The memorable Monday Night Football debut of Bo Jackson.
The Cleveland Browns play the New York Jets on Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
The teams first met on Sept. 21, 1970, in the first telecast of the landmark “Monday Night Football” series. Previously, there had been a few Monday night games played in the NFL, some of them televised, but this game was the first scheduled as part of the weekly series on, then, ABC.
It was also the first season of the merger between the National Football League and American Football League. The leagues had given up their separate identities, in effect after the 1969 season.
The Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Colts moved from the former NFL to join former AFL teams in the American Football Conference. It was assumed the Browns would dominate the AFC Central Division, but age and injuries contributed to their 7-7 finish to the 1970 campaign. The passing game was stung by the loss of future Hall of Famer, receiver Paul Warfield. He had been traded to the Miami Dolphins for, essentially, the draft rights to Purdue All-American quarterback Mike Phipps.
Agonizingly for owner Art Modell, Cleveland finished one game behind the upstart Cincinnati Bengals in the Central. The Bengals were in just their third season, and were owned and coached by Paul Brown, who coached the Browns for their first 17 years before being fired by Modell following the 1962 season.
The Jets went on to a worse season than the Browns, going 4-10.
But, that Sept. 21, the Browns-Jets matchup made total sense as Monday Night Football’s kickoff game. The Browns were coming off two straight NFL championship game appearances, though both were defeats, and were regarded as a flagship franchise.
The Jets had established the legitimacy of all AFL teams in the 1968 Super Bowl, upsetting Baltimore, 16-7, after the Colts had routed the Browns, 34-0, in the NFL title game. And, they were led by football’s biggest personality at the time, quarterback Joe Namath.
ABC announcers for the first Monday Night Football season were Keith Jackson, Howard Cosell and former Dallas Cowboys star quarterback Don Meredith, who had retired after the Browns upset Dallas, 31-20, in a 1968 playoff game.