As the Lions prepare to take on the Bears for Detroit’s first appearance on Monday Night Football in 10 years, I recall that the third ABC Monday Night football game ever played occurred on Monday October 5th at Tiger Stadium.
In front of a sellout crowd of 58.210, the Lions beat those same Bears 28-14. How about Déjà vu all over again!
However technically the first Monday night game ever was played in Detroit on September 28, 1964 thanks to an experiment by the innovative NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle who was largely responsible for making the NFL what it is today.
While the game was not televised, it drew a sellout crowd of 59,203 to Tiger Stadium as the Lions faced the dreaded Packers. As it turned out, it was the largest crowd to ever watch a football game at the ballpark and I was lucky enough to have witnessed it.
A couple of days before my friend Dave Newberg and his Dad invited me to the game and of course I nearly hit my head on the ceiling I was so excited. How cool to not only see the Lions play under the lights but also the fact that it was on a school night!! The fourth grade could wait.
I remember driving down Michigan Avenue from Dearborn and then parking in front of the Michigan Central train station before walking up the street towards that beautiful beacon of light emanating from high atop Tiger Stadium. The hundreds of fans making their pilgrimage towards Michigan and Trumbull were buzzing with anticipation because it was the home opener and it featured the return of Lion tackle Alex Karras and Green Bay’s Golden Boy Paul Hornung, both of whom had been suspended for gambling by Rozelle for all of 1963 season.
It was a thrill to not only see Detroit’s Fearsome Foursome of Roger Brown, Karras, Darris McCord, and Sam Williams reunited, but it was my first chance to see in person coach Vince Lombardi and his famous Packer squad including Bart Starr, Jim Taylor Hornung, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderly and the rest of the legendary Green Bay Packers.
Although the Lions lost 14-10, it had been a beautiful fall evening that had me in sensory overload with that gorgeous green stadium, the smell of cigars, beer, hot dogs and transistor radios tuned into Van Patrick and Bob Reynolds.
Because of the success of the turnout, Pete Rozelle decided to pursue the concept of a regular Monday night game. Two years later, he would build on the success of the 1964 experiment at Tiger Stadium as the NFL began a four-year trial of playing on Monday night, scheduling one game in prime time on CBS during the 1966 and 1967 seasons, and two contests during each of the next two years. NBC followed suit in 1968 and 1969 with games involving AFL teams.
In 1970 the Monday Night Football telecast debuted with Howard Cosell and the gang and soon it became a weekly viewing ritual for football fans.
And finally it’s back in Detroit where the seed was first planted.