Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Are you ready?

I was surprised and a little sad to learn "Monday Night Football" is moving to ESPN next year. For most of my life I was indifferent to pro football--to virtually all sports--but around 1996, I started to take a mild interest in the NFL, and "Monday Night Football" was one of the reasons. I was and am a Bears fan, God help me, and that year Chicago beat the champion Dallas Cowboys in an exciting season opener at Soldier Field, on "Monday Night Football." I was hooked. I guess the first one's free.

But as much as the matches themselves, I liked the "Monday Night Football" broadcasts, and not just because of the Hank Williams, Jr. theme (though that was a big part of it). The show had the feel of momentous television, especially when the games were good. That had a lot to do with the personalities--or personality, I should say, since when I began watching, two-thirds of the announcing team were the laughable Boomer Esiason and the amiable but ineffective Dan Dierdorf.

But then there was Al Michaels. From the beginning, I loved his way: smooth, polished, smart. Natty and lean, he looked like the geeky sports broadcasters I knew in college, who didn't play a lick but chewed every statistic, on WHPK, as they announced University of Chicago Maroons games from Stagg Field. I hung on Michaels' every word.

My enthusiasm for the NFL and "Monday Night Football" waned when I moved to Wisconsin in 1999, and I've tuned in irregularly since then. I caught a few of the disappointing shows a couple years back with comedian Dennis Miller, before his bizarre and disconcerting slide into right-wing ideology on basic cable. And I only saw bits and pieces of the recent shows with Michaels and John Madden, which seemed like a broadcasting dream team when it was announced--but by then I had stopped caring again.

So as I say, I was only a little sad to learn "Monday Night Football" is leaving broadcast television. After all, the utopian in me wants to begin transforming society by smashing professional sports. Except that sometimes those games are pretty exciting.

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