The most creative and fascinating piece of technology in ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” this season won’t be on the sideline, or hovering over the field, or in the broadcast booth. In fact, it will be on display before each game even starts.
The network, which will kick off its NFL schedule Monday with a traditional doubleheader, has assembled a captivating introduction that blends real video and computer generations — think players from the Madden video game — to tell the story of “Monday Night Football” in roughly 11/2 minutes.
“With this being our 10th year on Monday night, I’ve learned that ‘Monday Night Football’ matters to coaches, to players, the stage, the brand,” said Jay Rothman, the show’s producer. “It’s very special.”
To help create this year’s opening, Rothman got the help of Mike “Spike” Szykowny, senior director of motion graphics in ESPN Creative Services, and Carsten Becker, an editor and designer, who came up with the idea of reliving some of the show’s most iconic moments and seamlessly overlapping them.
They used actual video when possible, such as Steve Gleason blocking a punt in the New Orleans Saints’ first game back in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina, or William “Refrigerator” Perry spiking the ball after a touchdown, or Bo Jackson blowing past Brian Bosworth, or Terrell Owens signing a touchdown ball with a Sharpie he was secretly hiding in his sock. The video of John Lennon is real, too, and that of Wayne and Garth from “Wayne’s World.”
Then, there are the recreations: Tony Dorsett’s 99-yard run, the so-called “Fail Mary” in the Green Bay-Seattle game, and Jerry Rice breaking Jim Brown’s all-time touchdown record.
“We wanted to get the best angles of the best plays, without it looking like the Madden game,” said Rothman, noting sometimes those ideal camera angles just weren’t available.
The introduction begins with video of Howard Cosell, and ends with Cosell’s voice. In between are memorable calls by play-by-play men Frank Gifford, Al Michaels and Mike Tirico.
The big challenge remaining is out of ESPN’s hands — to have the games live up to the intro.