As the Cleveland Browns prepare to host the Baltimore Ravens Monday night, it will be the Browns 33rd appearance. They currently hold a 16-16 record on the primetime game. The concept for a Monday night NFL game was the brainchild of former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozzelle. He had envisioned a regularly scheduled NFL primetime game in the early 1960s. In the mid-1950s, the NFL experimented with Monday night games on the old DuMont Television Network, but due to poor TV ratings, the games were eliminated. Prior to the 1964 season, Rozzelle pitched an idea for a Friday night game but was quickly shot down due to the fear it would hurt high school football attendance. Rozzelle was undaunted and experimented again with Monday night NFL games. On September 28, 1964, the NFL scheduled a game between the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions. Although the game wasn’t televised, it drew a sellout crowd of 59,203. Due to this success, the NFL again experimented with primetime games in 1966 and 1967 on CBS. NBC followed suit with two AFL primetime games in 1968 and 1969.
When negotiations for a new television contract that would coincide with the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, Rozzelle was determined to have a Monday night game scheduled with one of the three major networks. Both NBC and CBS shot down the idea, so Rozzelle approached ABC. At the time, ABC was the lowest-rated of the three networks. The network was very reluctant to bet on such a risky venture. After threatening to sign a deal with the independent Hughes Sports Network which was bankrolled by billionaire Howard Hughes, ABC signed the deal. The network was afraid many of its affiliates would pre-empt their Monday night lineup for the Hughes Sports Network and further hurt their ratings.
ABC Sports producer Roone Arledge saw an opportunity for a sports spectacle. He hired Chet Forte to direct the broadcast and Forte would do so for the next 22 years. Arledge also committed twice the number of cameras to the broadcast, expanded the normal two-man broadcast crew to three and had extensive graphics that included instant replay. In a further attempt to draw ratings, Arledge hired controversial New York broadcaster, Howard Cosell. In an attempt to hire a veteran play-by-play announcer, ABC approached Curt Gowdy, Vin Scully and Jack Buck. But due to contract obligations with other networks, none were available. Arledge settled for veteran broadcaster Keith Jackson. For the third man in the booth, Arledge wanted to hire Frank Gifford, but Gifford was still under contract with CBS. Gifford suggested Arledge hire former Dallas quarterback Don Meredith.
The three-man crew for Monday Night Football was set.
The first NFL Monday Night Football game was scheduled for September 21, 1970, between the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland. 85,703 fans packed the stadium for a game against the perennial powerhouse Browns and the flashy Jets quarterback Joe Namath. The ratings for the game drew a strong 35% of televisions in use, beating both NBC and CBS for the weekend. As for the game, the Jets dominated statically. Namath was 19 of 31 for 298 yards and a touchdown. However, Namath also threw three interceptions. The last one to Browns Billy Andrews for a 25-yard pick-six, which was the game clincher. The Browns opened the second half with a 94-yard kick off return for a touchdown by Homer Jones. Browns QB Bill Nelson was 12 of 27 for 145 yards and a touchdown. Browns RB Leroy Kelly had 62 yards on 20 carries. In the end, the Browns defeated the Jets, 31-21. Here are the highlight – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yeME8N9focM.
Monday Night Football ushered a new era of NFL primetime games and it seems appropriate on its 50th year of broadcasting, the Cleveland Browns would have a Monday night game. Hopefully, the Browns will celebrate their 33rd appearance with their 17th win and end the night at a record of 10-3.