The Cleveland Browns returned to Monday Night Football for the fifth time in franchise history Dec. 14. The game between the Browns and the Baltimore Ravens was played before about 12,000 people in the seats due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The Baltimore Ravens held off the Browns, 47-42, in a game that brought back memories of the first Monday night game ever. That historic contest took place at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium on Sept. 21, 1970, when Joe Namath brought his New York Jets to town. Whenever the argument is made for former Browns owner Art Modell to enter the Hall of Fame in Canton, that game is always used as a reason.
There are a lot of facts about the game that are interesting to look at in hindsight. ABC television wanted this game badly because, although it was never made public, Roone Arledge of ABC and Commissioner Pete Rozelle figured that gamblers would swell the television audience to unthinkable numbers. They wanted a New York team on the schedule, but didn’t want the Jets or the Giants to host a game because there might have been a chance the blackout rule might have taken place when games had to be sold out by a certain advance date to be televised locally.
Here are some facts about the game. The announcers selected by the NFL and approved by the NFL television committee, headed by Modell, made some interesting choices. Keith Jackson was the best and most popular play-by-play man on ABC’s college schedule. That alone was an interesting pick, but more interesting was the two color commentators they picked.
“Dandy” Don Meredith was picked for his insight into the game and his sense of humor. Even more curious was the selection of Howard Cosell to round out the group. Cosell represented everything about the entertainment capital of the world. Prior to this selection, there was always a question as to whether viewers were brought in by the announcers or not? This trio got big numbers and much of it was centered around Cosell’s halftime highlight features which had not been seen anywhere prior to the game broadcast.
Also overlooked was that this was the Browns’ first game in the American Football Conference. Before the 1970 season, the Browns, Steelers and Baltimore Colts each took $3 million to move from the NFC to the AFC. Until that point, Modell, as usual, needed the money. The Steelers owner Art Rooney, thought for rivalry purposes, the Browns did the right thing.
The game provided everything the league and owners had hoped for. A record crowd of 85,703 people showed up for the 9 p.m. game.
Joe Nameth had a nice game, completing 21 passes out of 31 attempts for 298 yards, but he threw three interceptions. Former Ohio State star Matt Snell had 17 carries for 108 yards for the Jets. The game was close at halftime, but it opened up when Browns wide receiver Homer Jones, who was acquired from the Giants in the offseason, returned the second half kickoff for a 94-yard touchdown.
Quarterback Bill Nelson threw a touchdown pass to Gary Collins, who scored three touchdowns in the NFL championship game in 1964. The Browns led 24-21, with the Jets having the ball into the last minute. The ever-dangerous Nameth threw a pass that was intercepted by linebacker Billy Andrews with 35 seconds remaining and in today’s parlance took it for a “pick six,” giving the Browns a 31-21 victory.
Truth be told, the stadium didn’t look so bad that night. The Browns fell to 9-4 with the “MNF” loss to the Ravens. They’re back with another primetime game Dec. 20 against the New York Giants.