Of all the innovations that Pete Rozelle brought to the NFL as commissioner from 1960-89, none was better than Monday Night Football. By placing a game in prime time each week beginning in 1970, he brought new interest to pro football.
The concept wasn’t new – the NFL experimented with a few Monday games in the 1960s — but the debut of Monday Night Football in September 1970 ushered in a new era. The league gave ABC premier matchups and players – including Joe Namath in the debut game — and the network used slick packaging and the latest technology to create what would be one of its highest-rated programs for years.
Here are three particularly memorable Monday Night Football games over the years:
3. Chicago Bears 24, Arizona Cardinals 23 (2006)
It usually takes more than one or two memorable aspects to qualify a game as “great.” This one did not disappoint in that respect as the Bears, who came in with a 5-0 record, rallied past the 1-4 Cardinals to produce one of the best post-game sound bites ever.
Arizona led at halftime, 20-0, but a monster Monday Night Football effort by linebacker Brian Urlacher (19 tackles and a forced fumble) helped rally the Bears, who turned the ball over six times and won without the benefit of a touchdown by their offense.
Mike Brown recovered a Matt Leinart fumble for a touchdown late in the third quarter. Then, Urlacher stripped Edgerrin James in the fourth quarter, with Charles Tillman returning the ball 40 yards for a score. An 83-yard punt return by Devin Hester gave Chicago the lead at 24-23, and the Bears won as Neil Rackers’ 40-yard field-goal attempt in the final minute missed to the left.
The best was yet to come, however. In the postgame news conference, Cardinals coach Dennis Green delivered one of football’s most memorable rants ever:
“The Bears are who we thought they were! That’s why we took the damn field. Now, if you want to crown them, then crown their ass! But they are who we thought they were! And we let ’em off the hook!”Dennis Green
2. Houston Oilers 35, Miami Dolphins 30 (1978)
Houston Oilers rookie running back Earl Campbell and Miami Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese put on a spectacular two-man show on Monday Night Football in the Astrodome. By the time it was over, Campbell has rushed for 199 yards and four touchdowns, including two in the final seven minutes. His 81-yard gallop with 1:11 to go following Steve Kiner’s interception proved to be the winner.
Despite playing in what was still a run-first, throw-second league, Griese finished 23-for-33 for 349 yards and two touchdowns.
When the teams met in the first round of the playoffs five weeks later, Miami held Campbell to 84 yards, but Dan Pastorini threw for 306 in a 17-9 victory.
1. Kansas City Chiefs 31, Denver Broncos 28 on ‘Monday Night Football’ (1994)
The 2020 Week 1 game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Tom Brady) and New Orleans Saints (Drew Brees) reminded us of how much fans look forward to matchups between all-time great quarterbacks. In 1994, Monday Night Football gave fans a look at Joe Montana vs. John Elway.
Lin Elliott’s field goal with 4:08 left gave the Kansas City Chiefs a 24-21 lead. Elway then drove the Denver Broncos to a TD on a quarterback keeper with 1:29 remaining. However, Montana wasn’t done. The former San Francisco 49ers star drove the Chiefs down the field to a Willie Davis 5-yard touchdown reception with :08 to go.
Montana finished 34-for-54 for 393 yards and three touchdowns.