Just breaking this morning, we’re learning of the passing of former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith. While Meredith had a very good playing career with the Cowboys, he got national notoriety for being the first analyst on ABC’s Monday Night Football starting in 1970 with Keith Jackson and Howard Cosell. The broadcast really took off in 1971 when Frank Gifford joined from CBS and became the play-by-play announcer. Meredith and Cosell played off one another, Cosell as the erudite, New York commentator, Meredith as the fun loving everyman who would downplay Howard’s attempts at seriousness.
Gifford, Cosell and Meredith were the traveling sideshow for Monday Night Football and the ratings for ABC were so good that movie theaters and restaurants would close at 9 p.m. when the broadcast started. Viewers also knew the game was out of reach when Don would sing, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over.”
There was a time when “Dandy Don” as Cosell nicknamed him, left ABC for NBC, joining Curt Gowdy and Al Derogatis as part time analyst in 1974, then full-time from 1975-1976, calling Super Bowl XI. Meredith had joined NBC in hopes of starting an acting career and had a part-time role on “Police Story” and various movies, but for the 1976-77 season, he triumphantly returned to ABC and the Monday Night Football booth.
He remained with MNF through the 1984 season, retiring one year after Howard Cosell left the booth. Along with Gifford and Joe Theisman, Meredith was on the call for ABC’s first Super Bowl, SB XIX in Palo Alto, CA.
After his retirement, Meredith rarely made public appearances, hardly gave interviews and chose to live in New Mexico with his wife of 38 years.
There’s no measuring the impact that Meredith had on Monday Night Football. Meredith had the personality to play off Cosell and fans identified with him. In addition, his ability to analyze the game and break down the quarterback position puts him as one of the best color men in NFL TV history.
In 2002, Pat Summerall asked Don to be his partner on Fox after John Madden left the network for ABC/ESPN, but Meredith turned him down stating that he had not watched enough present-day games to be knowledgeable on the NFL.
Tonight, ESPN will acknowledge the passing of Meredith and his influence on Monday Night Football.
Susan Montoya Bryan of the Associated Press has this story on Meredith’s passing.
Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News looks back at Meredith’s two careers, as a Cowboys quarterback and as a broadcaster.
The Morning News also shares some pictures of Meredith as a player and as a broadcaster.
ESPN Dallas has some highlights of Meredith’s life.
T. Rees Shapiro of the Washington Post has written an obituary for Meredith.
Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk shares his thoughts on Meredith’s death.
Here’s the opening to Monday Night Football featuring Cosell, Gifford and Meredith.
This open is from 1979 before the game between the Miami Dolphins and Houston Oilers.
Jay Harris of ESPN has this report on Meredith’s passing.
We also have some pictures of the Monday Night Football crew. I thank ESPN’s public relations department for making these available.
First, this is from 1970, with Keith Jackson, Cosell and Meredith.
Next, we have Cosell and Meredith posing for this publicity photo.
Here’s a photo from 1971 with Frank Gifford joining Cosell and Meredith.
Here’s a picture of the three from 1977 before the Cleveland Browns-New England Patrios game.
And finally, there’s this publicity photo before the 1980 season.
We’ll end it there. I’ll pass more stories on Meredith as they become available.