Monday Night Football is promoted as a must-see matchup and more. Its introduction, until this season, was a minute-and-a-half montage smashing clips of moments from MNF past against important moments of history. It said that MNF is special and luxurious like a line of GMC SUVs, and defining like Ronald Reagan, John Lennon, space shuttles and whatever happened in the 90s.
Imagine accepting this as gospel, believing that the coming game may literally be one of the most important things to ever happen. How does one handle, then, the reckoning when he watches what actually happens on the field? Andrew Luck fumbled the second snap of last week's game. The play summed up the wonkiness of Monday Night Football this season as much as it did the Colts' season. Was it a joke? Was ESPN trying its parishioners?
It's not enough to say that the quality of Monday Night Football has been bad. It's still not Thursday Night Football, which has somehow been less offensive this year. MNF has been bad with a habit of taking sudden turns towards the surreal. Before the Colts erased a 17-point fourth quarter deficit against the Panthers, activists rappelled from the upper deck to protest a regional power company. A few weeks before that the Steelers finished a madcap game-winning drive with a gutsy call that was as crazy as it was because referees didn't notice an egregious clock error that gave Pittsburgh less time than it should have had. A week before that, referees legitimately may have robbed the Lions of victory against the Seahawks because it neglected an obscure section of the rulebook.
Monday Night Football, in 2015, dares viewers to turn it off and rewards them, in a way, with some new form of lunacy. The only source of strength through it all is Jon Gruden.
Gruden loves football so much. He wants to tell you everything he loves about it. He enjoys talking, and that's a big distinction from, say, Joe Buck, who enjoys knowing that people are hearing him talk. There's no indication that Gruden knows that anyone is on the other end.
Gruden started calling Jonathan Stewart 'The Piano Man' last Monday because -- get this -- Stewart plays the piano. He repeated this phrase throughout the broadcast because he's so, so proud of it. Jon Gruden is proud of everything. He's proud of himself and the nickname he made up, he's proud of Stewart for the great game he played, and he's proud of the Colts for how well they fought, ignoring that their season has largely been a mess. He's high on proud. He's proud on life. He's proud of you, too.
Gruden is so steeped in football he hardly analyzes it. He's John Madden on Red Bull. He reacts like a culture to a stimulus, spouting off something that is equal odds incisive or disposable, and that's apt for Monday Night Football. For all its self-importance, it's still just a football game that is only likely to be a better matchup than what usually turns up in the early slots on Sundays.
Monday Night Football is an institution, though why exactly is hard to say. ESPN's explanation is a non-explanation, that by virtue of the game existing for so long it's worth watching. ESPN tried to imbue meaning with a ham-fisted introduction that only mocked itself. No, the NFL's history isn't the world's history, except that the two have evolved over time and aren't necessarily any better for it.
Monday Night Football has been happening for so long, even through bad ratings, that it simply is. It changes because it has to and would still air even if it didn't. The tribal drums that cue every broadcast could disappear without a thought. The Denali already blends into the background anyway, and ESPN is only really aware of its presence somewhere on a spreadsheet. They're mutations, and there is a chance they'll still exist vestigially in 50 years. Maybe they'll make the montage.
The football will still be football, a reminder that life is madness, life is inevitable, our greatness can be foiled by ourselves -- by our brains, built by neurons that gunk up like plumbing. Gruden will still be Gruden, reminding us that the best thing we can do about life is be happy about it, be proud of it, because our emotions are as arbitrary as our existence so we might as well strive to be our happiest and accept that while everything isn't fun, everything is fascinating.
All of it is a reminder that we need more -- good or bad, frivolous or not -- because without stimulus we might become the saddest thing imaginable, Jon Gruden in a press box stuck the with the last thought in his brain, letting it become warped and weird -- The Piano Man, The Piano MAN, The Pi.ano mAAN.