‘Monday Night Football’ facts
◆ Total road miles for 2010 season: 25,328.
◆ Shortest regular-season road trip: Indianapolis to Cincinnati, Nov. 1-8, 105 miles.
◆ Longest regular-season road trip: New York to San Francisco, Sept. 13-20, 3,036 miles.
◆ Manned cameras used each game: 28-30, including three 120 frames per second “slo-mo” cameras; two 180 frames per second “super slo-mo” cameras; two 500-600 frames per second “ultra slo-mo” cameras (capable of up to 1,200 frames per second; Skycam, which provides aerial views; RF Steadicam, a 65-pound wireless camera that is strapped on a harness to a camera operator. The cameraman is allowed on the field when the clock is stopped, and he can move from either end zone to the 35-yard line. The wireless camera — introduced by ESPN to MNF in 2006 — brings fans closer to the players, particularly after scoring plays.
◆ Maxx Zoom technology: 16 unmanned cameras fixed on the goal lines capturing images up to eight times normal HD resolution for more definitive looks at key plays.
◆ Microphones wired for sound: Approximately 40.
◆ Credentialed staff: 250-300 people.
◆ Estimated man hours for each week: 1,500.
◆ Length of cable used at stadium: Approximately 25,000-35,000 feet of cable each week.
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
FOXBORO, Mass. — The most reliable football franchise begins game days long before country singer Hank Williams Jr. asks the question that has come to define Monday nights:
“Are you ready for some football?”
Those lyrics may signal the start of “Monday Night Football” to millions of viewers, but they represent the payoff for 250-plus members of ESPN’s celebrated crew.
“The three hours of the game is the easiest part,” said Jay Rothman, the show’s producer. “The hardest part is the preparation. It’s brutal, man, but I love it.”
Since it debuted in 1970 on ABC, “Monday Night Football” has been a groundbreaker, helping the sport become more mainstream, innovating broadcast sports technology and, for the most part, asserting itself as a prime-time ratings star.
There are new challenges now, especially because the NFL’s signature series is telecast on cable. But Rothman’s team works tirelessly to keep alive “Monday Night Football’s” mystique, sweating and scrutinizing every second they are on the air.
“If we do our job well, the show is really good because we’re in sync,” director Chip Dean said. “Replays, graphics, commentary and shots are all in rhythm, it feels comfortable and you don’t notice anything.”
Unlike NFL players, the “Monday Night Football” crew doesn’t really have a day off.
Tuesday is as close as it gets, although everyone — from Rothman, Dean and the on-air talent — separately reviews the previous night’s performance, which is recorded onto iPods and iPhones.
“We destroy ourselves,” Rothman said, shaking his head. “Then you go, ‘[expletive], it’s Wednesday. We have to move on.’ ”
Early Wednesday morning, former Super Bowl champion coach Jon Gruden fires up film in his office in Tampa, Fla., while former Pro Bowl quarterback Ron Jaworski fires up film in his office at NFL Films headquarters in Mount Laurel, N.J. Steve Hirdt, the vice president of Elias Sports Bureau, the official statistician of the NFL, and his staff start crunching numbers.
They’re all trying to unearth keys to the next game.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, Rothman and Dean critique the previous show with staffers, analyzing every frame, every word.
“By noon, we’re done with last week’s show,” Dean said. “We evaluate what was good, bad, what we could do better.”
By Friday, eight trucks, most of them 45 feet long, arrive at the site of the game. In tow are four generators, each capable of powering neighborhoods, so even if the stadium goes dark, the broadcast doesn’t.
The talent meets with players and coaches on Saturday and Sunday, and they start to zero in on their story lines. Typically, they come up with 15 to 20 for each club, although they never use them all.
“We’re loaded,” Rothman said. “That would be a lot, if we use 10 percent.”
On the morning of Dec. 6 — about 10 hours before kickoff of the game between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets — about 25 staffers gather in a conference room at a hotel next to Gillette Stadium to brainstorm. Sideline reporter Michele Tafoya comes straight from a workout, and Gruden strolls in wearing sweatpants.
