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Byrne Identity: We Are What We Are; Monday Nights Are Fun!

Posted Oct 23, 2015

Nobody wants to hear about how we’re not winning enough, so let’s talk about Monday Night Football instead.


What did Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells always say?

“You are what your record says you are.”

We are the 1-5 Ravens.

Stunning to you. Stunning to us.

But, let’s have no more talk of close games and what ifs. Let’s not look at bad breaks, bad calls or injuries.

With this weekly column, I try to lift the veil on the Ravens, look behind the scenes and also try to give some intelligence of where the team is and what we’re thinking.

My sense right now is you don’t want to hear it.

Understood.

I’ll give one big-picture belief from inside “The Castle.”

We will win again.

It’s only a matter of when. What we’re going through is humbling. Hell, it’s embarrassing. We’re not accustomed to it.

We love the statistical comparisons to the Patriots, Packers and Colts – the only teams that can match our winning and playoff appearances over the last seven seasons. (Our 10 playoff wins since 2008 are the most – by a lot; Seahawks and Patriots are second with seven each.) We’re falling behind now. We’re not a model franchise at 1-5.

The expected scrutiny and criticism we receive from fans and the media is there. It hurts, but we’re the ones causing all the second-guessing. We can’t stand where we are right now. But, we won’t be among the have-nots for long. We know what the issues are. We will fix them.

Love Monday Nights

So, let’s talk about Monday Night Football (MNF) instead. Like a lot of you, I love it. It has been a staple of my TV diet since the first one was played in Cleveland in 1970. (Yeah, yeah, I am an old fart.)

Of course, the biggest Ravens’ connection with MNF is that former owner Art Modell is the father of this spectacle. Art was the Chairman of the NFL’s Broadcast Committee when he approached the honchos at ABC-TV, which was struggling and was way behind in the ratings war to CBS and NBC. (Those were the days of just three networks. There was no FOX-TV, let alone cable and satellite TV. Remote control devices were just coming into fashion, and most of us got out of chairs to change a channel.)

Mr. Modell convinced ABC to televise weekly Monday night games and pay the NFL for that right. ABC had nothing to lose since their shows for that night weren’t being watched. That was almost the easy part for Art. He then had to convince his fellow NFL owners that Monday night football would work.

“I thought I was being a hero bringing more money back to the teams with the fee ABC was paying,” I recall Art telling me. “But, none of the owners wanted the games at their stadiums. They asked, ‘Who’s going to come? It’s a work night.’”

(My, how things have changed. Now, there’s Sunday and Thursday night football, along with Monday night.)

Modell boldly told his fellow owners that his Browns would host the first one. He went to his buddy, then-NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, and said: “Give me Joe Namath and the Jets for that first game.” The Jets were a hot team, having recently won the Super Bowl over the Baltimore Colts, and Namath was among the three most famous people in America at the time.

Reality set in for the always-willing-to-take-a-risk Modell. “Who was going to come to the game? Cleveland was a factory town. Would those shift workers who had to be at the plant at 4, 5 or 6 in the morning buy tickets and show up?”

The pre-sale for the game was not good, and Modell worried about embarrassing the NFL and giving credence to those owners who said Monday would never work. An hour before the game, Modell climbed to the roof of old Cleveland Stadium, which sat on the shore of Lake Erie. Looking south, he saw hordes of fans walking from downtown parking lots to the home of the Browns.

It was the largest day-of-game sale in franchise history. Over 85,000 fans crammed into the stadium that night (Sept. 21, 1970), setting the all-time attendance record for the Browns, who beat Namath and Jets, 31-21.

Bomb Scare

Born and raised in Cleveland, I planned to watch every minute of that broadcast, which featured Keith Jackson, Don Meredith and Howard Cosell calling the action for ABC. I was a senior at Marquette University and a resident advisor in the largest dorm on campus.

Here was the climate back then: colleges were home to major protests ranging from anti-Vietnam War to anti-U.S. government to equal rights for Blacks. Students were burning down ROTC buildings, taking over college presidents’ offices, and bomb scares were common. Indeed, the U.S. was in a cultural revolution. Power to the people!

Guess what? Midway through the first quarter, the fire alarm went off in my dorm, and I was told that university security had received a call saying that there had been a bomb placed in our building.

You’ve got to be kidding me! Not during the game. I was the person who was supposed to make sure the dorm was evacuated. This was pre-TVs in every room. Each of the floors had a TV lounge where students would gather to argue about what to watch and then finally settle on something to watch.

Remember, these bomb scares were common. No one really thought there was a bomb, but we all had to leave the building. I started on 12th floor, where I went to the TV lounge, watched a play from the game, stepped into the hallway and yelled: “Bomb threat, everyone out of the building.”

I then went to the 11th floor lounge, watched the next play, hollered again and moved on to the 10th floor. I did this on all 12 floors, not missing a play. When I got to the lobby, a fire chief looked at me and said, “All clear.” I went right back to my eight floor TV lounge and watched the remainder of the game.

And to make this all about me (sorry), how lucky am I to see firsthand the entire history of Monday Night Football? I’ve sat in TV productions meetings with [Frank] Gifford, Cosell, Meredith, [Dan] Dierdorf, [Al] Michaels and [John] Madden. Giants of the game. Hall of Famers.

(Quick story: In the old days, only the PR director of each team met with the TV crew broadcasting the Monday Nighter. Went to one in Houston, then-home of the Oilers, and met with the Gifford, Cosell, Meredith crew. When I walked in, Cosell in his stilted, loud voice said: “Kevin Byrne … Marquette University … What … could you possibly tell me that I … already don’t know?” I laughed. Gifford told me to, “Ignore Howard.” Meredith, with a poster of the Oilers’ cheerleaders in front of him, invited me to sit next to him. As the director and Gifford asked questions, “Dandy Don” [Meredith] would point to a cheerleader and say, “What do you think?” Finally, Gifford blurted out, “Kevin, we’re wasting your time. I’ll call your room, and we’ll go over your roster.”)

Sunday morning, we’ll meet with the Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters crew at our Phoenix hotel. Separately, John Harbaugh, Joe Flacco, Jeremy Zuttah, Jimmy Smith, Steve Smith Sr., Marc Trestman and Dean Pees will each meet with the ESPN crew. It will be cool to be there. It will remind us that we’re part of a special event, and that it is an important game.

Indeed, it is just that, an important game. Let’s make it a Ravens’ night! Let’s beat the Cardinals at their place.

Talk with you next week,

Kevin

Please Note

The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed on BaltimoreRavens.com represent those of individual authors, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of the Baltimore Ravens' organization, front office staff, coaches and executives. Authors' views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Ravens officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.

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