A closer look at the Monday Night Football franchise, and how it's gone from an American institution to an afterthought. Plus: Megatron rules the universe, Joe McKnight is incredible, and maybe Bob Costas should stop talking for a while.
Okay, this has been bothering me for a while, and it might not bother you, but I need to get if off my chest. Somewhere during the middle of the Colts and Bucs game on ESPN Monday night, maybe a few minutes after reading Hank Williams Jr. compare Obama to Hitler, it became obvious: Monday Night Football's as washed up and depressing as Hank Williams Jr.
The Monday Night game used to be an Event each week. It felt special. The best teams in football, the biggest games, all on national TV with the whole country watching. From 1970 to 2005, there was something special about being on Monday Night, and it gave football fans something to look forward to every week. Then the game shifted from ABC to ESPN, and it just hasn't been the same.
There are a couple of reasons for this, but none more basic than this: There's something special about playing on network TV. For instance, when hockey got shuttered off to the Versus netherworld, it was as much a commentary on the sport's relevance as a programming decision. When basketball takes the national stage on ABC on Christmas Day, it feels like a bigger deal than the games on ESPN earlier in the day.
"Part of that has to do with the matchups that get picked for the national TV slot," you say. But that's the other problem with Monday Night--they used to have those matchups every week.
Now all the marquee games go to NBC for Sunday Night Football, and Fox for their "America's Game" (or whatever they call it), and CBS probably gets first pick, too. That's how Monday Night gets stuck with, like, the 7th-most interesting game every week. It wastes everyone's time.
Sure, there was no way for schedulers to predict Peyton Manning's injury, but how do you explain the rest of these games?
- Oct. 10 Bears at Lions
- Oct. 17 Dolphins at Jets
- Oct. 24 Ravens at Jaguars
- Oct. 31 Chargers at Chiefs
- Nov. 7 Bears at Eagles
- Nov. 14 Vikings at Packers
- Nov. 21 Chiefs at Patriots
- Nov. 28 Giants at Saints
- Dec. 5 Chargers at Jaguars
- Dec. 12 Rams at Seahawks
- Dec. 19 Steelers at 49ers
- Dec. 26 Falcons at Saints
I mean, GOOD GOD. The whole list just makes me sad.
Like 75 percent of the Monday night games this year are awful, and it's been that way for a few years now. And as someone that used to sing along with the Hank Williams opening as a dorky little 8 year-old, it's depressing to see Monday Night reduced to a chore for football fans. It should be something we look forward to, not something we begrudgingly keep tabs on.
If they're gonna give us this half-assed schedule every year, they might as well just eliminate Monday Night football altogether. And that's where we'll stop. Sorry. It's just been bugging for like, five solid years now. And it just keeps getting worse. As for the rest of this week...
Megatron Owns The Universe
After the first month of the season, your 2011 NFL MVP is... Eh, probably Aaron Rodgers, if they voted today. But it should be Calvin Johnson aka Megatron. He's won two games for the Lions so far--the past two weeks his catches have been the game-winners--and he's got 8 touchdowns through four games. It's gotten to the point where Matt Stafford doesn't even have to throw a particularly good pass. He can just throw it up, sometimes into double or triple coverage, and Megatron comes down with it. Watching him every Sunday has become a weekly treat, just for the sheer spectacle of how he dominates on a regular basis. It's out of control.
Because the Lions' have been cast in this plucky, Cinderella-type light, it's overshadowed just how unbelievable Megatron has been. And yes, this entire entry was mostly just an excuse to run this ridiculous photo. Guys like Calvin Johnson make football look ten times more awesome.
What You Shouldn't Say After A Devastating Injury
After the Colts' Eric Foster went down with probably the most sickening injury we've seen all season, this was the reaction for ESPN/Sirius XM's Ross Tucker:
Is that really what makes football so unique? Because I don't know if limbs spinning in wrong direction and players looking like they're about to vomit is what makes football so great.
