The stories that Monday Night Football’s opening titles tell

Flock & Tingle is John Teti’s interim column about pro football, published here at The Avocado on the gracious invitation of the moderators while John works on a new website to publish his things and have fun and such. In fact, John is the one typing this introductory paragraph. Thank you for having him, John says. Enjoy the football this weekend, John says.

Roone with a view

Monday Night Football analyst Booger McFarland was finishing up some on-camera commentary when his colleague Jason Witten chimed in, grinning audibly. “Boog, what’s that you’ve got on your right hand?” Witten teased. McFarland obligingly flashed his Super Bowl XXXVIII ring, which he had slipped on for a halftime ceremony during the Pittsburgh Steelers-Tampa Bay Buccaneers game.

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The former Tampa Bay defensive tackle and two-time Super Bowl champion regarded his bauble with pride and, for an instant, reveled in past renown. Once, he was a gridiron knight with no equal, the vanquisher of all comers. Now, he trundles down the sideline in the clattering “Boogmobile,” waiting for a chance to observe aloud that Bucs quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is a gunslinger. Glory fades.

McFarland’s moment of nostalgia was an apt interlude for the 2018 edition of ESPN’s Monday Night Football. The production has a preoccupation with the past. The Boogmobile is decorated with old Monday Night Football logos, and the vintage branding also appears in the broadcast booth where Witten and MNF play-by-play announcer Joe Tessitore reside.

That’s just set dressing, though. The real throwback is the human time capsule Hank Williams Jr., whose “Are You Ready For Some Football?” theme song returned to the MNF broadcast last year. “Time to stake your claim / for Monday Night Football’s hall of fame,” sings Williams as vintage footage plays on vintage picture tubes. This is Monday Night Football embracing its tradition, its oldness.

Such content self-remembrance is a far cry from the original 1970 opening titles, which pulsated with the then-groundbreaking spirit of Monday Night Football. (Here’s a direct link to the YouTube video since the NFL has apparently blocked embedding of this 48-year-old title sequence, for what are certainly important and sensible reasons.) The ’70 theme sequence may seem quaint at first to modern eyes, but it’s an effective piece of moving art that delivered a new vision for sports broadcasting.

Before MNF, a sports telecast was framed in much the same way as a news story—the cameras, the commentators, and the network were there to transmit the reality on the field. The game was the event. TV was the messenger. ABC producer and executive Roone Arledge imagined Monday Night Football differently. For Arledge, the telecast itself was the event—it was his team of video storytellers, his network of affiliates, and his programming vision that transformed a routine athletic contest into a happening of national import.

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That brash perspective informs the 1970 titles. We first see close-up shots of light grids illuminating an empty field. An instant later, the television apparatus becomes the star—the star of itself—as we go inside the production facilities. Arledge wanted viewers to watch his team operating in clockwork fashion. The rapid editing thrusts your gaze toward the dials, oscilloscopes, tape reels, and above all, the copious screens. The camera pans and zooms with excited wonder. These men are masters of a technological marvel, titans of the tube!

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The camera pushes in on a single screen, and the pictures shine through high-contrast scanlines, as if we have plunged inside the TV. Only now do the players emerge, which is a meaningful choice. The guys calling shots in the truck are depicted in true-to-life fashion, but the players are seen solely through the filter of technology. In these opening titles, the game exists only as seen on TV—a tidy statement of Roone Arledge’s worldview.

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Today’s Monday Night Football theme song has no such forward-looking passion, because why would it? Arledge’s vision won out—we take it for granted now that pro football is a made-for-TV sport, the game and the broadcasters intertwined in one vast media machine. Once an iconoclast, MNF is an institution, and a fading one.

Instead of forging into the future, then, today’s MNF titles bring us the past—Hank Williams Jr.—and the present, in the form of non-Baby-Boomer musicians Florida Georgia Line and Jason Derulo. They put on a fun show. The arrangement is lively and agile, with a nice build. Derulo’s “get ready” call to action gives me chills every time. It’s not a bad title sequence, just an understandably uninspired one.

The 2018 trio necessarily tells a different story than the 1970 opener did. Williams et al. outline a more modest frame for the show. Rather than witness an awesome television event, we instead jump into a “party” with all our rowdy friends. Crowd shots figure prominently during the closing strains of the theme, and ESPN cuts to live pictures of fans in the stadium right after the song ends. Compare that to Arledge’s theme sequence, which practically cut out the fans altogether. In the three-network era, ABC could take the crowd for granted. Today, as football commands a shrinking share of Americans’ attention, ESPN can make no such assumptions. So the network stirs the dying embers of our communal passion by imploring us to celebrate.

I’m not immune—I can get swept up in the MNF excitement. Still, whenever I hear Williams belt out that “Monday night party” line, some part of me also hears another line, one that “Dandy Don” Meredith used to deliver in the Monday Night Football booth. “Turn out the lights,” he would sing, “the party’s over.”

People who are flirting with me through the television this week

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This Detroit Lions fan, on the jumbotron: Here I am on a Sunday night, innocently perusing NBC’s game-recap graphic, in which two logos frolic on the dead body of the giant NBC peacock robot they presumably murdered during the commercial break. You know, the usual. Then, all of a sudden, I am being seduced by an undulating temptress who has hijacked the Ford Field jumbotron. I’ll have you know, madam, that I am married. Can’t I enjoy my dead-mecha-peacock statistical tabulation in peace? Is that too much to ask, you entrancing siren of downtown Detroit?

