50 Years of Monday Night Football: On This Day In 1970

The tradition of airing National Football League games on Monday night’s turned 50 today. 

The first game was broadcasted live on Sept 21, 1970 between the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns in Cleveland, and was a huge success. 

The lowest-rated major television network, ABC, had been struggling to outdo its competitors in the broadcasting industry before 1970. The network had streamed football games before, but only managed to sign a handful of teams before the beginning of the 1950s. 

A mishap during a Washington Redskins vs. The Philadelphia Eagles game in 1964 led to the broadcast never being recorded, which damaged the relationship between the NFL and the struggling network. CBS, one of the better competitor’s of ABC, soon took over broadcasting of NFL games. 

It was clear that ABC would need to do better. 

In 1970, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle had a big vision for the future of the league. He envisioned at least one game to be televised live, per week, on Monday nights which often had some of the highest viewers of the week. 

He approached ABC, and was initially turned away as the network did not want to axe its monday-night programming to air it. However, ABC reluctantly agreed after realizing the potential impact of a competitor signing the deal. 

A few months later, ABC’s choice to make a spectacle of the big night, including instant replays, an added colourful commentator, and significant investments in broadcasting equipment, really paid off. Monday Night Football was born. 

Highlights and Spoofs 

A Gross Month: Nov. 1985 

  • Nov 18: Quarterback Joe Theismann made gruesome history on live television. As he was tackled by Lawrence Taylorm, his leg snapped, sending his bone through the skin. ABC would replay the incident over 800 times. 
  • Nov 23: Colourful and controversial commentator Howard Cosell, who almost made Ford Motors drop their advertising with ABC, was so drunk that he puked on the shoes of colleague announcer Don Meredith in the game between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles. 

An Unbelievable Defeat: Dec 2, 1985 

  • Monday Night Football made history as 70 million people tuned in to watch the undefeated Chicago Bears try and close their season with a perfect record – the only other team to do so was their opponent: the Miami Dolphins. With the record on the line, 

the Dolphins upset the Bears to retain their record and much of the pride of the veterans on the team. 

History Off the Field: Dec 8, 1980 

  • Beloved English musician John Lennon was shot and killed outside his apartment on the Monday night of 1980. During the time, only three major stations broadcasted news, and with millions of viewers watching the Eagles game that night, it fell on the announcers to break the sad news. Howard Cosell was the one to break the news to millions of fans that night. 
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