESPN's new version won't be Monday Night Football. It will be "football on Monday night."

Magic memories made on Monday

Before the gun sounds on ABC's Monday Night Football, let's go to a videotape of some highlights and lowlights of its 36 seasons:

Most memorable game: The Miami Dolphins stop the Super Bowl Shuffle in its tracks and end the Chicago Bears' 12-0 season-opening run with a 38-24 upset victory on Dec. 2, 1985. Twenty years later it remains the highest-rated game in MNF history with 29.6% of U.S. homes watching.

Saddest news: Howard Cosell breaks the news of the murder of John Lennon, who had visited the MNF booth, to a stunned country on Dec. 8, 1980. Said Cosell: "John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous perhaps of all the Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead on arrival."

Lowest moment: Cosell refers to African-American wide receiver Alvin Garrett as a "little monkey" on Sept. 5, 1983. Despite his strong support of civil rights, the resulting controversy forces him off the show before the 1984 season.

Best coming-out parties: Los Angeles Raiders running back Bo Jackson outruns the entire Seattle Seahawks defense for a 91-yard touchdown on Nov. 30, 1987 and doesn't stop until he's halfway up the tunnel.

Bears defensive lineman William "The Refrigerator" Perry becomes a star Oct. 21, 1985 by lining up at running back and wiping out a defender on a touchdown run by Walter Payton, then rushing for a TD.

Best comeback: Trailing 30-7 against the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 23, 2000, New York Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde fires four fourth-quarter touchdown passes to lead a 40-37 overtime victory.

Toughest run: New York Giants tight end Mark Bavaro catches a pass from Phil Simms, then drags seven San Francisco 49ers, including safety Ronnie Lott, 20 yards.

Pack attack: The Green Bay Packers figure in three memorable moments: a day after his father dies, Brett Favre throws four TD passes Dec. 22, 2003; quarterback Lynn Dickey outduels Joe Theismann 48-47 on Oct. 17, 1983 in the highest-scoring MNF game; and Antonio Freeman makes a miraculous, sliding TD catch Nov. 6, 2000.

ESPN to have earlier kickoff, Theismann

Are you ready for a new Monday Night Football? ESPN hopes so, as the franchise moves from ABC in 2006.

While the Hank Williams Jr. opening theme will stay, the on-air feel, including new graphics, will resemble that of ESPN's Sunday Night Football, says incoming analyst Joe Theismann.

Among other details:

Earlier kickoff: In the biggest change for viewers, ESPN's show will start at 8:30 ET, with kickoff at 8:40 vs. the current 9 o'clock start and 9:07 kickoff on ABC.

Lower ratings: MNF's shift to cable from broadcast will mean smaller audiences. About 20 million U.S. homes that currently get ABC do not get ESPN because they don't have cable or satellite service (MNF will be on free TV in the home markets of the participating teams).

New faces: Theismann will move to Monday after 18 years on Sunday night, replacing John Madden, who is heading to NBC. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play for a 21st year. Michele Tafoya will return to the sideline after a maternity leave and be joined by ESPN Sunday night vet Suzy Kolber.

All MNF, all Monday: ESPN will build a six- to seven-hour programming block around the game. Monday Night Countdown will air from 6:30-8:30. After the game, SportsCenter will originate live from the game site. Chris Berman's NFL PrimeTime will shift to Monday from Sunday nights (it cannot be on when NBC has NFL programming); the start time is undetermined.


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