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Antonio Brown, in the Monday Night Football bumper: Like I said, I am a married man. But is it so wrong for me to find myself… stirred by the deep, meaningful gaze that Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown and I shared as Monday Night Football went to commercial the other night? Look at the way he handles that pigskin in his soft hands. I’ve never been so jealous of sporting equipment in my life. Well, there was that one time a gymnastics apparatus beat me out for the lead role in the high school play. But let me tell you something, that pommel horse was the best goddamn Willy Loman I’ve ever seen.

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Ron Rivera, behind the “Boogmobile”: Yes, I saw you there in the corner of the screen, Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, but this was neither the time nor the place—your team wasn’t even playing on Monday. Stop with all the texts and voicemails, too. For the last time, the answer is no, I do not want to “take a ride on your riverboat.”

Your Week 4 FuturePicks™

Flock & Tingle is the only interim football column with FuturePicks™, an NFL prediction system that employs temporal quantum-tunneling technology to compress all of human existence, indeed all of time itself, to a single point. The result is a weekly slate of football game picks that are guaranteed to be correct because, from the perspective of FuturePicks™, they have already happened.

NOTE: Foreknowledge of the future necessarily alters the future. Flock & Tingle is not responsible for any disruption to causality that may emerge as a result of sentient persons viewing the FuturePicks™ in advance of Sunday’s pro football contests. To preserve the integrity of the quantum predictions, please do not read the picks.

Last week, many sentient persons viewed the picks, resulting in widespread distortions to reality. In eight of the Week 3 games, our timeline became so corrupted that the winner of those contests diverged from the true, actual result as determined by FuturePicks™.

Week 3 games within acceptable causality parameters: 7

Week 3 games suffering catastrophic timeline alteration: 8

Overall FuturePicks™ integrity: 46.7% (7-8)

Your reckless disregard for the fabric of time is unacceptable. Again: DO NOT READ THE PICKS.

Here are the picks!

Miami Dolphins vs. New England Patriots (Sunday, 10:00 a.m. Pacific time, CBS): New England 27, Miami 24. “The ascent to greatness, however steep and dangerous, may entertain an active spirit with the consciousness and exercise of its own power,” writes Edward Gibbon in The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, “but the possession of a throne could never yet afford a lasting satisfaction to an ambitious mind.” So New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is just bored, you see.

Houston Texans vs. Indianapolis Colts (Sunday, 10:00 a.m., CBS): Indianapolis 20, Houston 18.

Buffalo Bills vs. Green Bay Packers (Sunday, 10:00 a.m., CBS): Green Bay 30, Buffalo 21. The Packers will wear their dashing blue-and-gold throwback uniforms this Sunday, a color scheme that dates from the team’s beginnings in 1919. Green didn’t make its first appearance on a Packers kit until 1935. That’s right: It took 16 years for someone to realize that the uniforms worn by the Green Bay Packers should probably have some green in them.

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Atlanta Falcons (Sunday, 10:00 a.m., CBS): Atlanta 34, Cincinnati 23.

New York Jets vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (Sunday, 10:00 a.m., Fox): Jacksonville 20, New York 17.

Philadelphia Eagles vs. Tennessee Titans (Sunday, 10:00 a.m., Fox): Philadelphia 28, Tennessee 14. Fed up with losing their star defensive player Jordan Hicks to injury, the Philadelphia Eagles have installed a laser field around the linebacker this season to discourage other players from hurting him.

Detroit Lions vs. Dallas Cowboys (Sunday, 10:00 a.m., Fox): Dallas 27, Detroit 20.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Chicago Bears (Sunday, 10:00 a.m., Fox): Tampa Bay 14, Chicago 10.

Seattle Seahawks vs. Arizona Cardinals (Sunday, 1:05 p.m., Fox): Arizona 19, Seattle 15.

Cleveland Browns vs. Oakland Raiders (Sunday, 1:05 p.m., Fox): Cleveland 21, Oakland 20. Days after leading the Cleveland Browns to their first victory in almost two years, rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield launched his own clothing label. That might seem a bit excessive so early in Mayfield’s career, but Mayfield recognizes that the typical period of glory for a Browns quarterback is brief, so he is compressing the typical arc for an NFL quarterback into a tight window. On Tuesday, he plans to begin dating a toothsome Hollywood ingenue, and on Thursday he’ll win the Super Bowl. By the weekend, he’ll have his own chain of Chevy dealerships, so get ready to take advantage of some great financing deals on a new Silverado pickup.

New Orleans Saints vs. New York Giants (Sunday, 1:25 p.m., CBS): New Orleans 40, New York 21.

San Francisco 49ers vs. Los Angeles Chargers (Sunday, 1:25 p.m., CBS): Los Angeles 2, San Francisco 0. Safety dance!

Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday, 5:20 p.m., NBC): Pittsburgh 35, Baltimore 31.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Denver Broncos (Monday, 5:15 p.m., ESPN): Denver 31, Kansas City 27.

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