by Mike Hayes - 12/21/2005
Turn off the lights the party's over.
Those were the words sung by announcer "Dandy" Don Meredith during the heyday of Monday Night Football when there was little doubt left about the outcome of a game.
It would only be appropriate for ABC to bring Meredith back for one last rendition on the Monday after Christmas as the Jets and Patriots will square off in what will mark the end of MNF as we know it.
Beginning next season, Monday Night Football will be broadcast on ESPN and NBC will televise "Football Night in America" on Sunday nights. This ends a 36-year-run of Monday Night Football in prime time -- second only to the 38-year-run CBS's 60 Minutes - that began on Sept. 21, 1970 with a game that saw the Cleveland Browns defeat the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Jets.
ABC had to give up MNF because it was losing as much as $150 million a year and when the NFL asked for nearly $9 billion for the next 11 years ABC passed and ESPN, which can raise revenue not only through advertising but in the fee paid by subscribers, seized the opportunity.
Monday Night Football has long been a staple of the football gambler, providing one last opportunity to "bail out" for the week or to pad what had been a successful weekend. There is no reason to think that should change under the new format. Of course the program will have less of a broadcast impact on ESPN as roughly 15 percent of households in the United States are without cable. However, how many gamblers do you know that don't get cable?
"I don't think it will have much impact," said Rob Gillespie, president of Bodog. "There may be a few people who only have basic cable and don't get ESPN but they are likely not sports bettors. ESPN is such a good marketer and their Web site so strong in the sports world that any impact is likely to be positive."
Gillespie said the average Monday night game generates about five times the action of a Sunday afternoon game and the Sunday night game generates about four times more than the average afternoon match-up.
While the Monday night action should remain at least the same, Gillespie thinks the Sunday package on NBC might draw more interest than the current Sunday night tilts.
In delivering what had been known as Sunday Night Football on ESPN the NFL has agreed to work with NBC to set the schedule as the season progresses a move which should provide for entertaining games - and as a result more viewers - throughout the season.
Unfortunately this has never been possible with the Monday night games because the schedule needs to be set well in advance of the games to secure stadiums, flights and hotels. Combine this with the fact that increased parity in the league has made it difficult to predict in August who will be good in December and you end up with a stinker like the Baltimore-Green Bay debacle that was witnessed this past Monday. With the Sunday schedule already in place, however, changing game times creates far less problems.
"Improving the quality of the prime time games will have a huge impact," Gillespie added. "That horrid game only drew half the handle of the Indy-New England game on Nov. 7. Had Monday been Indy-San Diego instead of Green Bay-Baltimore, we might have booked an extra million or two this weekend."
Part of the early appeal of Monday Night Football was of course the novelty and the halftime show, which featured highlights of Sunday's action. Prior to the ESPN age this was the only way for many people to see their favorite teams.
In having the national stage to itself, Monday Night Football moments are easily remembered. Some of the highlights are:
-- Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were among the many visitors to the broadcast booth.
-- On Dec. 8, 1980, during a game between the Dolphins and Patriots, Howard Cosell delivered news that Beatle John Lennon was shot and killed.
-- The highest-rated Monday Night game ever occurred on Dec. 2, 1985 when the Dolphins handed the Bears their only loss of the season, 38-24, en route to their victory in Super Bowl XL.
-- In perhaps the most memorable televised football moment of all-time, Redskin quarterback Joe Theismann has his right leg snapped in half in gruesome fashion when sacked by Lawrence Taylor of the Giants who seeing the damage to Theismann's leg waves frantically for help.
-- Vinny Testaverde throws for 235 yards and four touchdowns in the FOURTH QUARTER in helping the Jets overcome a 23-point deficit to defeat the Dolphins 40-37 in overtime.
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