Why It's So Much Fun To Root For Joe McKnight
On Sunday night, Jets running back Joe McKnight returned a kick 107 yards for a touchdown and played defense as a blitzing defensive back, and even if it's coming as mostly a specialist, his success is one of the more uplifting stories. At USC and then in his first year in the NFL, he was considered an underachiever. Spoiled, lazy, arrogant, etc. He's got endless talent, but like Reggie Bush before him, putting it together has been easier said than done.
But too often in sports, we focus on what's not there, instead of what is. From a football perspective, part of being a good coach and/or GM, is finding a way to exploit talent that's not necessarily obvious. Every team has a finite number of superstars, but what sets the great teams apart from the middle is the seemingly endless amount of role players who pop up out of nowhere and make game-changing plays. People like McKnight.
So watching him star on Sunday night--and on Sunday night of Week 1, when he blocked a punt that got the Jets back in the game against Dallas--reminded me of this article from Sports Illustrated in 2007. Back then, McKnight was just a star recruit that had been abandoned by his father, separated from his mother, and then finally, had his life turned upside down by Hurricane Katrina.
For Joe the ruin of his city is heartbreaking. He's sure that many friends and family members have lost their homes--including, possibly, his mom. After 10 days without being able to reach her, they finally talk and he learns that she and other relatives have safely evacuated to a town north of Baton Rouge. But with so much uncertainty about when residents will be able to return to New Orleans, Joe begins planning his next steps, attempting to salvage a football season that is starting without him.
Some of Joe's teammates are living in FEMA trailers, others are crammed into relatives' homes or shelters or temporary apartments. At night after practice many Patriots help their parents rip out soggy carpeting and mold-caked Sheetrock, then collapse into the small cubby beds of their 240-square-foot trailers. In class students are tired and distracted. They are desperate to return to their old lives.
For Joe there's no such going back. The friends' and relatives' homes that had been his crash pads are uninhabitable. Joe's mother and brother had been living in the house of Joe's grandmother, which was flooded, and now they're in a one-bedroom apartment.
Just as bad coaches overlook guys like McKnight, it's easy for fans to do the same. And it's true, the NFL has a lot of spoiled talents that never capitalize on all their potential. Maybe McKnight falls into that category. But by the same token, we don't focus enough on what's incredible in this league, and Joe McKnight's story is about as incredible as anyone's.
Dear Bob Costas: Please Stop Talking
For all the criticism of Monday Night Football at the beginning of this piece, we should say that where Monday Night Football left off, Sunday Night Football has gamely stepped up. Just about every game NBC broadcasts on their "Football Night in America" has been fantastic.
Having said that, they really need to stop letting Bob Costas do these video essays at halftime. Not only does he highlight the most self-evident stories on earth, but he does it in the most condescending, pedantic way possible. Last week he took time out to offer a soliloquy on the good fortunes of Buffalo and Detroit, and this week it was all about Tony Romo.
Just stop talking, Bob. Show us more highlights.
On Tony Romo: "At any moment, he's apt to rescue his team with feats of derring-do." What is this, the 1940s? "Derring-do"? He sounds like George Plimpton in Good Will Hunting.
Cam Newton Needs A Nickname
He continued methodically destroying the league in Chicago Sunday, where the Panthers probably would've won had it not been for Devin Hester's two huge returns. And after a month, two things are clear. First, the Panthers defense and special teams are both terrible. Second, Cam Newton's good enough to single-handedly keep them in games, and make the Panthers one of the more enjoyable Sunday Ticket teams in all of football.
But he needs a nickname. For some reason, almost none of the best quarterbacks in the NFL have a good nickname. Not Tom Brady, not Michael Vick, not Phillip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, etc. Really only Drew Brees has a nickname ("Breesus") worth mentioning.
But Cam's the sort of player that's half-superhero, and a truly awesome nickname could transform him over the next few years. So, we'll revist this in Friday's picks column with some suggestions, but for now, if you've got any ideas, put 'em in the comments.
Finally, Regarding Hank Williams Jr. And Monday Night
Just saying, this might single-handedly revive the Monday Night franchise.
I don't wanna be your weekend lover. MONDAY NIGHT, MONDAY NIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGHT.