In 1970, ABC’s “Monday Night Football” revolutionized TV sports with its “three-men-in-the-booth” concept and emphasis on entertainment. The original trio was Keith Jackson, Howard Cosell, and “Dandy Don” Meredith. Jackson (the play-by-play man) was replaced by Frank Gifford in 1971. From 1971 to 1973, Frank, Howard and Dandy Don became national icons, the topic of millions of office water cooler discussions on Tuesday mornings. They dominated the ratings, making the NFL a more valuable advertising investment than ever.
Meredith left MNF in 1974, jumping to NBC with the promise of football and prime-series acting opportunities. However, by 1977, Meredith had grown unhappy at NBC; likewise, ABC was unhappy with his replacements (Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, who never made it out of the 1974 preseason, and Alex Karras, who added little to the 1974-76 broadcasts).
In 1977, Frank, Howard and Dandy reunited, but the chemistry wasn’t the same. They bickered constantly. Once in awhile, they summoned the old magic (such as Monday December 8, 1980, when they informed the country about the murder of former Beatle John Lennon), but the good old days were gone. The trio stayed together until 1983, when Howard gave up MNF for good.
Now, ESPN has reunited former Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson with play-by-play man Mike Breen and analyst Jeff Van Gundy. For four years (2007-11), they were by the best NBA announcing team. Breen was the straight man, while Van Gundy and Jackson were willing to be critical and to disagree with each other.
ESPN’s NBA broadcasts need an energy drink — or something to bring them back to life. If not the games themselves, then perhaps Mike, Jeff and Mark can help me keep at least one eyelid open, if not both.