But there’s somber news that day. Rothman announces that former commentator Don Meredith had died.
“It put a little damper on this morning’s meeting,” Jaworski quietly said, “knowing that he did such a great job with ‘Monday Night Football’ and knowing I’m in that seat now.”
But the show must always go on, and Gruden, Jaworski and play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico review and practice lines.
Rothman instructs an assistant to get a different camera angle during one of Gruden’s highlights, and Jaworski notes that running backs who wear sleeves are more likely to fumble, a potential factor because the game-time temperature was projected to be in the 20s.
“There’s no stones left unturned,” Gruden said.
There’s one type of individual who fits into the “Monday Night Football” crew: A.
As in personality type.
They are overachievers, among the best at what they do, in constant pursuit of a perfect show that they’ll never put on.
“It’s like an army of ‘Monday Night Football’ people,” Gruden said. “They’re well trained and organized. This is a hell of a team I’m on.”
But they have something else in common: a reverence for the show.
Many have their personal stories of watching “Monday Night Football” in their youth. Gruden, Tirico and sideline reporter Suzy Kolber recalled how they begged to stay up past their bedtimes and watch Howard Cosell’s halftime highlights.
“How can you explain an 8-year-old girl who is dying to watch the NFL?” said Kolber, who used to arrange mini football helmets in order of division standing. “I just loved ‘Monday Night Football,’ so to be a part of it . . .”
She doesn’t finish her thought before adding that she’s moved every time she hears the “Monday Night Football” theme music.
Tirico recalled a conversation he had with his son last year.
“He asked if he could stay up and watch the game,” Tirico said. “I kind of laughed because I remember negotiating with my mom.”
For most in the crew, this isn’t just a career, it’s a calling. Dean calls the current team “caretakers of this series.”
Tirico has called the World Cup, numerous majors in golf as well as significant college and pro basketball games. But he was floored when he got a call he never expected: to join the “Monday Night Football” team.
“It defines my career,” he said. “There’s no doubt. It defines what I’ve accomplished and what I will accomplish.”
Jaworski and Gruden surprised Tirico by mentioning his birthday last Monday during the Houston Texans-Baltimore Ravens game and presenting him with a jersey.
Tirico said he received birthday well-wishes from strangers after the game at the airports in Houston and Detroit and more than 30 e-mails and text messages.
“That’s ‘Monday Night Football,’ ” he said. “It’s bigger than any of us, and it’ll stay that way.”
The crew is spread throughout the stadium, with its most prominent — and visible — members in the broadcast booth. But 10 minutes before kickoff, in the “A” truck, located in the bowels of Gillette Stadium, two of the show’s most important members are ceremoniously downing something that may well be on the NFL’s list of banned substances.
Dean and Rothman — who have worked together for 20 years, including the last five on “Monday Night Football” — partake in a heaping spoonful of pure licorice, a ritual they started last year.
“The crew thinks we’re nuts,” Rothman said. “My concern always is we are on a 14-hour day, and God knows the hours of prep each week [and] we need to be mentally and physically sharp.”
The team is thrilled about the evening’s matchup between the Patriots and Jets. Their previous three games were blowouts, including a miserable one between the San Francisco 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals.
“We wish every game came down to a kick at the end of the game or overtime,” Jaworski said. “But I really felt like, at the end of that game, I had worked a double shift at the steel mill — and I’ve worked that double shift, so I know the feeling.”
Thankfully for them, though, their streak ended in Houston when the Texans overcame a 28-7 second-half deficit against the Ravens to force overtime before losing when Matt Schaub threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
Tonight’s game between the Bears and Minnesota Vikings won’t be in the Metrodome. Instead, TCF Bank Stadium, home of the University of Minnesota’s football team, will be the site. With Brett Favre and Tarvaris Jackson hurt, sixth-round pick Joe Webb will get his first NFL start at quarterback, meaning the game could get ugly.
That doesn’t matter to Dean.
“I have to keep our crew going,” Dean said. “Even if it’s a blowout early, you’ve got to keep going because we’re ‘Monday Night Football.’ You always have to be at the top of your game.”