Updated September 20, 2020 - 1:39 pm
When he thinks about it, Raiders coach Jon Gruden travels back to an earlier time, when his Monday nights were defined by NFL football and the voices who described it.
Such as this broadcast open from Foxboro, Massachusetts, in 1976: “Hello again everyone, I’m Howard Cosell. Glad to have you aboard for NFL Monday Night football on ABC. We look forward to this game as cold as it is. My colleagues are not as suitably garbed as I am. They are younger.”
“My dad was a coach, so I got to stay up and watch the halftime highlights,” Gruden said. “I like the old Monday Night Football anthem to highlights with Cosell doing them. That’s what I remember the most.”
What he will also recall as years pass is his current team opening Allegiant Stadium against the Saints on Monday night, when Las Vegas for the first time will stand on one of the NFL’s grandest stages.
Come kickoff, the bright lights of a Las Vegas Strip won’t be the only ones welcoming the world to Southern Nevada.
This is the sort of massive exposure that comes with being one of 32 NFL franchises.
How MNF evolved
Fifty years ago today, Cosell opened the first Monday Night telecast from Cleveland. Later that season, he had too much to drink at a pregame party before a Giants-Eagles game and vomited on the cowboy boots of fellow broadcaster Don Meredith at halftime.
Now, Monday nights are about megacasts and rock bands at halftime and social media platforms. It used to be about Hank Williams Jr.’s opening anthem, but not this year. Singing about rowdy friends doesn’t have the same ring to it in empty stadiums during a pandemic.
Oh, for the days of a lead analyst losing his lunch on a partner’s pair of leather stampedes. Good times!
But few telecasts have evolved at the rate of Monday Night Football while still being defined by early, often crazy moments. You can take all the bells and whistles and countless camera angles of 2020 — fascinating examples of how far the presentation of sports has come — and still understand how simpler times shaped what we now witness.
Gruden had a front-row seat to the enormity that is Monday Night Football as part of the broadcast team from 2009-17. He might have won a Super Bowl as head coach of Tampa Bay, but his celebrity with a younger demographic was formed behind a microphone. But that experience never lessened his love for Monday nights gone-by.
“That was my favorite thing – the traditional Monday Night Football theme,” Gruden said. “I don’t need all of this new guitars and all of these new beepers, or whatever they’re putting in.”
Another member of the Raiders is also a Monday Night Football alumni, although tight end Jason Witten’s time in the booth lasted a delay of game penalty when compared to that of Gruden.
Witten, having signed with Las Vegas this offseason after a total of 16 years with the Cowboys, worked as a color commentator in 2018 before returning to the field.
He was never a good fit for a broadcasting role, his mistakes played out across social media in days following each game. Still, he grasped the magnitude of being involved.
“Monday Night Football was a really good life experience for me,” Witten said. “Maybe it didn’t turn out as you would have hoped, but it’s a big stage. Being in that chair for an entire season, you see it’s the only show on and a great opportunity to showcase the league.”
Hasn’t it always been?
Monday Night Football is also shown in Canada and most of Europe. It actually pioneered the use of enhanced slow motion replays and computerized graphics. Celebrity guests have been a mainstay.
It has been an assemblage of historic and controversial snapshots, of seriousness and hilarity, all appetizers to a main dish that still exists across 100 yards.
Las Vegas now takes its place as part of the famed broadcast, alongside the loquacious Cosell.
“The Jets with coach Lou Holtz, in his 30s, raw, the spectacle, has an understated sense of humor, a little bit in the Will Rogers vein …”
Those were (Monday) nights. In many ways, they still are.
Just a few more cameras is all. Just brighter stage lights.
Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.