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Some days, you know that the world is passing you by. Take Monday Night Football, for example. I used to really enjoy watching football on Monday night. I used to sit in a bar with a bunch of friends, each of us sacrificing our voices in order to talk over the excessive decibel levels of 30 television sets with their volume turned to "Deafen." And we enjoyed the hell out of watching a football game. But lately, football on Monday has turned into a chore.

Ever since ESPN, "the Worldwide Leader in Suck," has taken over Monday Night Football from ABC (both stations are owned by the Evil Empire: Walt Disney Co.), they've stocked the press booth with in-house announcers from other shows in their line-up, making watching Monday Night Football more like watching a spin-off of Sportscenter than a live football game. It has become the sports-world equivalent of Baywatch Nights, an unsuccessful attempt to cash in on the name recognition of characters from other popular shows who aren't quite suited for their new roles.

Worse still, desperate to reach the lowest common denominator of sports fans, MNF encourages Tony Kornheiser, once a respected sportswriter for the Washington Post, to act the part of beer-swilling, amateur buffoon and armchair quarterback for three hours every week. While Kornheiser's role as devil's advocate is perfectly suited to his op-ed show Pardon the Interruption, it is a grating distraction from the action during a football game. Like all other original programming on ESPN, MNF's producers hope that by creating stories and generating ungrounded controversy, the legion of bottom-feeding members of society incapable of forming opinions by way of anything other than emotion will be drawn to their programming. Unfortunately, their strategy has proven highly successful.

Sure, MNF has always been a program obsessed with the celebrity and popular culture that surrounds an NFL game, but they used to be focused on celebrating the game, not disparaging it. The best example of the change in the show's culture is Dennis Miller. After years of populating the press booth with former players (with such notables as Don Meredith, Frank Gifford, and Dan Dierdorf among others), Miller was brought in to give the "average" fan a voice on the show. Miller was rehearsed and focused on the game, but his obscure researched and rehearsed cultural references proved unpopular in the role of MNF color-commentator. Just a few short years later, Kornheiser's selfishly crass and unprofessional on-air cheers for players on his fantasy football roster and complaints about blowouts -- even going so far as to encourage the television audience to turn off their sets, no doubt to the anguish of his advertisers -- has changed the perception of what exactly the "average" fan is as it has steered intellectual discourse of the game to a new low.

I can't help but recall that once, now seeming so long ago, the broadcasts were not about grabbing a market of people interested in the personalities in the booth or how they felt about football, but what was happening on the field. I suppose that the real shame is that all those years of bar room televisions didn't completely destroy my hearing, sparing me from Kornheiser's irreverent and irrelevant blather.

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To be continued...


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