Monday Night Football has been an institution on sports television for years. In recent years, it’s become a bit of a punchline for some on social media. Jason Witten was no star in the booth, and when he went back to the Cowboys, the controversial Booger McFarland replaced him. The broadcast has gotten so bad, some fans may wonder if it can ever be good again. Let’s take a closer look at the history of Monday Night Football, the current state of it, and how it can improve.
The history of Monday Night Football
ABC acquired the rights to Monday Night Football for the 1970 NFL season. It was very much an experiment, as football games hadn’t been played at night before that. Television producer Roone Arledge was the man behind the broadcast, revolutionizing the way football was covered. The first broadcast team was Howard Cosell, Keith Jackson, and “Dandy” Don Meredith. Some notable teams over the years include:
- The team of Cosell, Meredith, and Frank Gifford. Cosell was one of the first commentators to openly criticize players and teams in the broadcast booth. Gifford stayed in the booth until 1997.
- Al Michaels, Dan Fouts, Dennis Miller, Melissa Stark, and Eric Dickerson. The inclusion of Miller was the first time a non-football player or sports broadcaster was included in the booth. The experiment only lasted two seasons.
- Al Michaels and John Madden. After Miller didn’t work out, ABC brought the legendary Madden to Monday Night Football for four seasons.
- Mike Tirico, Tony Kornheiser, Joe Theismann/Ron Jaworski, Suzy Kolber, Michele Tafoya. The network again experimented with having a non-football announcer in the booth, adding columnist and pundit Tony Kornheiser to the broadcast. Like Miller before him, the experiment was not well-received and lasted two seasons. Jon Gruden joined the team the following season.
- Gruden lasted until 2017, where he partnered with Sean McDonough after Tirico left for NBC.
- In 2018 ESPN added Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten, and Booger McFarland. Witten returned to the Cowboys in 2019, and only Tessitore and McFarland remain.
Monday Night Football was once viewed as the marquee game of the week. That perception shifted in 2006 when the NFL signed a deal with NBC to broadcast the Sunday night game on their network, and the Monday night game shifted to ESPN. Sunday Night Football became the league’s most anticipated game of each week, with the Monday night game typically playing host to a less glamorous matchup.
Recent criticisms surrounding the product
The trio of Tessitore, Witten, and McFarland was roundly criticized last year, with Witten receiving the brunt of the criticism. The Pro Bowl was the culmination of Witten’s terrible year. During the game, he implied that Eric Ebron and Patrick Mahomes were teammates (they are not), and then following the game, he broke the Pro Bowl trophy.
Witten returned to the Cowboys this season, leaving Tessitore and McFarland on the call. Unfortunately, the criticism hasn’t slowed. McFarland is a trending topic on Twitter every Monday night, typically due to a gaffe or piece of bad analysis.
Will Monday Night Football ever be good again?
Monday Night Football was once one of football’s most unassailable brands. It featured some of the league’s best teams with some of the finest coverage provided by any network. Now? It’s just another game.
Football fans have a game on Thursday night, a full slate of college games on most fall Saturdays and a full slate of pro games each Sunday. By the time Monday rolls around, they may be exhausted. It’s not the special event it once was.
The only way Monday Night Football can be good again is with better coverage. The answer to that lies within ESPN’s walls. When the network was trying to identify a team when Gruden left after 2017, one candidate they interviewed was Louis Riddick. Riddick is currently one of the best football analysts on the network and would provide valuable insights to the viewing audience. He should be one of the next voices of Monday Night Football to help improve the broadcast. Until then, MNF might be an afterthought and a joke for many football fans.