Last night was an unprecedented night for MNF as most of you probably realize, but hey for those that got here through some of our more colorful search terms let me recap. MNF has transitioned away from its only other home, ABC, for ESPN and maybe more importantly for the continued success of the program, Cable. Also unprecedented was the Monday Night double header. If you’re interested in a little more discussion about MNF with little discussion of either actual game, which I completely understand if you’re not, click the read more link.
First of all, I completely understand ESPN’s desire to kick of MNF on a high note. Without the exact number in front of me ESPN spent a whole lot of duckets landing MNF. Additionally, they have to overcome the fact they are a Cable network which a lot of people are pointing out will negatively impact viewership. I think football fans will be able to find MNF on ESPN since most were probably watching Monday Night Countdown prior to the games last year anyway. Where MNF might be vulnerable is the casual viewers. I think the move to a cable network is going to embolden the broadcast networks to maybe, finally put anything worth watching opposite MNF. It was a forgone conclusion when ABC had the game that during football season it was going to dominate ratings that night so the other broadcast channels kind of packed it in saving their talent for the other nights and time slots they had a shot at winning. It was probably smart at the time, but I think a lot of casual viewers will be there for the taking if NBC, CBS, FOX, and even ABC wants to pull some of that market share.
Now I normally don’t pay much attention to the whole intro animations and lead ins, but I thought I would see what ESPN would do with probably one of its biggest viewerships ever. And for the record they completely fucked it up. I’m not sure what they were doing with that whole city turning into a football stadium but it looks like they watched those stupid robot segments on Fox and asked “How can we do that bigger and lamer?” They succeeded. The whole normal people turning into football players didn’t really sit well with me either. If I wanted to see some moron try to run through a car door I’d watch Jackass. Than to top it all off they brought the star power with Arnold Schwarzenegger leading into the first game. Dude didn’t have anything better to do, like I don’t know, maybe running the most populous state in the Union? I would have understood this maybe as the whole Oakland-San Diego all California matchup but seeing as how it played before the Washington-Minnesota game I was confused. Speaking of ex-wrestlers and stars of Predator, wasn’t Jesse Ventura available? The first game was in Washington, and on the anniversary of 9/11 the NFL couldn’t be smart enough to try and work something out with the President rather than running a game at the same time as his speech? (By the way, for those of you that didn’t see the speech, whatever you think of the President, this is a pretty big deal and sets the tone for American foreign policy for decades, so you may want to check that out or something.)
The obvious problem with having two games was of course that the second game was going to go well in to Tuesday on the East Coast, and considering that San Diego-Oakland isn’t the most compelling game ever viewership for that game was obviously going to drop. It’s a shame because the announcing crew for the second game in my opinion was superior to the marquee group you’ll be stuck with all season. I’ve withheld judgment on the new MNF booth through the preseason giving them time to get used to each other and Kornheiser time to get used to the format. Well, here it is: They Suck. I actually like Mike Tirico, announcing GOLF. He has a quiet, unassuming manner that seems to work well in that format where there is almost a frantic pace switching form group to group. I don’t see him having the ability to push the commentary when they hit slow spots in the game. I’m not saying there is going to be lots of dead air, but I don’t think we’ll be getting as much out as we did with Michaels anchoring the crew, or even what I think Brad Nessler provides. Nessler is, in my humble opinion, the best play by play guy doing football today. He’s been handicapped by years dragging Bob Griese around, but he has still consistently outpreformed almost any other play by play guy.
Then of course we get to the incomparable Joe Theisman. Theisman is an idiot, and I have no doubt that if he worked with Tom Jackson on a regular basis he would be called something much worse than retarded. He is constantly making wide, sweeping statements about players and teams that have no rational basis and no one calls him on it. This seems to embolden him because he gets worse every year. This is a prime example of why just because Lawrence Taylor ruined someone’s career we should let them keep a job they aren’t qualified for. Follow this logic and there are going to be plenty of drug dealers running pharmacies. You’re telling me Jaws isn’t a better option here. Besides the fact that Jaws understands the game much better than Theisman, he is completely rational and able to express himself in words. I don’t think that is too much to ask for in a guy on TV.
As for Kornheiser, he kind of grates on me, but I’m not fundamentally oppossed to a sportswriter in the booth. A sportswriter in theory would be there to ask all the questions we at home are thinking but the announcers never do. In practice, Kornheiser’s biggest addition to the booth has been his answering stupid viewer questions proving how little he knows about football history. If he was there to keep Theisman in line by calling his bullshit I’d be all for that too, but there is NO way that happens. It looks like ESPN has already talked to him about reigning in the persona that he portrays on PTI which is what makes that show so good. Evidently the don’t rock the boat mentality has overcome any hope for this being successful. On the other hand Vermeil during the second game gave good insight into what the coaches on both teams were thinking, as well as some more technical knowledge about certain plays and situations. I found this infintely more interesting than anything Kornheiser has brought to the table. Vermeil might not even be the best coach to bring into the booth but he is certainly articulate and concise in his analysis so I’m not sure how many would be better. Sure, there are some characters out there, think Mike Ditka, but they are probably better suited for a studio show than trying to cram their personalities into that small window of time between plays.
Anyway, that’s my take on the whole ESPN taking over MNF. . .so far they aren’t off to a great start, but it’s going to be hard for even ESPN to screw up what the history of MNF has produced: viewers.