"Dandy" Don Meredith and Frank Gifford will return to ABC a final time Monday to bid farewell to Monday Night Football in its last game on the broadcast network.
Neither Meredith nor Gifford, who were part of a three-man broadcasting team with the late Howard Cosell, will appear live when the New York Jets play host to the New England Patriots at 9 p.m. ET Monday. They will appear in taped segments that will air at the opening of the game.
Gifford, the former New York Giants star who appeared on Monday Night Football from 1971-97, appeared in a retrospective on the show's 500th program. But Meredith--part of the original on-air team with Cosell and Keith Jackson--has continually declined to come out of retirement.
"Don Meredith hasn't been seen much" on TV since he left Monday Night Football at the end of the 1984 season, said Norby Williamson, executive vp studio and remote production at ESPN/ABC Sports.
It was Gifford, who remains friends with the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback, who urged Meredith to appear one last time, said Fred Gaudelli, executive producer of Monday Night Football. Meredith wasn't able to attend the game because of family commitments in New Mexico, but he agreed to tape a segment, Gaudelli said.
ABC won't present a stand-alone tribute to MNF before its last game after 36 years on the network. Instead, the broadcast will present favorite moments from its storied history.
"Within the game, there are going to be moments, we're going to have vignettes," Williamson said. The halftime show also will feature some noted "Are You Ready for Some Football?" moments from the past.
Williamson and ESPN/ABC Sports executive vp content John Skipper also spoke about the future of MNF, which will move to ESPN beginning next season. Skipper said that the aggregate audience for MNF across ESPN's many platforms--from the Sunday night SportsCenter to the NFL Countdown show as well as ESPN Radio and elsewhere--will be larger than it is for this year.
"We don't think of it as a simple three-hour window rating to a three-hour window rating comparison," Skipper said. He said that ESPN's research has shown that 90 percent of the people who watch MNF now will be able to watch it next year on ESPN "without any changes to their television set."
There will be overall changes on ESPN, however. While the signature music will remain the same, ESPN will unveil during the Super Bowl a new on-air look for MNF. And only Al Michaels will remain of the two-man booth; John Madden will move to NBC to become an analyst for Sunday Night Football.
Skipper bristled at NBC's efforts to make the Sunday night game--which now is the third of three windows on Sunday that start at 1 p.m. ET--the premier game of the week.
"The last time I checked, we're still on the Roman calendar," Skipper said of Monday night, evidently unaware that the calendar went out of use more than 2,000 years ago.
"Monday night is the only night that still has the exclusive window... We think that will resonate more with fans," he said.