(August 18, 2008 – TMRZoo.com) This fall ESPN will crank up the volume and cue the rowdy friends the only way Monday Night Football knows how — with Hank Williams Jr. For an unprecedented 20th season, the legendary singer will perform the anthem that ushers in the NFL’s weekly primetime showcase game, a ritual that has earned him four Emmy awards (1991-1994) and national acclaim among legions of football fans.
Williams first performed “All My Rowdy Friends Are Here on Monday Night” – based on his hit song “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” – in 1989 during the 20th anniversary season of MNF on ABC. Through the years, the MNF open has featured Williams in a variety of settings — cruising the highway in a convertible with Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, tapping with famed dancer Savion Glover, even flying through outer space. After performing alongside an all-star band the past two years on ESPN, Williams will be a solo act this fall, welcoming fans to the weekly MNF game with a house party theme.
Williams has become synonymous with sports television’s signature series, but ironically the gig almost went to another well-known entertainer. “The leading contender was actually a song ‘20/20’ by George Benson, “admits Bob Toms, Vice President, Production Enhancements for ESPN, who was the producer for ABC Sports’ on-air promotion in 1989. “It had a pretty good vibe but it wasn’t quite right. It didn’t really talk football at all. We called Hank Williams Jr. and spoke to his manager, a great guy by the name of Merle Kilgore, and we asked if Hank would have any interest in working on MNF. We asked if he knew anything about football, and Merle’s reply was, ‘Does Hank know football? Hank is an American. He knows football.’ And ever since then, that was it.”
Williams added: “The story I got was that the son of one of the producers of MNF had my tape in his tape player. The producer said, ‘What is that?’ The truth is usually stranger than what you can make up and that is how it went down. When it comes on for that 60 seconds, it hits you right in the face and makes you go, ‘WOW!’ It really gets people in a good mood and pumped up and ready for the game. It has been a wonderful ride. I have had a lot of fun doing it and I’m going to have a lot more fun.”
The MNF opening video will feature team-specific lyrics and visuals each week based on the 17 regular-season ESPN match-ups. Williams recorded the audio tracks on July 23 at Quad Studios in Nashville, and the video was shot August 2-3 at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood, Calif. Edd Kalehoff (Edd Kalehoff Productions) is music director for the project with lyrics by Williams, Val Fischler and Mike “Spike” Szykowny. ESPN’s Fischler (producer), Chris Mantzaris (director) and Mark Groeschner (art director) are overseeing production of the video with Toms and Rick Paiva serving as coordinating producers. Los Angeles-based production company “The Syndicate” produced the video shoot and is providing graphic elements and special effects for the season-long project.
The new MNF open will debut prior to kickoff of ESPN’s season-opening doubleheader on September 8 – Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers (7 p.m. ET) and Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders (10:15 p.m.).
With more than 70 albums to his credit, Williams has a fascinating career to reflect upon for a legend still in his prime. His discography chronicles a bold profile of growth from adored offspring of a legendary father, to titan of the modern country rock movement in his own right. For two decades, America has come to its collective feet each fall Monday night when this larger than life superman of a musician looks into the camera and unleashes the national anthem for viewers of Monday Night Football — ‘Are you ready for some football?’ Those simple words have won Williams an entirely new generation of fans and given him the distinction of being the first country performer to ever win an Emmy.
ESPN’s Monday Night Football
ESPN’s Monday Night Football is the most-watched series in cable television history and the only NFL series nominated for a Sports Emmy in the Outstanding Live Sports Series category both the past two years. In two seasons on ESPN, Monday Night Football has registered nine of the top 10 all-time biggest household audiences in cable history, led by the New England Patriots-Baltimore Ravens telecast (12/03/07), which attracted cable’s largest audience ever (12.5 million homes and 17.5 million viewers). For the 2007 season, MNF averaged an 8.6 rating and 8,277,000 homes (11,230,000 P2+); the accompanying “Monday Night Surround” content on ESPN.com sparked an increase of Monday traffic to the site of 36% over the previous season.