Monday Night Football History
During the early 1960s, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle envisioned the possibility of playing at least one game weekly during prime time for a greater TV audience. (While the NFL had scheduled Saturday night games on the DuMont network in 1953-1954, poor ratings and the dissolution of DuMont led to the series being eliminated by the time CBS took over the rights in 1956.) An early bid in 1964 to play on Friday nights was soundly defeated, with critics charging that such telecasts would damage the attendance at high school games. Undaunted, Rozelle decided to experiment with the concept of playing on Monday night, scheduling the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions for a game on September 28, 1964. While the game was not televised, it drew a sellout crowd of 59,203 to Tiger Stadium, the largest crowd ever to watch a professional football game in Detroit up to that point.
Two years later, Rozelle would build on this success as the NFL began a four-year experiment of playing on Monday night, scheduling one game in prime time on CBS during the 1966 and 1967 seasons, and two contests during each of the next two years. NBC followed suit in 1968 and 1969 with games involving American Football League teams.
During subsequent negotiations on a new television contract that would begin in 1970 (coinciding with a merger between the NFL and AFL), Rozelle concentrated on signing a weekly Monday night deal with one of the three major networks. After sensing reluctance from both NBC and CBS in disturbing their regular programming schedules, Rozelle spoke with ABC.
Despite the network’s status as the lowest-rated network, ABC was also reluctant to enter the risky venture. Only after Rozelle used the threat of signing with the independent Hughes Sports Network, an entity bankrolled by reclusive businessman Howard Hughes, did ABC sign a contract for the scheduled games. Speculation was that had Rozelle signed with Hughes, many ABC affiliates would have pre-empted the network’s Monday lineup in favor of the games, severely damaging potential ratings.
After the final contract for Monday Night Football was signed, ABC Sports producer Roone Arledge immediately saw possibilities for the new show. Setting out to create an entertainment “spectacle” as much as a simple sports broadcast, Arledge hired Chet Forte, who would serve as director of the program for over 22 years. Arledge also ordered twice the usual number of cameras to cover the game, expanded the regular two-man broadcasting booth to three and used extensive graphic design within the show as well as “instant replay.”
Prior to 1978, Monday night games were not scheduled in the final week (Week 14) of the regular season. From 1974–77, a Saturday night game was scheduled for Week 14 and televised live by ABC in lieu of a Monday night game.