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Originally published November 11, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 11, 2007 at 2:02 AM

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Danny O'Neil

"MNF": Still hot under the lights

The prime-time institution has its drawbacks, but it remains a treat for players and fans alike.

Seattle Times NFL reporter

"Monday Night Football" is like the price of gas.

Each one has an inflated present that so often gets compared to some idyllic past.

The prime-time telecast is not the cultural touchstone it was back when there were only three networks. It no longer is that unique a product now that football can be found somewhere on television darn near every night of the week.

The NFL has games on Sunday nights, Monday nights and, beginning on Thanksgiving, Thursday nights, too.

So when ESPN came to town this week, it was easy to get all cynical and make jokes about that corny fish-catching feature that has become our regional cliché and the coffee comments that are sure to follow. Heck, the game's not even broadcast anymore, usually available only on cable, and this Monday's game will feature two teams from the league's worst division.

That's so gloomy, though, and we get plenty of cloud cover this time of year without anyone acting like Eeyore about a game that happens to be on television.

Truth is, we've gotten a little spoiled here recently. The Seahawks were featured on "Monday Night Football" twice last season and once the year before. It's easy to forget that getting a slot on football's prime-time pioneer is a pretty cool thing for a city tucked in the upper left corner of the nation's sports landscape.

Just ask Preben Martin, a University of Washington graduate from Vashon who will be working on the telecast. He's one of the hundreds who are part of televising this football game, a small village of employees that descends somewhere every week. Earlier this season it was Buffalo, when the Bills made their first Monday-night appearance since 1989. You couldn't just feel the excitement in town, you could see it.

"They were out tailgating at like 8 in the morning," Martin said.

Try getting cynical about that.

On Monday Martin, 32, will be hip deep in game footage from the 30 or so cameras capturing the game. His primary job is assembling the highlight packages aired during the telecast.

The whole thing is a pretty impressive operation.

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Truth is, Monday night is still the NFL's most prominent pedestal in the regular season, the time when players know that all their peers are watching. Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck remembered he wasn't allowed to stay up that late to watch it as a kid, and linebacker Julian Peterson has said he still gets a charge any time he hears that tried-and-true baseline that starts the show.

"Sunday and Monday nights are special nights for the cities of the teams," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. "It's an excitement there. So I don't think it's lost anything."

The announcers are the most common complaint. Then again, haven't people always been saying that? This is a telecast that survived Dennis Miller's ham-handed humor and Joe Theismann's ego and all the other complaints that the show isn't what it used to be. Even Howard Cosell felt himself a perpetual victim, hated by the people, and that was during the good ol' days people so often talk about.

Truth is, anything that gets heralded for what it used to be probably wasn't ever as great as everyone remembers. It's a football game on television, not "Masterpiece Theater." Needless to say, people preferred football both then and now, and a good slice of the country will get an eyeful of Seattle on Monday when they tune in for the game that every week remains the cornerstone of the prime-time football lineup.

So you can complain about the telecast, or you can enjoy the prime-time slot the Seahawks find themselves in during their only Monday-night appearance of the season.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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About Danny O'Neil
Danny O'Neil will comment on issues, events and personalities in the NFL. His column will appear on Sundays during the regular season. He also posts most days on the Seahawks Blog.
doneil@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2364

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